Natural disasters in Mexico: past and future risks
Mexico is a popular tourist destination. Every year the number of people who visit this state for its beaches, nature, culture and new impressions increases. They should find out in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but knowing about its potential, you can prepare for it.
Climatic features of Mexico
Mexico is a typical state of Latin America, it is characterized by all those problems and cataclysms that worry the inhabitants and neighbouring countries.
Mexico lies at the unstable junction of three lithospheric plates: Pacific, North American and Caribbean. Between these plates, there are frequent shifts and movements that lead to increased volcanic activity and earthquakes.
The Cordilleras, a long mountainous country, run across the country from north to south. Mexico’s highest point rises 5,610 metres above sea level. This is the ancient volcano Orizaba, which could wake up at any moment. It is located midway between Mexico City, the capital, and Veracruz, a popular resort on the Gulf of Mexico.
The northern part of the country is located in an arid tropical climate zone. It receives little rainfall and is home to large deserts. In mountainous and steppe areas, forest fires often occur due to insufficient moisture.
Another point that affects the safety of staying in the country is tropical cyclones.
Mexico has an extensive coastline. Its length is more than 10 thousand kilometres. The country is washed by the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But the main cyclones always come from the east, from the Atlantic. They pass the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico and fall on the shores of Mexico. The peak of the tropical cyclone season is between June and October.
Natural factors that can cause a natural disaster:
- Seismic activity. Very high due to the collision of three lithospheric plates. Strong earthquakes often occur.
- Volcanic activity. Very high. There are 1–2 volcanoes that are constantly active in the country.
- Long coastline. May be exposed to storms, cyclones, tsunamis.
- Seasonal tropical cyclones. Lead to severe storms and high rainfall, threatening destruction and flooding.
- Arid climate in some regions of the country. Leads to the occurrence of forest fires.
The importance of studying the history of natural disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be awaiting you will not only help you choose the right place, but also the time and season of the year when the threat of being in the epicentre of a natural disaster will be minimal.
For example, knowing that from May to September begins the season of tropical cyclones, constantly blowing strong winds and increasing rainfall, you can choose a different time for a trip to Mexico.
In this article, you will learn the chronology of natural disasters that occurred in the republic in the past.
The largest number of earthquake epicentres lies on the border of the collision of the Pacific and North American plates, along the west coast of the country. There are also many earthquakes in the south of the country. The northern regions, the eastern coast and the Yucatán Peninsula are relatively calm in tectonic terms. Below is a list of the most destructive earthquakes in the history of Mexico.
7 September 2021, Guerrero state
Late in the evening, tremors of up to 7.1 magnitude were felt by many residents of the state, including the city of Acapulco. About 9 thousand buildings were damaged throughout the state: houses, schools, hospitals. More than 15 thousand people were affected. Traffic was paralysed on mountain roads due to landslides. As a result, 13 people died, several dozen were injured.
19 September 2017, Puebla
The earthquake struck the central part of the country, affecting the cities of Puebla, Morelos and Mexico City. More than forty buildings collapsed in the country’s capital, causing numerous casualties. The magnitude of the tremors reached 7.1 points, but the death toll was unusually high – 370 people, of whom more than 220 died in Mexico City itself. More than 6,000 were injured of varying severity.
7 September 2017, Chiapas
An 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck in the very south of the country. It was the strongest earthquake in 30 years. Its reverberations were felt throughout the country. In Chiapas itself, many buildings were destroyed, 98 people were killed and more than 300 were injured. At the same time, the earthquake caused a tsunami in the Pacific Ocean. The wave height in Chiapas reached 1.7 metres.
19 September 1985, Mexico City
In the early morning of 19 September, a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of up to 8 struck the capital of Mexico. It caused massive damage and destruction. In the historic centre of Mexico City alone, 258 buildings were completely destroyed. More than 5 thousand people died under the rubble, 30000 were wounded. The total damage from cataclysm authorities estimated in 5 billion dollars.
28 August 1973, Veracruz
The eastern coast of the country suffers less from strong earthquakes, but they happen here too. This earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1 and caused significant damage, especially in mountainous areas. The death toll exceeded 1,000 and many thousands were injured. It also played a role in the fact that the tremors occurred late at night, when all the inhabitants were asleep and did not have time to leave the collapsing houses.
