Why Hurricane Patricia Didn’t Cause Epic Damage

2 minute read

Hurricane Patricia—the strongest hurricane ever recorded—made landfall on Friday without causing the catastrophic damage that many had anticipated. That lack of destruction is in large part due to the storm’s record winds staying confined to a small area and hitting a relatively unpopulated region.

“The amount of damage is going to be entirely dependent on where the storm hits,” said Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central. “If it had been a more heavily populated area, we’d be having a much different conversation.”

The storm made landfall near Cuixmala, a luxury retreat in a sparsely populated ocean reserve, early Friday evening with winds of around 165 miles per hour. But the storm’s strongest winds didn’t extend much beyond 15 miles of its eye. The nearest city Manzanillo, which has a population of more than 100,000, is located more than 50 miles away.

Hurricane devastation is often due more to a combination of unfortunate circumstances rather than the sheer size of the storm. New Orleans, for instance, only sustained category 1 or 2 level winds during Hurricane Katrina but the storm caused a high “storm surge”—when elevated waters get pushed onto land by the wind—which ultimately led to much of the devastating flooding. Failed levees and neighborhoods located below sea level only contributed to the problem. Damage due to Hurricane Sandy was also largely the result of a high storm surge.

And while Hurricane Patricia avoided the most populated places along the coast, experts said that the storm had caused widespread damage in the area it did hit, including mud slides, flooding and power outages. Officials in the more densely populated areas, like tourist haven Puerto Vallarta, also appeared to follow preparation practices that would diminish the chances of injuries or death.

While the damage caused by Patricia may not scratch the record books, its strength certainly will. The storm’s winds reached 200 miles per hour Friday before making landfall.

“There was still damage and still flooding,” said Sublette. “It was a quite a kick.”

See the Evolution of the Iconic Blue Marble Photo

Earth Blue Marble Apollo 17 1972
Blue Marble, 1972; The original "Blue Marble" was taken on Dec. 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft en route to the Moon at a distance of about 29,000 kilometres (18,000 mi). It shows Africa, Antarctica, and the Arabian Peninsula.NASA
NASA Earth Blue Marble MODIS 2002
NASA created these two images to exhibit high-resolution global composites of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data. The land surface data were acquired from June through Sep. of 2001. The clouds were acquired on two separate days - July 29, 2001, for the northern hemisphere and Nov. 16, 2001 for the southern hemisphere. The images were rendered in late January 2002. NASA
Earth Blue Marble 2002 Terra
In 2002, NASA released the most detailed true-color image of the Earth’s surface ever produced up to that point. Scientists and data visualizers created the image by stitching together data collected over 4 months from NASA’s Terra satellite.The 2002 Blue Marble featured land surfaces, clouds, topography, and city lights at a maximum resolution of 1 kilometer per pixel. (NASA image by Robert Simmon and Reto Stöckli)
Earth Blue Marble Next Generation 2004
The Blue Marble: Next Generation was a series of images that show the color of the Earth’s surface for each month of 2004 at very high resolution (500 meters/pixel) at a global scale. This image is a mosaic showing South America from September 2004 (with clouds removed). Reto Stöckli and Robert Simmon/NASA
Earth Black Marble 2012
Known as the "Black Marble", this image of North and South America at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012.NOAA/NASA/SuomiNPP
Earth Blue Marble VIIRS
An image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA's Earth-observing research satellite, Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken on 4 Jan. 4, 2012. NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
Earth Blue Marble DSCOVR
The newest "Blue Marble", Earth seen from a distance of one million miles captured by a NASA scientific camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft on July 6, 2015.NASA

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Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com