Hurricane Paul (1982)

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Hurricane Paul
Category 2 hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Paul 1982-09-29 1600Z.png
Hurricane Paul at peak intensity prior to landfall on the Baja Peninsula on September 28
FormedSeptember 18, 1982
DissipatedSeptember 30, 1982
Highest winds 1-minute sustained:110 mph (175 km/h)
Fatalities1,625 total, 668 missing
Damage$520 million (USD)
Areas affected Guatemala, El Salvador, Baja California, Northwest Mexico, United States
Part of the 1982 Pacific hurricane season

Hurricane Paul was the second deadliest Pacific hurricane on record, with a death total of 1,625 people, only behind the 1959 Mexico hurricane, and caused over $520 million in damage. The sixteenth named storm and tenth hurricane of the 1982 Pacific hurricane season, Paul developed as a tropical depression just offshore Central America on September 18. The depression briefly moved inland two days later just before heading westward out to sea. The storm changed little in strength for several days until September 25, when it slowly intensified into a tropical storm. Two days later, Paul attained hurricane status, and further strengthened to Category 2 intensity after turning northward. The hurricane then accelerated toward the northeast, reaching peak winds of 110 mph (175 km/h). Paul made landfall over Baja California Sur on September 29, and subsequently moved ashore in Sinaloa the next day.


Prior to making landfall near the El Salvador Guatemala border as a tropical depression, the precursor disturbance dropped heavy rainfall over the region, which later continued after landfall. Many rivers in the region burst their banks after five days of rainfall, causing severe flooding and multiple mudslides. Throughout Central America, at least 1,363 people were killed, with most of the fatalities occurring in El Salvador, although some occurred in Guatemala. Another 225 deaths were attributed to floods from the depression in southern Mexico. In addition, Paul was responsible for 24 fatalities and moderate damage in northwestern Mexico, where it made landfall at hurricane strength.

Meteorological history

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale Paul 1982 track.png
Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

The precursor disturbance to Paul originated from an area of low barometric pressure and disorganized thunderstorms, which was first noted near the Pacific coast of Nicaragua on September 15. Several days later, satellite imagery indicated it had developed a center of cyclonic circulation; on 1800 UTC September 20, the Eastern Pacific Hurricane Center initiated advisories on the system and classified it as Tropical Depression Twenty-Two. At that time, it was located 200 mi (320 km) west of Managua, Nicaragua and supported winds of 35 mph (50 km/h). The depression turned northward in response to a weak steering flow between two high pressure systemsone near Cabo San Lucas and the other west of Central America. It then moved inland near the El SalvadorGuatemala border, and dissipated overland. [1]

Under the influence of a persistent stationary trough near California, the remains of the depression retraced westward back over the open waters of the Pacific. Advisories on the system were resumed late on September 20. Though it was reconsidered a tropical cyclone, its wind circulation was poorly defined; the depression again degenerated into an open trough at 0000 UTC September 22. Its forward motion remained relatively unchanged for several days, and by September 24 the system was reclassified as a tropical cyclone. After briefly drifting northward, the system began tracking toward the west-northwest. It gradually organized into a tropical storm at 0000 UTC September 25. Since it was then situated over favorable sea surface temperatures between 28 °C (82 °F) and 29 °C (84 °F), Paul underwent a phase of rapid intensification. This allowed it to reach Category 1 hurricane strength on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale (SSHWS) just two days after its naming. [1]

Upon becoming a hurricane, Paul turned to the north and continued to develop. [1] As the storm neared Baja California Sur, it reached Category 2 intensity. [2] An upper-level trough forced the hurricane to accelerate towards the northeast, at which point it had reached peak wind speeds of 110 mph (180 km/h). From 1800 to 2100 UTC on September 29, the eye of the hurricane made landfall along Baja California Sur, moving ashore less than 100 mi (160 km) south of La Paz near San José del Cabo. After weakening slightly inland, Paul briefly reemerged over water and subsequently made its final landfall near Los Mochis, Sinaloa with winds of 100 mph (165 km/h). [1] Tropical cyclone advisories were discontinued shortly thereafter, [2] though exact information on the storm after it moved inland is unavailable due to a lack of data completion in the hurricane database. [3]


Hurricane Paul after landfall. Hurricane Paul 1982.jpg
Hurricane Paul after landfall.

