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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Ready for another hurricane season in Yucatán? Your 2021 guide

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Hurricane Dean was the first hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic season. It formed in the latter half of August, when it swallowed the Yucatán Peninula on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Stocktrek

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is off to a fast start, even faster than the 2020 season.

Now a tropical storm, Elsa formed on July 1 and grew to hurricane strength, but has stayed east of the Yucatán Peninsula. It appears to be cutting through Cuba as it heads to Florida’s Gulf Coast. Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm of any Atlantic hurricane season on record. The previous record set during 2020’s busy hurricane season when Edouard formed on July 5.

Any season’s fifth named storm would normally have arrived around August, sometimes September.

“Even in the satellite era, a fifth storm in early July was unthinkable before 2020, and we were a few hours away from squeezing it into June 2021,” tweeted Eric Blake of the National Hurricane Center.

And the Windward Islands, where Elsa formed, would normally see very little storm development in June or early July. Dust from the Sahara Desert actually helps suppress severe weather patterns.

NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division indicates that early activity in this part of the Atlantic correlates to a more active hurricane season.

By this time last year, through the July 4 season, there were four storms, including Bertha and Cristobal — which drenched and devastated the Yucatán for a solid week.

A woman in Tecoh wades through the water in a flood caused by Tropical Storm Cristobal in June 2020.

So while June has been a relative cakewalk in Yucatán compared to 2020, Elsa is leaving us hints that we won’t escape some worries the rest of the hurricanes season — which lasts through October.

This early activity is a reminder that the time to prepare for another hurricane season is now.

The U.S. Consulate offers a series of preparedness tips, starting with making sure your passport is up to date in case you decide to beat a hasty retreat.

Americans can also enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive all important notifications by e-mail.

This was the awesome damage inflicted on Cancun beaches by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Photo: Houston Chronicle

Gather all vital documents into a secure location and make photocopies to be kept separately, the consulate further advises.

While your cement home in Mexico won’t likely fall over, power and water could be out for days if a hurricane blows through.

Your own foodwater and other supplies need last for at least 72 hours. (Here is a printable version of the checklist.) 

Build a basic disaster supplies kit

Store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins. The kit should include:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation)
  • Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Additional emergency supplies

The Center for Disease Control recently recommended additional items:

  • Cloth face coverings (for everyone ages 2 and above), soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces
  • Prescription medications
  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Prescription eyeglasses and contact lens solution
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

Bookmark the local Civil Protection website for an interactive map showing 1,200 temporary shelters (refugios temporales).

Going to a shelter is a last resort. If you do go, pack lightly and take a thick blanket, a change of clothes including extra shoes, and although the shelter will provide some, take your own extra food and water. Also, take your most important papers, such as your passport and birth certificate, in a plastic bag. Don’t forget your emergency cash, medicines, and personal hygiene items.

In a shelter, only one suitcase per person is allowed.

Mexico’s warning system

The national Mexican warning system is called the “Early Warning System for Tropical Cyclones” (SIAT – CT). Alerts will be transmitted in English and Spanish during a crisis.

Blue Alert: Watch 

The presence of a tropical cyclone has been detected or more than 72 hours remain before the cyclone’s 34-knot (63-km/h) wind line reaches an affected area. The danger is considered to be minimal. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every 24 hours. At this stage, it is your responsibility to stay informed (media links follow).

Green Alert: Prevention 

Between 24 and 72 hours remain before the cyclone’s 34-knot (63-km/h) wind line reaches an affected area, depending on the intensity of the cyclone. The danger is considered to be low. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every 12 hours. Stay informed on tropical cyclones and the measures to be taken.

Yellow Alert: Preparation 

This is when between 12 and 60 hours remain before the cyclone’s 34-knot (63-km/h) wind line reaches an affected area, depending on the intensity of the cyclone. The danger is considered to be moderate. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every six hours. The community is expected to pay close attention to official information, learn the location of temporary shelters, prepare for a possible evacuation and take self-protection measures.

Orange Alert: Alarm 

This means between six and 36 hours remain before the cyclone’s 34-knot (63-km/h) wind line reaches an affected area or impact is imminent. The danger is considered to be high. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every three hours. The community is expected to evacuate at-risk areas, follow instructions from the authorities and cancel any boating or coastal activities.

Red Alert: Effects Present 

The Red Alert is established when a tropical cyclone is impacting an affected area. The danger is considered to be maximum. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every three hours. The community is expected to seek immediate shelter and obey authorities.

Stay informed

Here’s where to find news during a storm:


· Civil Protection Cancún

· City Hall Radio (Radio Ayuntamiento): FM 105.9 (Spanish)

Playa Del Carmen 

· Riviera FM SQCS: 98.1 FM (Spanish)

· Riviera FM Facebook Page

· Civil Protection of Quintana Roo (Click “Alertas” on the left for specific storm advisories) (Spanish)


· Civil Protection of Quintana Roo (Click “Alertas” on the left for specific storm advisories) (Spanish)


· Mérida’s Department of Civil Protection (Spanish)—Includes list of all local emergency telephone numbers, including hospitals. Also call 999-944-3532, 999-944-2470 or 800-719-8633.

· Local SIPSE TV and Radio

What if you want to stay?

The U.S. Consulate in Merida’s advice to U.S. citizens is to follow all local authorities’ instructions with regards to evacuation. They do not perform rescue operations if American citizens get in a jam.

The Mexican Army and/or Navy could be called in to enforce an evacuation. But if someone chooses not to evacuate during an emergency, Civil Protection in Yucatán has a policy of respecting that decision. Adios y buena suerte.

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