Panama is a practical paradise for everyone. Its beautiful beaches, fair weather, and green surroundings are enticing. Retiring here will be enjoyable. You should protect yourself, however, from the natural disasters in Panama.
Panama is a tropical region, vulnerable to floods, heavy rains, and earthquakes. While the isthmus has a long wet season, it rarely gets hurricanes and earthquakes. Flooding and landslides can happen in remote areas but not enough to be disastrous.
If you plan on living in Panama, you need to understand the local weather patterns. How often are you going to encounter hurricanes and earthquakes? How catastrophic can they be? Can you do something about it?
Here are a few suggestions that you can do if you catch yourself in such a situation.
Understanding the Climate in Panama
Panama has a tropical climate, found north of the equatorial line in Central America. Temperatures can be high, together with the relative humidity. Panama has a cooler Pacific side, with its Carribean side receiving less cold winds from the west.
The national climate separates into the dry season and wet season. Much of all the rain falls during wet periods.
The dry season runs between January to April, and it can start as early as December. Wet season runs between May to November, up to December, depending on the monsoon.
The Panamanian terrain has a combination of flatlands, jungles, and mountains. Its mountainous areas can rise as much as 11,401 feet (3475 m) with Volcan Baru.
Much of the rainfall in Panama depends on a few factors. The two most crucial factors are:
- Humidity in the Carribean
- The divide between Northern and Southern American continents
The humidity in the Carribean moves north and northeast through prevailing winds. These winds create a cold front that develops into heavy rainfall. The continental divide acts as a storm shield for the Pacific side of Panama.
Another potential influence of inclement weather in Panama is the southwesterly winds from the Pacific. This wind comes in around the latter half of the year, bringing some precipitation. The lowlands facing the Pacific get some rainfall. The mountains and hills in Panama, however, act as the rain shield.
Because of the rain shield effect in Panama, much of the rains go into the Carribean side than the Pacific side. These rains go from Bocas Del Toro, down to Buri, and the general area of Santa Fe.
Panama, during the dry season, can only get as much as 64 mm (2.5 inches) of rain. During rainy periods, rainfall can go as much as 508 mm (20 inches) of rain in some areas. This can go on for more than half the year, making it problematic.
Rainy season thunderstorms are the most common natural hazards in Panama.
Are There Hurricanes in Panama?
So, are there hurricanes in Panama? The short answer is no. Panama is outside the hurricane belt, which comes from the African west coast. These hurricanes go to the east coast of Central America and the Gulf Coast of Southern US.
Panama, because of its geographic situation in between two continents, does not experience hurricanes. In its entire known history, there are only 4 hurricanes that affected it. These are:
- Hurricane Martha (1969)
- Hurricane Beta (2005)
- Hurricane Otto (2016)
- Hurricane Nate (2017)
Among these hurricanes, Martha is the only hurricane that made landfall in Panama. Most of the other hurricanes affected other regions in the area. Many stopped at the Carribean Sea before reaching Panama.
Most of the hurricanes in the Carribean affect Panama via their gustiness alone. Hind winds can affect many areas in Panama, specifically Panama City. Floods can affect mountainous regions in Panama, resulting in landslides.
While hurricanes don’t go straight to Panama, their outer bands can cause heavy winds. Landslides are the most common disasters in Panama during heavy rains. With Panama’s mountains and hills, landslides are a hazard that can affect you more than flooding.
Mudslides can also be a common issue. Many areas in Panama lack road infrastructures, which can be a problem. Mud can come rushing from a nearby hillside and trap motorists in the area.
Are There Earthquakes in Panama?
Are there earthquakes in Panama? Fortunately, Panama only has two fault lines but has rare experiences with any significant tremors. In its entire history, there are only 4 earthquakes that affected Panama at all.
These are the:
- 1621 Panama earthquake
- 1991 Limon earthquake
- 2002 Burica earthquake
- 2003 Puerto Armuelles earthquake
In June 2019, Panama experienced its latest quake, which as a 6.3 magnitude tremor. It hit the border between Panama and Costa Rica, with tremors felt in Panama City itself. There was also a 6.1 magnitude quake a month before that had an epicenter near David. This quake damaged some property, injuring with at least two people.
Even if there have been past earthquakes in Panama, the fault lines where the country lies are dormant. These lines are the Pedro Miguel fault and the Limon Fault systems.
Among the two, the Pedro Miguel fault is the scarier tectonic fault. This fault line runs beneath the Panama Canal and Panama City itself. The last time the Pedro Miguel fault ruptured was in the 1621 Panama earthquake. The quake was so strong that it destroyed the old city of Panama Viejo, with extensive property damage.
If the Pedro Miguel fault breaks today, it can cause severe damages to Panama City. Many buildings in the city are not up to code to handle such a catastrophic disaster.
For those unlucky enough to experience an earthquake in Panama, follow the standard earthquake maneuvers. Hide under a sturdy table or desk with a big, open space. If you’re outside, go out to a wide-open space far away from trees or buildings.
If you’re on an eco-tour or near a mountain, beware of mudslides and rockslides on the way. Rockslides can be a problem along Panama’s hillside terrain. Sudden landslides can be a regular occurrence during Panama’s wet season. An earthquake can crack mountainsides and drop them on roads and curbsides.
Other Natural Disasters in Panama
Are there other natural disasters that you need to be wary of in Panama? Apart from the rare hurricane or earthquake, you only need to be wary of the seasonal thunderstorms. A tsunami is uncommon in the beaches of Panama. Their geographic position protects them from massive waves.
Thunderstorms can be problematic if you’re living in storm-prone areas. Panama’s thunderstorms are common during rainy seasons. With the 80% chance of rain comes with thunderstorms along Panama’s many beaches. There are days during the wet season where lightning storms can last for hours on end.
Among the most significant thunderstorms in Panama is the July 14 Thunderstorm in 2016. During this day, 41,000 lightning strikes affect a large swathe of Panama. It affected the northern and southern beaches of Panama, along the Gulf of Parita and Colon.
During thunderstorms, the best move you can do is stay inside your home. Most lightning strikes in Panama occur over wide-open areas. These can be in gulf coasts, island areas, or even beaches.
If there is inclement weather in Panama, it’s best to move away from the beaches. Even if a lightning strike doesn’t hit you, strong waves can suck you in. An unfortunate lightning strike nearby can cause surface electrocution once it dissipates.
Panama is a majestic place to rest, relax, and even retire. Like many places, it can still have its own natural disasters that can affect you.
Much of Panama’s natural disasters come from its rainy season. Hurricanes and earthquakes are uncommon in this Central American country. Because of its geographic position, most of Panama has protections from such natural disasters.
These geographic protections do not mean that Panama is immune to such problems. Over the past few years, Panama experienced significant natural disasters. If they come back or not is anybody’s guess, but it doesn’t hurt to be ready.
The most common weather problems you can experience in Panama are thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are a regular occurrence during Panama’s wet season, with some that can last for hours. It’s best to be careful during such bad weather so you can enjoy your stay in Panama.
Have you ever experienced any natural disasters in Panama? What was the feeling like?
Panama is a beautiful country, so it’s best to keep safe and sound during such events. Always be vigilant wherever you are. Disasters can strike at the most inopportune moments, which can be a problem for you.
Stay safe. Enjoy Panama! You won’t regret it.
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