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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.

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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

Engrardio, Peter. “The Dashed Dreams in Gilbert’s Wake.” Business
Week. 3 Oct. 1988:32. Findlayson, Ann. “Gilberts Havoc.” Macleans. 26
Sept, 1988:18+. Monastersty, R. “Focusing on Gilbert’s extra eye.”
Science News. 24 Sept. 1988: 196. Sheets, Robert C. “Anatomy of a
Hurricane.” Hurricane Familarzation. *Http://*
(24 November 1997). Stengel, Richard. “It was no Breeze.” Time. 26
Sept. 1988: 17+. Trippett, Frank. “Jamaica: A decade lost in a day.”
Time. 26 Sept. 1988:18+. Wilder, Rachel. “Damage Report from a Capricious
hurricane.” U.S. News and World Report. 3 Oct. 1988:68+. “The Monster
that Stalked the Gulf of Mexico.” U.S. News and World Report. 26 Sept.

1988: 9+. “Hurricane Gilbert Batters Caribbean and Mexico.” Facts on
File, 1989:689+. Some Notable Hurricanes, Typhoons, and other Storms. World
Almanac and Book of Facts, 1997:302. “Hurricane Info”. Chc-Frequently
Asked Questions. [ND]. **
(24 November 1997). “Hurricane Center.” WashingtonPost.Com:Wather
Post. [ND]. *Http:// hurricane.html* (21
November 1997).


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