The rumors of a dry season have been greatly exaggerated.
Record rains continued to pound the battered Caribbean this week after flooding there forced thousands into temporary shelters last week. Forecasters predict a better weekend but more showers in coming weeks.
After the December average of precipitation for the Caribbean province of Limón nearly fell in just three days, the National Emergency Commission (CNE) declared a red alert Wednesday for the province and the canton of Sarapiquí, in Heredia province northeast of San José. Nearly 2,000 people were in emergency shelters Thursday.
The CNE also issued a yellow alert, the second highest weather warning, for the northern regions of the country and a green alert, the lowest warning, for the Central Valley.
One person died last week as a result of the bad weather, and two were reported missing this week, including a taxi driver who was carried away in his vehicle by a flash flood in the eastern Central Valley province of Cartago, and another man reported missing in southeastern border town Sixaola.
According to CNE spokeswoman Rebecca Madrigal, the cantons of Matina and Talamanca were hardest hit, with more than 1,000 people still in shelters in Talamanca two weeks after the flooding began.
The CNE delivered food and supplies to 47 remote indigenous communities in the foothills of the Talamanca mountain range, said Madrigal.
In attending to remote and inaccessible communities like those in Talamanca, the CNE had help from the United States, whose Southern Command sent seven helicopters from Honduras-based Joint Task Force-Bravo to assist in efforts in both Costa Rica and Panama, where flooding has been severe as well.
According to a statement from the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry, the helicopters helped evacuate people trapped by the floods and transported more than 100,000 pounds of food and supplies to affected communities in Limón. In addition, the U.S. donated $50,000 to CNE for transportation and supplies, and sent a plane full of supplies, such as blankets, first-aid kits and chainsaws.
In addition, the French Embassy announced that its government was donating 50,000 euros (about $63,600), and the Dutch announced this week that they would be donating engineering assistance in building dikes, sending experts to advise the Costa Rican government beginning in January.
Madrigal said damage was estimated at ¢43 billion (about $82 million) to highways, bridges, schools, other infrastructure and agriculture.
“There are several damaged bridges, but are people isolated? No,” Madrigal said. The southern Caribbean tourist town of Puerto Viejo has been temporarily inaccessible but for a foot bridge, but locals late this week reported that vehicles, including buses, were now coming and going without problems after the road was diverted onto the beach and over a temporary bridge.
“Rain is normal,” said Fran León, owner of Cabinas Las Almendras. “It has been raining more than other years, but the tourism high season really doesn’t start until after Dec. 20.”
Agriculture, however, looks to have suffered worse than tourism. The banana industry, with plantations spread widely across the Caribbean plains, appears to have been the hardest hit.
The National Banana Corporation, an industry organization, is reporting at least $30 million in losses, saying about 10,000 hectares of plantations, nearly a quarter of the national total, have been damaged.
Bananas are Costa Rica’s principal agricultural export, with annual shipments worth about $650 million, second only to Ecuador.
Werner Stoltz, a meteorologist with the National Meteorological Institute (IMN) said the rains have been the result of a series of cold fronts from the Arctic.
“Cold fronts increase the speed of the wind and bring rain,” Stoltz said.
In just the first three days of December, the IMN weather station at the Limón airport recorded 300 millimeters of rain, which is already nearing the monthly average of 435 millimeters.
November’s precipitation numbers were more than double the monthly average.
The same weather station recorded 820 millimeters for November, compared to a monthly average of 372 millimeters Stoltz said.
The forecaster said weather was expected to improve over the weekend, but more cold fronts were expected in the weeks.
While rejecting the idea that the extreme weather was a direct result of climate change – “climate change is long term,” he said – Stoltz noted that this year has been above average in several ways.
“Just in the Caribbean there were six low-pressure systems – two tropical storms and four hurricanes. The average should be two,” he said, adding that Costa Rica also experienced eight small tornadoes.
Hurricane Alma and Hannah caused flooding along the Pacific coast earlier this year.Record rains also pummeled the northwestern province of Guanacaste last year in August, and flooding was disastrous in the Central Pacific and Guanacaste in October, and the Caribbean was hit hard in November.
Tico Times On-line Editor Alex Leff contributed to this story.