Hurricane Gilbert During the year of 1988, several events changed the lives of hundreds of people. The summer Olympics, a presidential election, and Hurricane Gilbert which tore through Jamaica, part of Mexico and the United States. Hurricane Gilbert occurred between September 10th and the 17th. Hurricane Gilbert was one of the most wretched storms of the century. What had started out as a tropical storm, grew into a terrible nightmare for those that lived in Jamaica. “The onset of the storm was first seen by satellite on September 3rd 1988. This was categorized as a tropical storm; a wrinkle in the uniformly eastern flow” (Sheets 1). Gilbert was not only infamous for its’ category rating, but for the barometric pressure which was the lowest recorded for an Atlantic storm.
Causes that contributed to the strength of Hurricane Gilbert include: atmospheric conditions, the category rating, and the proximity of its’ eye. The effects of the hurricane consisted of property damage, economic losses, casualties and some solutions such as insurance and funds. Atmospheric conditions were some of the factors that contributed to Hurricane Gilbert’s intensity. Hurricane Gilbert had extremely powerful winds that reached 160 knots which is about 175 mph and gusts up to 121 mph (Stengel 18). At 10, 000 feet, Gilbert’s counterclockwise winds reached up to 200 miles per hour, and at ground level the winds were around 175 mph (Stengel 17). With winds that strong, almost nothing could stop that storm. When the winds began to spread out over a large area, they stirred the Atlantic waters and brought cool water underneath the earth’s surface; therefore, causing a reduction in the amount of rapid showers and thunderstorms (Sheets 1).
Water was another contributing factor in the destruction caused by Hurricane Gilbert. Hurricane Gilbert formed in the same manner as most tropical storms do. “A reason for Gilbert’s strength was the warm air placed itself in contact with the water, the air became wet and was then moistened by evaporation” (Sheets 2). Hurricane conditions can only happen during warm months and over warm waters. Storm surges only occur when the storm meets the land. Gilbert’s system of low pressure and high winds created a dome of high and intense water that was forced ashore.
The water flow then caused storm surges which flooded many low lying areas, such as, beaches and coastlines. The waves of the waters reached as high as 30 feet. Floods were another cause of destruction. Torrential rains created sudden flooding as Hurricane Gilbert moved inland. As Gilbert’s winds diminished, rainfall floods became Jamaica’s greatest threat.
(Sheets 2). Air mass was a third cause of destruction. During the summer of 1988, both Jamaica and the United States were hot and humid. A drought in the Midwestern United States caused forest fires and harvesters had a hard season with the crops (Stengel 17). Since the air was relatively warm around the Caribbean and the Northeastern part of South America, the humidity was significantly higher, and the sea temperature was somewhat warm consequently causing the formation of Hurricane Gilbert. Hurricane Gilbert’s barometric pressure reading was a very important factor in it’s destructive force.
A barometric pressure reading is the measure of the storm’s strength. Hurricane Gilbert received the lowest sea level pressure reading for a storm in the Western Hemisphere. Gilbert’s pressure reading was recorded at 888 MB. or 26.23 inches. Since Gilbert had a low pressure reading, it was more likely to cause extreme damage. Hurricane Gilbert received a rating or category of five on the Saffir/Simpson scale, which reads a storms strength (Sheets 3). Category five is the highest level that a hurricane can be rated at.
This denotes that Gilbert was proficient enough to cause “catastrophic damage” (“Hurricane Gilbert” 689). Another hurricane to reach level five was Camille, a hurricane that occurred in 1969 (Trippet 18). When a hurricane such as Gilbert, that is rated a Category five, wind and water damage are extremely dynamic. Windows can be blown out, trees up rooted and mall buildings can be destroyed during a hurricane (“Hurricane Info” 3). Hurricanes that are large in size, will usually have smaller eyes, like Hurricane Gilbert. Hurricane Gilbert had an eye less than 10 miles in diameter, but the hurricane covered the entire western half of the Caribbean as well as southeastern parts of the Gulf of Mexico (Sheets 3).
The vortex of Gilbert was 450 miles in width (Stengel 17). Even though the eye of Hurricane Gilbert looked almost invisible, it still was readily visible. As the eye of Gilbert turned and moved in different directions, the storm continued to spiral around it. Thus, giving the storm more power. (“Hurricane Info” 2).
The eye wall (the outside part of the eye) is important because this is where the most violent activity takes place. When the cool air was pushed into the eye, it sank and became warm by compression. When the air became heated, Gilbert was liable to hold more moisture making the eye look clear and cloud free. (Sheets 2). Extensive property damage was a major result of Hurricane Gilbert. Many homes, buildings, and statues were destroyed. According to Time, “the damage costs were estimated to be at 10 billion dollars and the property loss was estimated to be about 500 million dollars.
