Extreme weather events
El Salvador’s position on the Pacific Ocean also makes it subject to severe weather conditions, including heavy rainstorms and severe droughts, both of which may be made more extreme by the El Niño and La Niña effects. Severe deforestation and soil erosion have made the landscape vulnerable to landslides and forest fires. These characteristics, coupled with severe fiscal constraints, make the nation highly susceptible to the impacts of extreme weather events. In the summer of 2001, a severe drought destroyed 80% of the country’s crops, causing famine in the countryside. On October 4, 2005, severe rains resulted in dangerous flooding and landslides, which caused a minimum of fifty deaths. And in 2010, losses to agriculture from flooding exceeded USD100 million, while those resulting from drought were USD38 million.
El Salvador’s location in Central America also makes it vulnerable to severe storms and hurricanes coming off the Caribbean. Since the 1990s, there has been an increase in the frequency and duration of storms, as well as a marked change in the pattern of their occurrence. Hurricanes used to strike El Salvador infrequently, only came from the Atlantic and were limited to the months of September and October. However, since the mid 1990s, such storms have occurred more frequently, originated in both the Atlantic and Pacific, and have struck in six different months of the year.
Earthquakes and volcanic activity
El Salvador lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire, and is thus subject to significant tectonic activity, including frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. Recent examples include the earthquake on January 13, 2001 that measured 7.7 on the Richter scale and caused a landslide that killed more than 800 people; and another earthquake only a month later, on February 13, 2001, that killed 255 people and damaged about 20% of the nation’s housing. Luckily, many families were able to find safety from the landslides caused by the earthquake.
The San Salvador area has been hit by earthquakes in 1576, 1659, 1798, 1839, 1854, 1873, 1880, 1917, 1919, 1965, 1986, 2001 and 2005. The 5.7 Mw-earthquake of 1986 resulted in 1,500 deaths, 10,000 injuries, and 100,000 people left homeless.
El Salvador’s most recent destructive volcanic eruption took place on October 1, 2005, when theSanta Ana Volcano spewed a cloud of ash, hot mud and rocks that fell on nearby villages and caused two deaths. The most severe volcanic eruption in this area occurred in the 5th century AD when the Ilopango volcano erupted with a VEI strength of 6, producing widespread pyroclastic flows and devastating Mayan cities.
The Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador is active; the most recent eruptions were in 1904 and 2005. Lago de Coatepeque (one of El Salvador’s lakes) was created by water filling the calderathat formed after a massive eruption.