Hurricane Mitch was the most powerful hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, with maximum sustained winds of 180 mph (285 km/h). The storm was the thirteenth tropical storm, ninth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the season.
At the time, Hurricane Mitch was the strongest Atlantic hurricane observed in the month of October, though it has since been surpassed by Hurricane Wilma of the 2005 season. The hurricane matched the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record (it has since dropped to seventh).
On October 21, 1998, a tropical depression formed in the southern Caribbean Sea. One day later, the storm became a tropical storm and was given the name "Mitch". Mitch moved very little over the next few days, drifting to the northwest, and gathering strength. A sharp increase in intensity occurred between the afternoon of October 23 and October 26 during which time Mitch strengthened from a tropical storm with 60 knot winds, to a Saffir-Simpson Category 5 hurricane with winds of 155 knots.
The hurricane continued to gather strength as it moved to the northwest very slowly. Winds in the storm reached a peak of 157 knots (180 MPH) on October 26 just off the northeast coast of Honduras. This made Mitch the strongest hurricane in the Caribbean sea in over a decade. Mitch maintained this level of intensity for nearly 24 hours before beginning to weaken.
On October 24, 1998, Atlantic Tropical Storm Mitch was upgraded to a hurricane that developed into one of the strongest and most damaging storms to ever hit the Caribbean and Central America. At its height on October 26 and 27, the hurricane had sustained winds of 180 mph and dumped heavy rains over Central America. Although the winds diminished as Hurricane Mitch traveled inland over Honduras on October 30, the storm continued to produce torrential rains, reaching a rate of more than 4 inches per hour, which caused catastrophic floods and landslides throughout the region.
Honduras suffered the brunt of Hurricane Mitch. After being stalled for more than two days off the country's northern coast, the storm traveled inland during October 30 and 31.
One of the most devestating hurricanes of our time to cripple the country of Honduras was Hurricane Mitch. Hondurans watched in disbelief as Mitch circled just off the coast, leading no clues as to where it would strike next. To the amazement of all, it took a surprising turn and tore through the very center of the country, destroying major cities such as San Pedro Sula, and even the capital of Tegucigalpa. The flooding was indescribable. San Pedro Sula's newly completed ultra-modern airport was 6 feet underwater. Its brand new, top of the line computer systems were useless. All equipment would need to be replaced. In outlying areas, people stranded on rooftops, surrounded by water, were helicoptered out to safety. Guananja, the most heavily damaged of the Bay Islands, would take years to recover.
Statistics can never truly paint an appropriate picture of the affects of such a hurricane. The impact of the lives lost, the destruction, and the entire economic impact cannot be measured in numbers.