Hurricane Alex, the first Atlantic hurricane of the season, is about to strike land

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Jun 302010

The first Atlantic hurricane of the season, Hurricane Alex, is about to cross the coast of the state of Tamaulipas in north-eastern Mexico. Early on 30 June 2010, Hurricane Alex was 250 km east of La Pesca on the coast of Tamaulipas. Currently classified as a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, Alex is moving slowly (11 km/h) in a west-north-westerly direction. It has sustained winds of 130 km/h, with gusts up to 160 km/h.

Before crossing the coast later in the day, it is expected to strengthen to a category 2 storm (with sustained winds of 150 km/h and gusts up to 185 km/h).

For its latest position and predicted path, see Mexico’s National Meteorological Service website.

After the event, hurricane information is stored in the same site’s Historical Hurricane Archive.

Hurricanes and other climatological phenomena are analyzed in chapters 4 and 7 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today, so you have a handy reference guide available whenever you need it.

Jun 262010

Hurricanes are also known as typhoons or tropical cyclones. The table shows the World Meteorological Organization’s official list of 2010 hurricane names.

Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and CaribbeanEastern Pacific

Hurricane Darby is currently off the Pacific coast. It is the second major hurricane so far this hurricane season, the first being Hurricane Celia. As of June 25, Hurricane Celia is well out to sea, while Hurricane Darby is a Category 3 storm, with maximum sustained winds near 115 mph (185 kph). Hurricane Darby  is located about 265 miles (425 kilometers) southwest of Acapulco, and heading west-northwest (ie out to sea) at about 6 mph (9 kph). Neither hurricane looks likely to affect land areas.

We are still waiting for the first fully-fledged hurricane to develop on the other side of Mexico.

Note that male and female names alternate. Names are often reused in future years, with the exception of the names of any particularly violent storms, which are officially “retired” from the list for a long time.

Hurricanes and other climatic hazards are analyzed in detail in chapter 4 of  Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

The wettest states in Mexico

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May 012010

The “top ten” states in Mexico for annual precipitation amounts are:

RankStateAnnual precipitation (mm)
6Quintana Roo1,263

No other state normally receives more than 1,000 mm of precipitation, which in Mexico’s case is almost entirely rainfall.

As is evident from this list, the southern half of Mexico receives significantly more precipitation than the northern half. Among other implications, this means that the risk of flooding is greatest in states on this list such as Tabasco that are also low-lying and/or poorly drained.

The 10 driest states in Mexico

 Teaching ideas  Comments Off on The 10 driest states in Mexico
Apr 102010

These are the ten states in Mexico with the lowest annual precipitation totals. Mexico’s six wettest states receive more than twice the precipitation of any of these dry states.

RankStateAnnual precipitation (mm)
1Baja California Sur176.2
2Baja California203.7
10Nuevo León602.2

Teaching ideas:

  • Plot these states on a map of Mexico and see if there is any clear pattern to their location.
  • Does their location help to explain why these states receive less precipitation than other parts of Mexico?
  • What other factors, besides location, may help to explain why they are the driest states in Mexico?
  • What are the implications of receiving limited precipitation for economic activities?
  • To what extent does receiving limited precipitation influence a region’s development?

Mexico’s diverse climates are the subject of chapter 4 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Water availability, rivers, aquifers, water issues and hazards are analyzed in chapters 6 and 7. Buy your copy today!

The origins of the cabañuelas system of weather forecasting

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Mar 072010

An earlier post described the weather forecasting system known as las cabañuelas.

In this post, we look at the possible origins of such an unusual and distinctive system.

Is the term cabañuelas derived from the Mayan language?

The historical origins of the word cabañuelas are unclear. Some sources claim that the system’s roots lie in the Old World, and go back well before the Spanish colonization of the New World. Writing in Mexico Desconocido, Homero Adame claims that the origins date back to the Zumac, or “Festival of Luck”, in the Babylonian calendar. The term cabañuelas may be connected to the Hebrew version, which was the “Festival of the Tabernacles”. Adame also points out that twelve days in the middle of winter were used in India to forecast the future weather conditions. He applies the lore of las cabañuelas to the weather experienced in the city of San Luis Potosí in 2001, finding that it does a fairly good (though not perfect) job of predicting the weather later in the year.

However, an alternative viewpoint is argued by Graciela Minaya, in an article originally published in 1945, in La Nación, a Mexico City daily. She views las cabañuelas as an example of the common heritage of the ancient indigenous peoples of Mexico, central America, and the larger Caribbean islands, that was passed down from one generation to the next. This would explain the variability in details from one country to another.

In her view, las cabañuelas were probably handed down from the Maya. The Maya calendar had 18 months, each of 20 days, followed by five additional “non-month” days. The Maya version of las cabañuelas used the first 18 days of the first month to predict the weather for the year (18 months). To complete the system, the 19th day of the first month predicted the weather for the summer solstice and the 20th the weather for the winter solstice.

The Maya version was known as Chac-chac. For those who are curious, the 18 months are: pop, uo, zip, zots, tzec, xul, yakin, mol, chen, yax, zac, ceh, mac, kankin, muan, pax, kayab, cumhú. The spare 5 days are known as uayeb. The days of each month went in the following order: ik, akbal, kan, chiechán, cimí, manik, lamat, muluc, oe, chuen, eb, bon, ix, men, cíb, cabán, eznab, cauac, ahua, imix. Minaya argued that the 16th day, cabán, gave rise to the word cabañuelas, presumably because it had some additional significance, perhaps in terms of some other calendric calculation, or time-marker.

The testimony of Román Pané, a monk of the order of St. Geronimo, who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, lends credence to the idea that las cabañuelas originated in the New World. While in Haiti, Pané recorded the fact that “these Indians know by consulting their gods and observing the first days of the year which days will be good, which will be bad, which will be rainy and which dry.” (Loosely translated from what is the earliest purely ethnographic treatise on American Indians.) Pané, incidentally, is thought to have been the first person to take tobacco back to Spain.

How did the Maya come up with the system in the first place? They had already undertaken sophisticated astronomical observations and had developed advanced mathematical and calendric systems, even to the point of being able to predict the arrival of some comets. So, perhaps by long and patient observation of their weather patterns, they had also amassed evidence of cyclical weather phenomena.

Whatever their origin, las cabañuelas occur every January, giving everyone an opportunity to record the weather and see how well they work during the coming year. It is not at all unusual in early January, for example if the 8th of the month is cloudy and rainy, that someone will exclaim, “¡Ay! es que estamos en la cabañuela de agosto” (We are in the August cabañuela).

Should you hear this, you’ll know exactly what they are talking about! Both Chac, the Maya rain god, and Kukulcan, the Maya wind god, will be proud of you!

This is an edited version of an article originally published on MexConnect. Click here for the complete article

The climate of Mexico is discussed, with several maps,  in chapter 4 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Climatic hazards, such as hurricanes, droughts and floods, are looked at in detail in chapters 4 and 7.

Mexico’s cultural geography and cultural landscapes are discussed in chapter 13.