While reviewing the construction drawings for our model home last month, it became clear that the (US-based) structural engineers were designing systems capable of handling hurricane-force winds. An understandable tactic, I suppose, since we are all used to hearing about hurricanes battering the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and much of the southeastern United States every fall. But it also meant that someone must have failed to tell them that Panama has the ultra-privileged position of being in a tropical climate but not having to worry about hurricanes.
This fact surprised me back in 2007 when I was first researching Panama. And I still don’t fully understand why – Wikipedia’s entry on hurricanes is too long and specific for even my dry, technical mind to have read closely. But one graphic alone illustrates why: this beautifully detailed map, which depicts the tracks of all hurricanes between 1985-2005, shows that, in the Western hemisphere, hurricanes never form below about 8 degrees north and always move west or northwest. Another Wikipedia map shows the data from 1945-2006, which has a larger, and therefore more convincing, data set that also shows Panama’s “invulnerability,” but it isn’t as large or cool-looking as the first, so we’ll just stick with a highlight from the first map.
This zoom-in of the map shows Panama’s freedom from hurricanes. Panama and Costa Rica are the only two countries in the region that can boast this kind of safety: the Pacific coast from Nicaragua up to the southern half of Mexico are relatively safe, due to the way hurricanes track W or NW. But even they aren’t as safe as us. And of course, the places most famous for paradisiacal vacations (the Caribbean islands, the Gulf coasts, even Puerto Vallarta and Cabo) can be seen from the map as incredibly hazardous places to be building a resort.
While freedom from hurricanes isn’t the only reason I was interested in Panama, it did provide a big plus: that’s one risk, at least, that I can check off my list and not worry about. Same should go for homebuyers – I’m not going to tell you not to buy a home in Mexico or the Virgin Islands, if that’s where you really want to be. But if you’re already considering Panama, add “no hurricanes” to the list of advantages the country offers, along with a great economy, stable political system, solid infrastructure, and lots of natural and cultural diversity.