It’s funny how I’ll have a conversations and then they turn into articles.
Once again a person from out of town was with a few friends and they were discussing how I was the guy to talk to about Hurricanes. Being that I own a fishing company I have to keep up with weather conditions as I have clients on boats. Sick people from rolling swells or Port Closures affect my business in a big way. So I’m forced to keep the weather in the back of my mind. From the first days living in Puerto Vallarta I’ve studied the patters of these Hurricanes and I’ve spent the time to learn about the entire area. So everything I write about is from my experiences as a “Pata Salada” Gringo in PV. “Pata Salada” is much the same as “OG” in the states, you’re one of the originals so people ask you for your thoughts and experiences on many things. Hurricanes being just one subject.
Like any good news story, an element of fear and destruction will always grab people’s attention. In many ways you can relate a Hurricane to Earth Quakes. They happen all the time, but you really only hear about the bad ones and the aftermath. But when it comes to Hurricanes at least we get some “heads up” information in the form of a weather report.
One thing to remember we are surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains, they’re in the neighborhood of fourteen thousand feet, they act as a natural barrier. They act like a bumper pool table in many ways. Having said that Puerto Vallarta is not immune to Hurricanes.
The first Hurricane as recorded in PV was in 1925. Not too much information on this Hurricane but this is what I was able to find on the internet: In the book "Recordando un Paraíso" (Remembering Paradise) by a Mrs. Josefina Cortex de Torres, she writes of a hurricane that hit Puerto Vallarta in October 24th of 1925. Most of the palapa houses were destroyed, the adobe houses were left without their tile roofs and the kiosk on the plaza was destroyed as well.
Forty six years later Puerto Vallarta was hit with Hurricane Lilly, a Category 1 Hurricane that made landfall south of Puerto Vallarta at the end of August 1971. With massive amounts of rain the Cuale River flooded the “Cuale River Island” and the land around it with eight feet of water (8 ft.). After that it was impossible to live in that beautiful area and the locals were relocated inland.
Then of course many of us will remember Hurricane Kenna, a Category 5 event that hit Puerto Vallarta October 25th, 2002. Hurricane Kenna pretty much killed the “urban legend” that PV was protected by the Sierra Madres! PV did not get hit head on, but what did happen was the slow moving Hurricane stalled almost directly across from the Bay of Banderas and caused for the most part wave Damage to the Malecon. But that’s not to say other homes and businesses weren’t affected. My brother and his wife had a Sandwich Deli that was just decimated by two waves. Two waves and everything in the shop was floating or flying out the door. That was pretty much the same story for all the businesses in town on the Popular Malecon. Not to mention the world class donated metal statues on the Malecon were tossed around like rolls of dry toilet paper!
As a fishing company owner, we were all scared to death, our personal boats were roped to other boats in what looked like a spider web. Our biggest fear was the pilings weren’t tall enough to handle a storm surge and the docks would be free floating “bumper cars” in Marina Vallarta. Thankfully that never happened! Ultimately the majority of the cities damage was closest to the beaches that saw 18 to over 20 foot waves just breaking into the shops, hotels and restaurants. A few miles inland the effects were much, much less. Hurricane Kenna made landfall close to San Blas in the neighboring state of Nayarit. The Hurricane winds reached 140 miles per hour, but Puerto Vallarta never felt much of that as the hurricane was well out to sea. But again, that’s not to say there whole experience wasn’t was less than disastrous.
The locals of Puerto Vallarta were lucky not to have any deaths reported, but there were some forty (40) people that were injured with an estimated property damage at Ten Million Dollars. Several Hotels were closed for years afterwards as the Sheraton comes to mind. They had to rebuild the entire first two floors of the hotel before it could open. Somehow a giant bolder found its way into the Sheraton pool and getting it out was a major task. Famous Restaurants like La Palapa and The El Dorado were severely damaged as you would expect. The Arches were washed away and again, the world famous art was tossed all over the place. Hurricane Kenna was ultimately the excuse to rebuild the Malecon to what it is today.
I didn’t live here very long in 2002 and the support services didn’t really exist at that time in PV. The civil protection and Bomberos (Fire Fighters) didn’t have the most basic equipment like hand held radios to coordinate the efforts. It make me, personally realize the services of these brave men were under appreciated. Miraculously a private individual came to the rescue of the Bomberos and then things started moving with coordination. One thing that seriously surprised me was what happened next.
People, People happened next. People with trucks started coming into Puerto Vallarta like moths to the flame. I get a little emotional just thinking about it. It was the first time I had seen the Mexican culture come into play. Hundreds of trucks from Monterey, Guadalajara, Tepic, Manzanillo and even Mexico City started rolling in. People who love and visit Puerto Vallarta took personal responsibility to clean and repair our beautiful city. In fact there were so many trucks and people they too needed coordination. Local people, house wives started making sandwiches and Tacos to feed the “visitor saviors”. The people of PV opened their homes and their hearts and came together as one. I think this is the moment I realized I was “home”. Yes we suffered uninsured losses as well, but so did everyone else. But I got a glimpse of the soul of Mexico and fell in love with every person I saw.
In September of 2014 Hurricane Odile was marching up the coast and made landfall in Manzanillo. It was devastating to the local population, but it didn’t stop. I was strong and it marched up the coast on the land side until it hit the Sierra Madre Mountains, our giant mountain wall. It lost strength as I expected, but many were “freaking out” watching the news and the devastation. The Hurricane was coming over the mountains, I’d never seen that before. Ultimately the Sierra Madres took the “Stuffing” out of the storm and as it came across the area Puerto Vallarta had little more than a “sprinkle and a breeze”!
“Hurricane” Odile found its way back over the Bay of Banderas and headed straight to Cabo and made landfall over Cabo San Lucas 350 miles to the north of Puerto Vallarta. It remains tied at the top spot for the most powerful recorded hurricane ever to have made landfall on the Baja California peninsula. Hurricane Odile slammed into Cabo San Lucas at a full force Category 4 event. With winds of 90 miles per hour or 140 Km/h, with gust up to of 117 mph or 188 km/h! The destruction Odile wrought was some of the worst in Baja California hurricane history.
The ending of this article comes down to this, the Sierra Madre’s may not be the “protector” many of us think it is, but they are a force for Hurricanes to deal with. I believe they do protect us, but we shouldn’t believe they’re going to “save” us every time we have a threat.
Most hurricanes that pass PV are pretty much easily ignored. Hundreds of miles out to sea, they may be a navigation hazard to ships, but this is just a normal part of the summer season for Mexico. But every once in a while we encounter the closer to shore Hurricane. If they come around the mountains then PV will be hit again. But as long as the Sierra Madre’s are surrounding us, there is some level of protection for the residents and visitors of Puerto Vallarta.