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Hurricane Richard Hits Belize

24 October 2010 (latest update May 2011)

Jan C. Meerman 2010-2011

Hurricane Richard was the seventeenth named storm and the tenth hurricane of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. Richard developed from an area of low pressure that stalled in the Caribbean Sea in mid-October. It slowly organized, and the National Hurricane Center declared it a tropical storm, giving it the name Richard on October 20, and it did not gain hurricane status until the morning of October the 24th. The hurricane continued intensifying to peak winds of 90 mph (150 km/h), and the minimum central pressure dropped to 981 millibars, thus creating a category 1, borderline category 2 hurricane.

Throughout Belize, Hurricane Richard caused an estimated BZ$49.2 million (US$24.7 million) in damage; BZ$14.5 million (US$7.3 million) to infrastructure and BZ$34.7 million (US$17.4 million) to agriculture. An estimated 200 houses were destroyed or heavily damaged. Only one direct human fatality has been blamed on the storm, when a small fishing vessel sank amidst rough seas in the hurricane. Two indirect fatalities were reported after the hurricane.

While the material damage was relatively low, the damage to natural vegetation was extensive. The private Protected Area Runaway Creek (damage described as "moderate with with most of the damage consisting of delimbing and defoliation [comm. Steven Brewer]) was in the immediate path of the hurricane. Savanna habitats along the coastal road were largely unaffected, but Oaks sustained heavy damage by being toppled [comm. Alan Graham]. Guanacaste National Park was heavily affected (see pictures). The Belize Zoo, needed to be closed for a full month allowing for repairs.

Damage to wildlife is also apparent with particularly the Spider Monkey populations in the affected areas being heavily impacted. Similarly Toucans have been seen at unusual places since the hurricane and these are certainly refugees. Species such as Toucans and Spider Monkeys depend on fruit for their nourishment and most fruits have been stripped from the trees. While direct mortality was probably not a hugh issue, long term survival and reproductive health of the populations of many species is probably negatively affected for at least this year. Impacted fauna will largely consist of nectar and fruit feeding species such as the Spider-Monkeys and Toucans, but also includes Kinkajous, Fruit eating Bats, Hummingbirds, Curassows, Trogons and others.

Further inland, the Green Hills Butterfly Ranch was affected with many trees down, fortunately, there was no damage to the buildings and the place could be opened to the public within only one day after the hurricane.

Particularly badly hit was the Yalbac forest, although furthest away from the coast it probably suffered more heavy damage than any other area.

During the coming dry season wildfires are going to be a major threat to these hurricane damaged forests.

In April 2011, the number of wildfires started to increase and some of the forested areas within the Hurricane Richard path have been severely affected. These fires raged for nearly 2 months, affecting (nationally) 86,400 ha / 213,500 acres of broadleaf forest. Download the report on the 2011 fire impacts

Hurricane Richard approaching Belize

400 km Radar Image, Late Saturday/Early Sunday. Richard has just been upgraded from a tropical storm to a Category 1 Hurricane

Image generated by Belize National Meteorological Service

50 Km radar Image, 18.53 hr local time

Just after nightfall, hurricane Richard makes landfall in Belize approximately between Belize City and Dangriga.

The eye is very distinctive at this stage

Image generated by Belize National Meteorological Service

250 Km Radar Image, 21.45 Local Time

The eye has just passed Belmopan, and is essentially of the same diameter as when it made landfall.

Image generated by Belize National Meteorological Service with thanks to Bruce Miller for recording it

Hurricane Richard leaving Belize

250 Km Radar Image, 23.35 Local Time

Just around midnight, hurricane Richard leaves Belize, the eye is dissipating and soon after this Richard will be reduced to a tropical storm.

Image generated by Belize National Meteorological Service with thanks to Bruce Miller for recording it

Utilizing the radar maps above and combined with own and third party on the ground observations, an impact map was created. See below. The actual path of the hurricane was approximately 60 km (40 miles) wide. The "edges" of the hurricane were not a well demarcated as was the case in hurricane Iris. Particularly in the transition zone hurricane force/tropical storm force, damage to forests is particularly patchy with some areas suffering more intensive damage than other, adjacent areas. Hilly areas appear to have been affected heavier than level areas.

Total affected area by the hurricane Richard is approximately 968,000 ha or 2,391,000 acres. Specifically for forest, within this area approximately 163,000 ha or 400,000 acres of forest has been severely affected (see yalbac examples below).

Hurricane Richard Path Belize

Approximate path of Hurricane Richard over Belize. The darker shaded zone in the center is the path of the actual eye. The medium shaded area is the area with hurricane force winds causing considerable damage to natural vegetation. The lighter shaded area is a tropical storm force zone. The yellow barred zone is the zone of apparent highest impact. Notice that this does not exactly follow the path of the eye. The distinction between the zones is indicative only and based on very limited ground truthing.Click image for a larger picture (jpg - 700 kb)

Following are some pictures showing damage in selected areas:

UB Facility at Calabash Caye (picture courtesy of ERI at UB)
UB Facility at Calabash Caye (picture courtesy of ERI at UB)
Hurricane Damage Belize Zoo
Coastal Road - Sibun (Picture courtesy of Allan Graham)

Belize Zoo - King Vulture Display (picture courtesy of Sharon Matola)

Hurricane Damage Guanacaste National Park
Hurricane Damage Guanacaste National Park
Guanacaste National Park (after cleanup!)
Guanacaste National Park
St. Hermans Cave, 2months after the event. The remaining trees have become "vine pillars"
St. Hermans Cave, 2months after the event.
Hurricane Damage Green Hillas Butterfly Ranch
Hurricane Damage Green Hillas Butterfly Ranch
Green Hills Butterfly Ranch
Green Hills Butterfly Ranch
Hurricane Damage Green Hillas Butterfly Ranch
Hurricane Damage Yalbac Forests
Green Hills Butterfly Ranch
Yalbac (Picture courtesy of Yalbac Ranch)
Yalbac (2 months after the event)
Yalbac (2 months after the event)
Gallon Jug (Picture courtesy of Carolyn Miller)
Chan Chich (Picture courtesy of Carolyn Miller)


Download report on the dramatic 2011 fire season in the aftermath of hurricane Richard


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