Tag Archives: Managua

June 12, 2015: It is Carlos, the Caribbean, the Gulf, and floods in Nicaragua!

There is plenty of disturbed weather near our neck-of-the woods here if our Florida paradise!

Infrared GOEST-EAST satellie [NOAA] image of 12 June showing Tropical Storm CARLOS almost stationary and strengthening to the southwest of Acapulco, Mexico
Infrared GOEST-EAST satellite [NOAA] image of 12 June showing Tropical Storm CARLOS almost stationary and strengthening to the southwest of Acapulco, Mexico

Today, Friday 12 June 2015, marks the first four weeks of the ‘official’ 2015 East Pacific Hurricane Season, which is off to a fast start with three named storm already. The latest of these storms, Tropical Storm CARLOS is almost stationary some 200 kilometers southwest of Acapulco, Mexico over an area of warm surface waters and a favorable ocean-atmosphere environment that may  lead to further strengthening of this tropical cyclone.

Tropical storm CARLOS tracks as of 12 June [courtesy of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory]
Tropical storm CARLOS tracks as of 12 June [courtesy of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory]

Opposite T.S. Carlos off the eastern coast of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico  on the Yucatan peninsula, there is an area of low pressure and an active cell of stormy weather over the northwestern Caribbean.

Infrared GOEST-EAST Satellite image [NOAA} showing various weather disturbances over the Gulf of Mexico, the northwestern Caribbean, the offshore Pacific waters off Central America, and northern South America, and 'Hurricane alley'
Infrared GOEST-EAST Satellite image [NOAA} showing various weather disturbances over the Gulf of Mexico, the northwestern Caribbean, the offshore Pacific waters off Central America, and northern South America, and ‘Hurricane alley’

Just to the north of that disturbance, over the central Gulf of Mexico, there is a large ‘glob’ of stormy weather that is already generating copious rain over a wide area.

Looking south, over Central America, the off-shore waters of the Eastern Pacific, the central Caribbean, and the northern regions of South America over Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana, there are plenty of systems that have prevailed for some time now, fueling rainy and stormy weather over a large area.

The aggregation of all of these elements of weather has already  had adverse consequences over the region extending from central/southern Mexico, through Central America and Panama, to northern South America.

This prevailing and current weather pattern over this region [Caribbean and Gulf activity], which is really a continuation, a repeat if you will, of what we have seen in recent years and most especially in 2014 when the East Pacific hurricane season generated  20 named tropical cyclones, surpassing the 18 generated in 2013, has had particularly damaging consequences in Nicaragua where extreme rain events over most of the country including over Managua, the capital city, where more than 200 mm of rain fell there yesterday over a period of 6 hours, leading to numerous instances of flash floods, some death by drowning, and extensive damage to homes and infrastructure. Emergency management authorities have declared an emergency  and have evacuated hundreds of families in Managua and in other communities.

Photo showing flood waters rushing down a causeway in Managua, Nicaragua after 200 mm of rain fell in less than six hours between 11 and 12 June 2015
Photo showing flood waters rushing down a causeway in Managua, Nicaragua after 200 mm of rain fell in less than six hours between 11 and 12 June 2015

There is no question, but that all interests in the region will need to watch unfolding events closely,  but as El Niño continues to develop off the Pacific coast of Peru and Ecuador prevailing wind currents are causing tropical waves along ‘Hurricane Alley’ to traverse over northern South America and Panama into the Eastern Pacific where they are fueling the kinds of disturbed weather we have seen over the past few weeks, and potentially future cyclonic activity as well.

It is clear that there may be plenty of  this kind of activity in the  northern tropics over coming months, consequently all interests in Nicaragua, or Mexico, or in the rest of Central America, and in the Caribbean and especially here in Florida must remain alert, be prepared and continue to mitigate!

Recent Earthquake Activity in Central America and the Caribbean

On Wednesday 5 September 2012 at 8:42 a.m.local time, a M7.6 relatively shallow earthquake hit near the town of Hojancha in the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica. Several aftershocks of lesser magnitude, but at least 4 of M4.5 or higher,  have followed over the course of the last 24 hours. The quake was strong enough to have been felt from the Cosiguina (Gulf of Fonseca) region in northwestern Nicaragua, to the city of David and farther south in Panama, a stretch of more than 1,000 kilometers. The initial quake and the proximity of its epicenter to the Pacific coastline triggered a Tsunami alert from Panama to Nicaragua.

Communications went down right after the initial strong shock and power  was off over a vast region of Costa Rica, including the Central Valley where the capital city of San Jose and other large population centers are located, from 4 to 5 hours making it difficult to obtain direct information about damage from the quake. San Jose is located approximately 150 kilometers to the East of the epicenter of the earthquake.

I was able to communicate with contacts in neighboring Nicaragua about one hour after the M7.6 quake and obtain some additional information about the impact, and a damage report from that country. I was already making arrangements to use amateur radio to try and connect with contacts in Costa Rica when I was able to finally make contact, via cell phone and social media, with relatives in San Jose at 11:45 a.m. local time or about 3 hours after the initial quake.

An initial damage report form San Jose, Costa Rica, showed at least two deaths attributed to the quake, strong shaking during the first seismic impact causing multistory buildings to sway strongly, minor cracks on walls, and objects to fall off shelves, but no significant structural damage to buildings or residences. In addition, the electric power grid went down, as well as the land-line telephone system, while the cellular system continued to operate, but was quickly overwhelmed by the volume of calls. Because the hour of the earthquake coincided with morning-time work and school traffic, this and the lack of power resulted in chaotic driving conditions. Panic and frustration among the general population was widespread. By the time I was able to make contact, the tsunami alert had been lifted already.

