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Eastern Pacific Hurricanes: An Historical Perspective

By: Christopher C. Burt, 7:34 PM GMT on May 27, 2014

Eastern Pacific Hurricanes: An Historical Perspective

As Jeff Masters noted in his blog today (May 27th) , Hurricane Amanda, the first tropical storm of the season in either the Eastern Pacific or Atlantic Ocean Basins, developed into the strongest such storm ever observed in the modern era during the month of May when it attained its peak intensity Sunday morning, May 25th, with a central pressure of 932 mb (27.52”) and sustained winds of 155 mph, just short of Category 5 status. Here is a brief historical review of Eastern Pacific tropical storms.

In a typical season (May-November) about 18 tropical storms form each year in the Eastern Pacific region of which, on average, nine reach hurricane strength.

Tropical storm paths in the Eastern Pacific for the period of 1980-2005. As can be seen the vast majority of these storms never make landfall and form and dissipate in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean between Mexico and Hawaii. Only rarely do one of these come ashore as major CAT 3 hurricane. Map from Wikimedia Commons.

Here are some Eastern Pacific Tropical Storm superlatives:

Most Intense Eastern Pacific Hurricane

Hurricane Linda was the most intense tropical storm ever observed in the Eastern Pacific region. The storm formed on Sept. 9, 1997 and reached its peak intensity on Sept. 12th when its central pressure fell to 902 mb (26.58”). Its maximum sustained winds were estimated to have reached 185mph at this time. The storm never made landfall aside from passing over the uninhabited island of Socorro, several hundred miles south of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

A satellite image of Hurricane Linda when she was at her peak on Sept. 12, 1997 with sustained winds estimated at 185 mph and a central pressure of 902 mb (26.58”), the lowest such observed in the modern satellite era. Image from NOAA.

Here is a list of the ten most intense Eastern Pacific hurricanes on record as determined by their lowest estimated central pressures since the beginning of the satellite era in the early 1970s:

Deadliest Eastern Pacific Hurricane

The unnamed 15th tropical storm of the season of 1959 came ashore on Mexico’s central Pacific coastline near Manzanillo as a category 4 hurricane on Oct. 27th. Wind gusts of 155 mph were measured at this location. An estimated 1,500-2,000 deaths were attributed to the storm in Colima and Jalisco States with 40% of all the structures in Manzanillo destroyed.

Below is a list of the ten deadliest hurricanes yet recorded in the Eastern Pacific region. All of these occurred in Mexico:

Costliest Eastern Pacific Hurricanes

Hurricane Pauline caused $10.3 billion in damages (inflation adjusted 2013 dollars) in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero when the storm came ashore there on Oct 9, 1997. As many as 400 died as a result of this storm. Hurricane Manuel, which also pounded roughly the same part of Mexico last year on September 13-19 (2013) caused an estimated $4.2 billion in damages and resulted in fatalities variously published as between 123 and 169, mostly the result of mudslides.

Mud and landslides caused the majority of the fatalities associated with Hurricane Manuel when it struck the west coast of Mexico last September. The region around Acapulco (depicted above) in Guerrero State was especially hard hit. Photo by Claudio Vargas/Getty Images.

Hawaii’s Strongest Tropical Storm

One of the costliest Eastern Pacific hurricanes, and the strongest ever to strike Hawaii, was Hurricane Iniki that slammed into the island of Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992 with sustained winds of 145 mph (see below). Damage from the storm was estimated at $3.2 billion (2013 inflation adjusted dollars) and 6 deaths were reported. Iniki also holds the Eastern Pacific record for lowest pressure measured at landfall with a 945mb (27.91”) reading as the storm came ashore on Kauai.

Highest Wind Speed Measured on Land During an Eastern Pacific Hurricane

Hurricane Iniki is also reputed to have produced the highest measured wind speeds over land during any Eastern Tropical storm when it struck Kauai, Hawaii on Sept. 11, 1992 with 145 mph sustained winds measured.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser, “The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of up to 175 mph (280 km/h). The highest recorded wind speed from Hurricane Iniki was a 227 mph (365 km/h) reading from the Navy's Makaha Ridge radar station. That remarkable figure was recorded at a digital weather station whose wind gauging equipment blew off after taking the measurement during the storm.”

