June 1st was the official start of hurricane season, though it’s possible for them to occur prior to June (see graphic, courtesy of the U.S. National Hurricane Center). While we have sometimes experienced the effects of hurricanes since we’ve lived in Costa Rica, so far, we haven’t received a direct hit.
Is it even possible for Costa Rica to get a direct hit from a hurricane? According to a Tico Times article entitled, “Why Hurricanes Rarely Hit Costa Rica,” the answer is “…yes and no, meaning ‘yes’ they do receive the tropical aftermath of one, like heavy rains of what Tropical Storm Tomas did in November 2010 that caused sever damage and deaths.” The article goes on to explain, “Costa Rica is located at 9.55 degrees north of the equator, below the path of most hurricanes. There are seven tropical cyclone zones “basins” where storms occur on a regular basis and Costa Rica is not located in the affected areas.”
But, just in case, the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional de Costa Rica (National Meteorological Institute) has a plan to inform residents so they may reduce their risks and take appropriate measures to reduce their vulnerability to the natural phenomenon of hurricanes. Here is a link to the complete original source document (in Spanish) and our English translation below of the most relevant sections:
Hurricanes and Their Effects in Costa Rica
Hurricanes are atmospheric phenomena that cause more damage to Costa Rica, either through severe flooding, mudslides or landslides.
In recent years, hurricanes (Joan in 1988, César in 1996, and Mitch in 1998), and tropical storms (Alma in 2005 and Thomas in 2010), have caused severe damage in Costa Rica, especially Hurricane César , which caused loss of human lives and extensive damage to the national infrastructure.
Although hurricanes form in the Caribbean Sea, they affect the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, due to the circulation of winds and the movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone into the country.
The following table shows tropical storms and hurricanes that have affected Costa Rica in one way or another. It is a historical record that goes from 1950 to 2012.
Usually, when a tropical storm or hurricane forms in the Caribbean Sea, it affects the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. To illustrate this involvement, take Hurricane Mitch as an example, which produced a significant amount of rain on the Pacific side, contrary to the Caribbean slope, where the rain was scarce.
Look at the map below, produced by the IMN with respect to Hurricane Mitch. It clearly shows the effects that this type of atmospheric phenomena inflicts on the country. You can find some comparative data regarding other hurricanes, like César and Joan. In addition, Hurricane Mitch has been considered the most devastating hurricane in the history of Central America. However, Hurricane Cesar, a hurricane categorized as less strong, caused much more damage in Costa Rica.
Can a hurricane directly affect Costa Rica? What does history show?
Recorded history shows that while the possibility of a direct effect occurring is low, it is not quite zero.