An alert was issued for the Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa and Baja California Sur; army and navy units were on standby in case of an emergency. [4] Roughly 50,000 people evacuated to storm shelters [5] and thousands of others sought refuge in public buildings, such as schools and churches. [6] Across La Paz, officials evacuated 3,000 families from hurricane-prone areas. [7] In the towns of Altata and Guamúchil alone, army officials evacuated 5,000 coastal residents. [8]


El Salvador

Known Pacific hurricanes that have killed at least 100 people
"Mexico" 1959 1,800 [9]
Paul 1982 1,625 [10] [11] [12] [13]
Liza 1976 1,263 [14] [15] [16]
Tara 1961 436 [17]
Aletta 1982 308 [18] [19]
Pauline 1997 230400 [20]
Agatha 2010 190 [21] [22]
Manuel 2013 169 [23]
Tico 1983 141 [24] [25]
Ismael 1995 116 [26]
"Baja California" 1931 110 [27] [28]
"Mazatlán" 1943 100 [29]
Lidia 1981 100 [22]

The tropical depression that later became Paul produced the worst natural disaster in El Salvador history since 1965. [1] Although the death toll was initially believed to be lower [1] [30] [31] it rose to a final toll of 761 after new victims were confirmed on September 28. [32] Of these deaths, 312 occurred in the capital city of San Salvador, [30] which had also sustained the worst damage. [33] Another 40 people perished in Actoo, a very small village located 42 mi (68 km) west of San Salvador. [30] Rescue workers searched through rocks and mud to find missing victims. [34] About 25,00030,000 people were left homeless. [1] Much of San Salvador was submerged by flood waters of up to 8 ft (2.4 m) high, and even after their recession hundreds of homes remained buried under trees, debris, and 10 ft (3.0 m) of mud. [1] [30] In all, property damage from the storm amounted to $100 million in the country; [30] while crop damage amounted to $250 million. [31]

Guatemala, and southern Mexico

Known Pacific hurricanes with at least $500 million in damage
Manuel 2013 $4.2 billion [35]
Iniki 1992 $3.1 billion [36]
Odile 2014 $1.25 billion [37]
Agatha 2010 $1.1 billion [38]
Willa 2018 $825 million [39] [40] [41] [42]
Rosa 1994 $700 million [43]
Paul 1982 $520 million [44] [31] [30]
Norman 1978 $500 million [45]
Octave 1983 [46]

In Guatemala, widespread catastrophic floods claimed 615 lives and left 668 others missing. More than 10,000 people were left homeless in the wake of the disaster. [47] According to the highway department, the storm destroyed 16 bridges which left 200 communities isolated from surrounding areas. [48] Overall, economic losses of $100 million (1982 USD) were reported in the country. [44] Throughout southern Mexico, floods from the precursor depression to Paul killed another 225 people. [49]

Baja California Sur

Hurricane Paul produced heavy rainfall along its path through Baja California Sur. At least 85 homes in La Paz sustained damage, and many telephone lines in the region were down at the height of the storm. [7] Wind gusts estimated at 120 mph (195 km/h) swept through San José del Cabo, causing property damage and subsequently leaving 9,000 homeless. [1] Despite the damage, no deaths were reported in the wake of Paul. [50]

Northwest Mexico and southwest United States

Upon making its final landfall in Sinaloa, Paul produced hurricane-force winds recorded at 100 mph (160 km/h) in Los Mochis. The winds demolished numerous homes in the region, leaving 140,000 residents homeless and another 400,000 people isolated. [51] The greatest damage occurred 70 miles (110 km) south of Los Mochis in the city of Guamuchil; [1] some houses suffered total destruction, while many other had their roof blown off. A total of 24 people were killed by the storm, although it produced beneficial rains over the region. [13]

The worst flooding occurred near the Rio Sinaloa; 7.9 in (200 mm) to 12 in (300 mm) of rain fell in some locations. Over 25,000 homes were damaged. [52] Agricultural damage was severe in the state of Sinaloa, with up to 40 percent of the soybean crop destroyed. Sugar cane, tomato, and rice crops also sustained damage from the hurricane, and in its wake the state's corn production was down by 26 percent from the previous year. Total storm damage in Mexico amounted to $4.5 billion (1982 MXN; $70 million USD). [1]

The remnants of Paul moved into the United States, producing heavy rainfall in southern New Mexico and extreme West Texas. Inclement weather was observed as far inland as the Great Plains. [53] A combination of rain and snow moved into Colorado; 6 in (150 mm) of snow was expected in Wyoming, thus winter storm warnings were required for parts of the state. [54]


In the aftermath of the storm, the Government of El Salvador was criticized for failing to keep the public well informed. It provided over $300,000 in aid and declared a state of emergency; [30] [34] additionally, a state of mourning was declared. [55] The United Nations World Food program began distributing food set aside for victims of the El Salvador Civil War. [56] The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala provided $25,000 in aid for the country. [57] Mexican authorities rushed to supply food and water to the homeless. [58]

See also

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