This remarkable claim is disputed of course. Dr. George Pararas-Carayannis writes the following on his web site featuring Hurricane Iniki, “The maximum of 227 mph reported from the Navy Radar Site at Makaha Ridge has been depicted as an anomaly due to improper instrument calibration; therefore unrealistic. I do not entirely agree with that. It may be possible to achieve such wind speeds from funneling (venturi) effects.”

Hurricane Iniki as she ripped through Lihue, Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992. Photo by Bruce Asato, courtesy of the Honolulu Advertiser.

The unnamed deadliest Eastern Pacific hurricane of 1959 is said to have had sustained winds of 160 mph when it made landfall near Manzanillo, Colima State in Mexico on October 27-28, 1959. Hurricane Kenna had sustained winds estimated at 140-150 mph when it struck the Mexican coast near San Blas on October 25, 2002.

Earliest and Latest Tropical Storms to form in the Eastern Pacific

The earliest tropical storm to form in the Eastern Pacific was TS Alma on May 14, 1990. This was tied by TS One-E again on May 14th in 1996. The latest storm on record was TS Winnie, which survived as such until December 7, 1983. These dates only include the satellite era, since prior to then little was known about tropical storms that formed and dissipated over the open waters of the Eastern Pacific.

Heaviest Rainfall Totals Caused by Eastern Pacific Tropical Storms

Hurricane Juliette dumped 39.80” at Cuadano, Santiago in Mexico’s Baja from Oct. 1-3, 2001. In Hawaii, Hurricane Hiki in 1950 is reputed to have dropped 52.00” of rain at Kanalohuluhulu Ranger Station, Kauai between Aug. 14-18 of that year. More than this may have actually fallen since the 24”-capacity rain gauge was found overflowing when checked on both Aug. 15th and 16th. This is the greatest amount of rainfall ever attributed to a tropical storm event in the United States.

California and Tropical Storms

Ever so rarely, a tropical storm that forms in the Eastern Pacific maintains its strength to make landfall in California. The deadliest such was a storm that struck the southern portion of the state on September 25, 1939 making landfall near Long Beach. Flooding from the storm resulted in 45 fatalities in the southern California area. An even more powerful tropical storm is reputed to have hit southern California in October 1858, but little is known about the event.

It is a bit ominous that the first tropical storm of this year, Amanda, has achieved historical status as being the most powerful to form in the Eastern Pacific so early in the season. Hopefully, this was just a fluke and not a harbinger of things to come.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Hurricane

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Massive, Two Week Long China Flood Sends Half a Million Fleeing, Destroys More Than 25,000 Homes
Black, ominous clouds have been dumping heavy rainfall over southeast China ever since May 12.

Warm winds, laden with the moisture spilling off a super-heated Pacific Ocean, collided with an intense storm track that often combined upper level moisture flows spilling off the heat dome near the Caspian, a high intensity heat and evaporation event now ongoing over India, and cold, unstable air streaming down from the Kara Sea in the Arctic. Since mid-May this relentlessly persistent pattern has been in effect. And the inundation has been ongoing and extraordinarily intense with day-after-day deluges pounding a sprawling region from south-central China and on to the coast.


Since Wednesday, storms in Guangdong have left 15 dead, five missing and affected 800,000 people, with accumulative precipitation of 628 mm in Shanwei City.
( just short of 25 inches)

You mentioned at least three 1997 storms that were very strong and/or catastrophic: Linda, Gulliermo and Pauline. All gathering strength from that year's strong el nino warming. With Amanda and the already hot SSTs, what will we see this autumn?
Sometimes we forget that that the lower 48 has two coasts when it comes to hurricanes, and not just the East coast.
Looks pretty accurate and this is from someone who spent years researching this basin.
I wonder how the 1962 Columbus Day storm was missed in the study, that killed 48 people and caused massive damage in the northwest. I lived in Portland, OR when that occurred, and we were trapped for over two weeks until they could clear our road of hundreds of fallen Douglas fir. Your final comment, "Hopefully, this was just a fluke and not a harbinger of things to come," makes me wonder of the author is trying to set more groundwork and stir up more terror for the very questionable theory of global warming. The shortening of the study from 1973 to the present provides no historical basis at all for conclusions concerning climate change if that's where he is going. Throughout the ages the earth has been both much warmer and much cooler than now, both without the influence of man upon the climate.
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