Hurricane Karl was the most destructive tropical cyclone to strike the Mexican state of Veracruz on record. The eleventh tropical storm, sixth hurricane, and fifth and final major hurricane of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, Karl formed from an area of low pressure which had formed off of the northern coast Venezuela on September 11. It crossed the Caribbean and was upgraded to Tropical Storm Karl on September 14. The cyclone made landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico as a strong tropical storm, and then rapidly strengthened in the Bay of Campeche before it made landfall near Veracruz, Veracruz, on the central Mexican Gulf coast, as a major hurricane. This marked the first known time that a major hurricane existed in the Bay of Campeche.
As of September 23, 22 people have been confirmed killed, most of which were in the state of Veracruz. Preliminary losses from the storm are estimated at 70 billion MXN ($5.6 billion USD).
The origins of Hurricane Karl were from the interaction between a surface trough and westward-tracking tropical wave. The trough—an elongated area of low pressure—emerged from an area of disorganized monsoonal convection just north of South America over the Windward Islands in early September. A few days later, the wave, which had departed the coast of Africa on September 1, approached the area and merged with the trough by September 8 as it slowed. For several days, the resultant low-pressure system lingered toward the west-northwest over the Caribbean Sea, and provided with a diffluent environment aloft it generated disorganized patches of convection. Although the convection remained disassociated from the mean low feature, the overall wind circulation continued to become better defined at the surface. The development trend briefly became disrupted by September 13, however, with the surface low confirmed no longer to exist under the improving convective structure. Conditions remained favourable for reorganization, and a small but consolidated circulation center developed by 2100 UTC September 14. In real time, this marked the formation of Tropical Storm Karl when it was located about 270 mi (435 km) east of Chetumal, Mexico, though post-storm reanalysis revealed a tropical depression had in fact formed six hours earlier.
With a predominant ridge anchored to its north along the Gulf of Mexico, Karl continued a generally westward motion for most of its duration. Supported by symmetrical upper-level outflow, the storm strengthened slowly over very high water temperatures in a low-shear environment. Karl subsequently made its initial landfall on the southeastern coast of Yucatán as a strong tropical storm early on September 15, with estimated winds of 65 mph (100 km/h). As it moved inland, radar imagery from Belize depicted a developing eye, suggesting the storm might have reached hurricane status at the time. Although the storm slowly weakened as it crossed the Yucatán, its cloud pattern remained well-organized, with a ring of deep convection surrounding an eye-like feature. Around 0400 UTC September 16, the center of Karl emerged into the Bay of Campeche as it slowed slightly. Situated once again over warm waters in a favorable shear environment, Karl steadily intensified and reached hurricane status about 150 mi (240 km) off the coast of Campeche, Mexico, after reconnaissance found a developing eyewall. At the time, Karl co-existed with Hurricanes Igor and Julia, the first such occasion since 1998 with at least three simultaneous hurricanes in the North Atlantic.
The hurricane entered a period of rapid intensification after steadily deepening for several hours; its cloud pattern quickly organized, and with cooling convective cloudtops the warm eye became well-defined. Recurving toward the southwest along the building ridge, Karl became a Category 3 hurricane on September 17; it reached its peak intensity of 125 mph (205 km/h) only four hours prior to landfall. Karl became the strongest hurricane ever observed in the Bay of Campeche upon attaining this intensity, a record previously set by Hurricane Item in 1950. Despite a sudden increase in minimum central pressure, Karl retained its strength and moved ashore near Veracruz, Mexico as a major hurricane at 1645 UTC. Once inland, the small storm rapidly weakened over the high terrain, and by early September 18 no deep convection remained around its increasingly disrupted circulation. Around 0900 UTC, the system was declassified as a tropical cyclone as its low-level circulation dissipated, though patches of remnant thunderstorms continued to produce heavy precipitation over the country.