On the territory of the country, there are dozens of active volcanoes, many of which pose a real threat to the inhabitants of nearby cities. Not far from Mexico City are the Popocatépetl and Orizaba volcanoes, the largest in the country. Below is a list of the most active and dangerous volcanoes in Mexico.
This is the most picturesque and dangerous volcano in the country. Columns of smoke rise above its vent almost all year round. Since the discovery of America, 15 major eruptions of this volcano have been recorded. In December 2000, 15,000 people were evacuated because of the threat of eruption. In December 2005, there was an explosion in the crater, the column of smoke rose to 3 kilometres. In January 2012 a large ash emission was observed. Emissions of ash and lava occurred in the winter of 2020 and 2022. In March 2023, authorities temporarily closed a number of airports due to increased activity.
This peak is not only the country’s highest mountain, but also an active volcano. Its last eruption occurred in 1845, but it could happen again. Orizaba’s largest eruption occurred 8,000 years ago.
Mexico’s youngest volcano, formed in 1943 in a cornfield. Within a few years, its cone had risen hundreds of metres, constantly spewing lava flows. A nearby village was completely destroyed and its inhabitants evacuated. The volcano erupted continuously until 1952 and then fell asleep. But a new eruption could occur at any time.
This volcano in the west of the country is considered the most active in Mexico. It has erupted more than 40 times in the last 500 years. The latest eruptions occurred in 2015 and 2017 and were accompanied by ash emissions up to 2 kilometres high.
Cyclones, storms and floods
Mexico lies on both sides of the Northern Tropic, an area characterized by the formation of powerful atmospheric vortices – cyclones. Cyclones mostly affect the Atlantic coast of the country, bringing strong winds and heavy precipitation. On the Pacific coast, the effects of cyclones are much weaker. Here are a few of the country’s typical hurricanes of recent years.
September 1988, Cyclone Gilbert
This was the second-strongest cyclone in the Atlantic Ocean in recorded history. Its maximum speed was 295 kilometres per hour. Gilbert raged over the Gulf of Mexico for 9 days, and came ashore already weakened to category 3. Nevertheless, he destroyed 60 thousand houses, washed away most of the beaches in the Yukotan, caused waves 7 metres high. In Mexico alone, 212 people died due to severe floods and inundations.
October 2005, Cyclone Wilma
This turned out to be the wettest tropical cyclone to reach the country’s coast. Wind gusts in the Yucatán Peninsula reached 230 kilometres per hour. They resulted in a massive storm surge that destroyed many beaches and coral reefs. 300,000 people were left homeless and 8 people died. Total damage was estimated at $4.8 billion.
August 2021, Cyclone Grace
This hurricane crossed the Caribbean Sea, the Yucatán Peninsula and hit Veracruz, becoming the strongest cyclone in that city’s history. In the Yucatán, hundreds of thousands of tourists were deprived of their usual services due to a break in the power grid. In the state of Veracruz, Grace tore out trees, smashed windows, and felled power poles. Twelve people died, most of them from landslides that destroyed homes.
Forest fires and droughts
The northern parts of the country often suffer from prolonged droughts, which cause severe forest fires. Fires are particularly common in the spring, between March and May.
For example, at the end of March 2021, fires engulfed many areas of northeastern Mexico. Fires destroyed more than 8 thousand hectares of forest, rescuers had to evacuate 11 thousand people. Fighting the fire was complicated by the strongest squally winds. These fires turned out to be the largest in the state of Nuevo León. To extinguish them, the authorities even involved the military.
In May 2019, the fires covered many regions of the country, even the capital of Mexico City was engulfed in smoke. Across the country, 4,000 fires were recorded, hundreds of people were evacuated.
The greatest threat to tourists holidaying in Mexico is earthquakes. It is these cataclysms that cause global destruction and take a huge number of lives. By a strange coincidence, the most frequent strong earthquakes occur in late summer – early autumn.
Volcanic danger exists, but there have not been strong eruptions for a long time. Volcanoes in the central part of the country are most active.
Tropical storms and cyclones are more typical for the eastern coast of the country. They pose the greatest threat to the Yucatán Peninsula. The peak of the hurricane season is between August and September.
Forest fires are frequent in the north of the country, but despite their intensity, casualties are usually avoided, and the fire does not pose any particular danger to tourists. The peak of the forest fire season is in spring.
The best time to travel to Mexico is from November to March. At this time the weather is warm and relatively dry, there are no strong cyclones. Even in winter, the popular resorts of the country continue the bathing season and all conditions for a comfortable holiday are preserved.