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Hurricane Gilbert

Updated on August 21, 2015

No 8 of the World's Worst Hurricanes...

Hurricane Gilbert is the second most intense hurricane ever to have been observed in the Atlantic Basin, second only behind Hurricane Wilma of the incredibly eventful 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.

Hurricane Gilbert mainly struck the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico for nearly nine full days. The duration and damages of this hurricane storm remain nearly unrivalled.

Hurricane Preparation for Hurricane Gilbert

Very little in the way of preparations were made for Hurricane Gilbert, sadly. The storm gained in strength very rapidly, and made landfall, doing major hurricane damage, before so much as Hurricane warning preparations had been completed.

Some areas, such as Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, near Cancun, managed to conduct last minute evacuations, but for the most part, Hurricane Gilbert took people by surprise.

Hurricane Tracking for Hurricane Gilbert

Hurricane Gilbert began on September 3rd in 1988 when a tropical wave emerged from the AfricanCoast, quickly developing into Tropical Depression Twelve between then and September 9th. At this point, the hurricane storm had reached a spot four hundred miles east of Barbados, near the Windward Islands.

While passing over the Lesser Antilles, the hurricane storm quickly developed into Tropical Storm Gilbert the same afternoon, making it the seventh named storm of the 1988 Atlantic hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Gilbert became Hurricane Gilbert only the next day, and hit category 3 on the 11th of September, while moving west by northwest.

It eventually made landfall in Jamaica, with the eye passing completely over the island on September 12th.

Hurricane Gilbert continued building in strength after leaving Jamaica, brushing the Cayman Islands with Grand Cayman recording wind gusts of 156 miles per hour.

Hurricane Gilbert made second landfall on the island of Cozumel, and again in Mexico’s YucatanPeninsula on September 14th, having reached category 5 by this point. It eventually emerged into the Gulf of Mexico as a category 2 hurricane and made landfall once more near La Pesca, Tamaulipas as a category 3 hurricane on September 16th.

Hurricane Gilbert brushed the inland city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leone on September 17th, and then took a turn north, spawning nearly thirty tornadoes throughout Texas on the 18th, before moving straight across the state of Oklahoma, and finally dissipating over Missouri the next day.

Hurricane Gilbert Hurricane Track

Hurricane Damage for Hurricane Gilbert

In total, Hurricane Gilbert claimed three hundred forty one lives, with most casualties being suffered in Mexico. The exact dollar amount for property and land damage has not been released publicly, but many sources estimate the total to be at least ten billion dollars.

In Venezuela, flash floods were experienced in the northern areas of the country, killing five people. Nineteen foot hurricane storm surges were produced in Jamaica, causing further flash flooding with forty five deaths and one child being born. The hurricane storm dealt at least four billion in hurricane damages to Jamaica alone, destroying crops, homes and roads.

A number of coastal homes were ruined throughout the Cayman Islands, but, because of Gilbert’s distance and forward speed, the Cayman Islands got through the storm relatively unscathed.

Mexico experienced the worst of the hurricane storm, with thirty five thousand left homeless, eighty three ships wrecked, sixty thousand homes destroyed, and total hurricane damages nearing two billion dollars, with another eighty seven million lost in Cancun due to declines in tourism. More than one hundred people died when evacuation buses were overturned.

In the US, the storm did not strike quite as hard as expected, though many homes were damaged as a result of the ensuing tornadoes in the San Antonio area.

Hurricane Relief and Hurricane Response for Hurricane Gilbert

While preparations for Hurricane Gilbert were sadly lacking, response was quick, with shelters and evacuations being put into action as soon as the storm began to strike.

Sadly, with the lack of preparation, there was only so much to be done through relief efforts.

Jamaica Hurricane Gilbert Damage

How Hurricane Gilbert Compares to Other Hurricanes

Hurricane Gilbert was the strongest storm to ever strike Jamaica. Because of its sudden appearance, Hurricane Gilbert did more hurricane damage than is typical of a category 3 hurricane.

Hurricane Gilbert Aftermath and Hurricane Recovery

Hurricane Gilbert remains the most destructive hurricane ever to strike Jamaica, and in Quintana Roo, where the full category 5 effects were felt, entire jungle areas were defoliated, with debris fuelling a fire a fire that burned a total of four hundred sixty square miles.

Furthermore, the name Gilbert was retired from the Atlantic hurricanes list due to the extensive death toll and destruction of the hurricane. This was replaced by the name Gordon during the Atlantic hurricane season.

Ultimately, the need for further advancements in hurricane tracking, preparation and warning was made all too clear, as the majority of the damages done by Hurricane Gilbert may well have been averted if only we had been able to predict much earlier when and where the storm would strike.

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by Julie-Ann Amos, professional writer, and owner of international writing agency

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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      The best site i found about hurricane gilbert ever!!

    • profile image

      maria cardenas 

      9 years ago

      this hurricane destroyed my moms house but knw we live in a house wich is m,y good live knw

    • RalphGreene profile image


      9 years ago

      Very informative hub! Best as an educational resource.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Before I were born that monster hit my city (Monterrey). It's told by the 'regios' that it was the worst natural disaster on Monterrey's history.

    • bingskee profile image


      11 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

      it's only typhoons that hit the Philippines but the devastation is truly heavy.

    • nlhouser profile image


      11 years ago from Central Nebraska

      Excellent article, Julie-Ann!! Very appropriate for now, don't you think?

    • profile image

      Robert Ballard 

      11 years ago

      Great hub! Fortunately for us in WNC we seldom suffer from hurricanes such as this although we have experienced the heavy rains and flooding.

      Robert Elias Ballard

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image


      11 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Great Hub Lots of Info I didn't know, Thanks


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