There were no previous records in Jamaica for a hurricane to have damage costs of that amount.” Of the two and a half million people that lived in Jamaica, 500,000 were left without homes. About four fifth’s of Jamaica’s homes were damaged or destroyed (Trippett 18). Jamaica wasn’t the only country with damages. “According to the Insurance Information Institute, the United States had estimated damage costs at about $40 million. Damages include beach front homes and boats on the Texas coast line” (Schachrer 73). Hurricane Gilbert also caught a 300 foot Cuban freighter 5 miles out to sea; massive waves smashed its structure and pushing it ashore Cancu’n Beach (Stengel 17).
Hurricane Gilbert’s strong winds greatly damaged many resorts and hotels. The Mexican resorts were hit the hardest. These hotels had extensive water damage after their windows were blown out (Schachrer 73). Around the city of Cozumel, many resorts took months to restore the buildings damaged by hurricane Gilbert (Wilder 68). In Northern Jamaica, where a large number of the luxury resorts are located, Hurricane Gilbert blew calmer winds rather than the harsh winds where cities were located, such as Kingston. Luckily, the Cayman Islands were unhurt by Gilbert’s force.
The coral reefs that are located around that area were almost untouched by the hurricane. Economic losses were other results of Hurricane Gilbert’s destructive force. In 1988, the banana, a prized crop, was expected to produce a 50,000 ton harvest. This harvest projected amount was up from the 10,000 tons of banana produced in 1984. This was unable to happen because most of Jamaica’s farms were destroyed. Tourism and bauxite kept Jamaica’s economy rising for the second straight year in a row by 5% from 1987 (Stengel 17).
This average was calculated the year before the hurricane struck. The banana crop was ruined along with poultry, a staple of the economy. Coconut, coffee, and the winter vegetable staples were also destroyed. A large productive crop the “ganja” or the marijuana crop, was destroyed as well (Trippett 18). Jamaica’s sugar crop and the prized bauxite were virtually untouched by Gilbert’s harsh winds.
The death toll of Hurricane Gilbert was estimated to be at 260. (“Notable Hurricanes” 302). These deaths include drowning, houses collapsing on people, and those that were caught in the storm and disappeared. More deaths were caused by drowning than anything else. For instance, four busses became trapped under water in the city of Monterrey. The busses were overturned by the rising Santa Catarina River. About 200 passengers escaped, although six policemen died in the rescue effort.
(Stengel 18). Those that lived along the Texas coastline were lucky enough to not have been hit that badly by the storm. These people were evacuated out of the area at the last minute (Schachrer 3). One solution for the problems caused by Hurricane Gilbert was insurance. (Schachrer 3). Some of the insurance companies were thought to be stuck with claims up to 3 billion dollars.
Two insurance companies ITT Corporation Hartford Insurance Group and Continental Corporation had figured its estimates lower than what was expected. Hartford Insurance Group configured its estimates to be at 5 million dollars and Continental Corporation figured its estimates to be at 10 million dollars (Schachrer 73). Some other insurance companies such as State Farm, covered 16% of the automobiles that were damaged. Most of the insurance claims that they received were only for minor damage. (Engardio 23) The Mexican Insurance company had placed their losses at only 120 million while the damage for Jamaica was estimated to be about 725 million dollars (Schachrer 3). The need for aid after Hurricane Gilbert struck was extremely crucial.
The Prime Minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga, had appealed for international aid to help those that lost their homes. (Findlayson 18). Jamaica was fortunate that many other counties and people were willing to help. Canada, the United States, and Great Britain were three of the most giving countries. They did more than just help rebuild the lives of the people that lived in Jamaica, they had given them hope for a new future. Ontario charted a plane which brought supplies and also sent $100,000 for aid relief. The External Relations Minister Landry, “pledged 7.6 million dollars plus another million which was to have been raised by private humanitarian organizations” (Finlayson 18).
Several other Canadian cities brought clothing, food and money to those whose communities that were destroyed (Finlayson 18). Hurricane Gilbert has educated us about the causes of hurricanes and their destruction. We now know more information about how hurricanes form, increase in strength, and information about the eye of the hurricane. We know how much damage a category five hurricane will cause and the effects that it will on us. “Advances in computer models, satellite pictures and aerial measurements made Gilbert as closely monitored as a shuttle launch” (Stengel 19). Bibliography Engrardio, Peter. “The Dashed Dreams in Gilbert’s Wake.” Business Week.
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“Jamaica: A decade lost in a day.” Time. 26 Sept. 1988:18+. Wilder, Rachel. “Damage Report from a Capricious hurricane.” U.S.
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