So, what is going on with this seismic activity in Costa Rica?  This M7.6 and its aftershocks all took place in the Caribbean Tectonic Plate near the Central American Trench where the Cocos Plate subducts under the Caribbean Plate at a rate of 75 to 80 mm/year. So, in order to put this recent seismic activity of 5 September 2012 in Costa Rica in some form of context, I propose to take a closer look at what has been happening in the Caribbean Plate recently.

The Caribbean Plate is located at the confluence of five tectonic plates in a region that borders the well-known Pacific Rim of Fire, where there is constant and complex interaction between the several plates. because of such ongoing process of plate interactivity, the Caribbean Plate has a history of vulcanism and seismic activity going back thousands of years that continues today. The Caribbean Plate encompasses almost the totality of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, the Island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, The U.S. and the British Virgin Islands, and the Lesser Antilles, as well as most of the Caribbean Sea.

By reviewing records of earthquakes kept by the Earthquake center of the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS), which list all earthquakes of magnitude M2.5 or higher taking place worldwide I discovered that during a 130 hour period from 31 August 2012 through 5 September 2012 there were a total of 484 earthquakes M2.5 or higher worldwide, and of these just above 30% of 146 hit in the Caribbean Plate. This is indeed a high rate of seismicity  specially when we take into account the areas (spatial extent) involved.

Based on the epicenter coordinates for each of these earthquakes we can see that most of this recent activity has taken place along the northeastern end of the Caribbean Plate, around Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but a total of nine countries or their territorial waters have been hit by at least one of these earthquakes during the period in question.

The tables that follow classify these 146 earthquakes by location and by magnitude:

The 130 hour period used for the tables above is really only a snapshot of the earthquake activity that goes on in the Caribbean Plate. Clearly such seismic activity continues, and in fact in the additional 100 hours since the end of the period covered by these tables to the late evening (UTC) on 9 September 2012 , as I write this notes, the USGS record already lists 70 additional earthquakes M2.5 of higher that have hit somewhere in the Caribbean Plate, including several aftershocks in the same region of Costa Rica hit by the M7.6 on 5 September. So there have been a total of 216 earthquakes of M2.5 or higher in a period of 240 hours, or pretty close to one an hour. A lot of shaking indeed, specially when we realize there are many times that number if we were to include earthquakes below magnitude 2.5. Such lower magnitude earthquakes are not normally included in these records, because most of them are so weak that they are not even felt by humans and cause no noticeable damage to buildings and infrastructure.

Coincidentally perhaps, the pattern of seismic activity in the Caribbean Plate bears some similarity to what took place toward the end of 2009 and early in 2010 before the January 2010 M7.0 earthquake that devastated western Haiti, including its capital city of Port-au-Prince. During that episode of seismic activity most earthquake events took place around Puerto Rco and the Virgin Islands, with some hits in or near the coasts of Nicaragua, el Salvador and Costa Rica, and additional events off the coast of Honduras  and then in the Island of Hispaniola. From this we may conclude that earthquake activity in the Caribbean Plate is the norm rather than the exception, and we should not be surprised if new seismic events continue to take place in this region.

Because some of the neighboring plates are subducting beneath the Caribbean Plate along its western border, along the central American Trench, but also along its northeastern and portions of its eastern borders with the Atlantic, there has been a long episode of mountain building and vulcanism, which is evident today as a long chain of volcanoes near the Pacific coast line stretching from Guatemala to Costa Rica and Panama, as well as mountain ranges and abrupt topography in Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and in the Virgin Islands.

One of the many volcanoes product of such plate tectonic processes, Volcano San Cristobal, in Nicaragua has entered quite an active eruptive phase over the past few days that has prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents in the provinces of Chinandega and Leon in Nicaragua and a state of emergency issued by the Government of Nicaragua. San Cristobal with a height of 1745 mt (5725+ ft) is the tallest volcano in Nicaragua, and it has been active since 1525. This volcano is the youngest of a complex of five volcanic edifices, which originated in the Pleistocene.  Just a few kilometer to the west of San Cristobal,  on the extreme northwestern point of Nicaragua along the Pacific coastal plain, we find what remains of Volcano Cosiguina now 900 mt high, which in 1835 had an explosive eruption that blew its top 700 meters off and rivaled that of Krakatau in Indonesia. Ash and ejecta material from the 1835 eruption have been found as far away a Jamaica and Costa Rica, and it was so voluminous that it altered the global climate and specially so in Nicaragua, where 1835 was subsequently known as the year of the smoke!

In closing it is important to answer the question many are asking, specially in Nicaragua, regarding whether the eruption of San Cristobal and the M7.6 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks in Costa Rica are related coming, as they have just a couple of days apart from one another? While no one can say that the volcanic eruption in Nicaragua was triggered by the earthquake activity in Costa Rica, what is certain is that both events are byproducts of the ongoing natural process of plate tectonics involving the Caribbean Plate and its interaction with The Cocos, Nazca, South American and North American plates, and related sub-processes of subduction, faulting, vulcanism etc.

As I am about to place the final period in this article, I am receiving reports of currently ongoing rather mild earthquake activity just northwest of Managua, in the peninsula of Chiltepe in Lake Xolotlan (Managua), where the remnants craters of ancient volcanoes are part of the striking landscape near the capital city of Nicaragua. While this earthquake swarm near Managua has only reached magnitudes of M1.5 to M2.0, it is nevertheless evidence on the continuous process that makes the Caribbean Plate and all countries on it so vulnerable to earthquake and/or volcanic activity.