Upon the formation of a tropical cyclone, the government of Mexico issued a tropical storm warning for the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, extending from Chetumal northward to Cabo Catoche. Additionally, a tropical storm watch was in place for the coast of northern Belize, from Belize City to the Belize–Mexico border. At the threat of a storm, authorities in Honduras declared a green alert for the entire country; a yellow alert was to remain in effect for 36 hours in the Bay Islands Department. El Cajón, a major hydroelectric power plant located in western Honduras, discharged some of its water reservoir into connecting rivers to prevent flooding of surrounding low-lying areas. Port officials along the coastlines were advised to take necessary precautions due to rough sea conditions. In Belize, seaports secured their supplies and halted operations to ensure the safety of sea faring vessels and marine workers. Schools were closed in the northern districts of Corozal and Orange Walk, as well as in San Pedro Town and Caye Caulker during the storm's passage.
In Quintana Roo, officials opened shelters and ordered the evacuation of low-lying areas along the storm's projected path. Hundreds of people were displaced at Banco Chinchorro, an atoll reef and diving center near Majahual. In Carillo Puerto, located to the south of the archaeological ruins of Tulum, authorities readied concrete residences to provide shelter to some hundred communities of indigenous Mayans. As Karl moved further inland, orange alerts were declared in Campeche for the municipalities of Hopelchén and Calakmul, while the rest of the state remained under yellow alert. Shelters were opened near flood-prone areas in the cities of Campeche, Champotón and the municipality of Calkiní(Isla Arena). Local residents were urged not to take out their trash for three days, as collection services were to be suspended at the threat of torrential rainfall.
The government of the Veracruz issued a red alert as Karl approached the state's coastline; eight municipalities were placed under mandatory coastal evacuation orders. Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Station, located in the Veracruz coastline, stopped its operations as a precaution. Additionally, Pemex evacuated its facilities on the Gulf of Mexico that were located in Karl's path. World oil prices rose rapidly on September 17 as the company stopped production on 14 of its wells. The prices climbed 54 cents to 75.11 dollars a barrel.
As Karl struck the coast of Quintana Roo, heavy precipitation amounting up to 6.2 inches (157 mm) in some areas resulted in scattered flooding. At the height of the storm, a total of 54,265 residents were without power, but most had their electricity restored within a day. Some 600 homes in Chetumal suffered inundations of up to 4.9 ft (1.5 m), forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate. High winds reportedly uprooted several trees in Bacalar, a small village near the city.The municipalities of Othon P. Blanco, Carillo Puerto, and José María Morelos reported copious losses in agriculture; an estimated total of 11,650 hectares of crop were affected, with 3,477 hectares of maiz crop destroyed. Approximately 7,800 hectares of sugarcane along the banks of the Hondo River were lost, resulting in economic losses of Mex$76 million (US$6.23 million). In Othon P. Blanco, 477 hectares of jalapeño chili peppers were lost while banana, cassava and citrus plantations in the area sustained significant wind damage. In total, damage to roads, structures and properties in the municipality was estimated at Mex$120 million (US$9.9 million).
Though there were no reports of major damage, strong winds in Belize downed utility poles, grounded water crafts and caused power outages along the Belize–Mexico border. Further inland in Campeche, maximum 24-hour rainfall accumulations totaled no more than 0.95 inches (24 mm), and little damage was reported.The storm left no fatalities in its wake in the peninsula, as its landfall occurred in a sparsely populated area.
Gulf coast of Mexico
Five people were killed in Veracruz: a 40-year-old woman, along with her two- and three-year-old grandchildren died in Cotaxtla; a 54-year-old and a 87-year-old died in Felipe Carrillo. In Puebla, two people were killed after their home was destroyed in a landslide. A third person was killed in Tabasco after she drowned in her flooded home. An estimated 200,000 residences were left without power as a result of Karl.
Catastrophic floods struck several municipalities, including Cotaxtla which was inundated by 12 m (39 ft) of muddy water, leaving most structures encased in mud. The severity of flooding was considered "unprecedented" in some areas, killing three people and leaving at least five more missing. Carrillo Puerto suffered similar damage; two people were reported missing in the city.
As of September 20, 2010, 16 people are confirmed to have perished due to Karl and 11 others are listed as missing. An estimated 15.8 million people were affected by the storm throughout Mexico. Preliminary assessments placed the damage from Karl in Veracruz at 70 billion MXN($5.6 billion USD). In Puebla, losses from the storm reached 200 million MXN ($16 million USD).