15 years ago this week, Hurricane Mitch tore through the Western Caribbean as the second deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record. It began on Oct. 22 and was still roaring as late as Nov. 9, 1998.
Hurricane Mitch, the most destructive and powerful of the 1998 storm season in the Atlantic, killed 11,000. Another 11,000 were listed as missing. 2.7 million people were uprooted from their homes. It dumped historic amounts of rainfall in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras — as much as 75 inches during it’s six-day peak in the region.
Other key facts about Hurricane Mitch
- Maximum sustained winds of 180 mph (285 km/h).
- Mitch was the thirteenth tropical storm, ninth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the ’98 season.
- At the time, Hurricane Mitch was the strongest Atlantic hurricane observed in the month of October, though it has since been surpassed by Hurricane Wilma of the 2005 season.
- Hurricane Mitch matched the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record (it has since dropped to seventh).
- The flooding caused extreme damage, estimated at over $6 billion (1998 USD).
Mitch formed in the western Caribbean Sea on October 22, and after drifting through extremely favorable conditions, it rapidly strengthened to peak at Category 5 status, the highest possible rating on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale. After drifting southwestward and weakening, the hurricane hit Honduras as a minimal hurricane. It drifted through Central America, reformed in the Bay of Campeche, and ultimately struck Florida as a strong tropical storm.