Mexico City Shook To Its Foundation 25 Years Ago; It will Probably Happen Again
September 19, 2010


Original City Was Literally on Lake Texcoco

On This Date in History:  Mexico City has an interesting history.  It is built on the ancient Aztec City of  Tenochtitilan which was built as a water based society really on top of Lake Texcoco through the use of chinampas or water gardens.  When the Spanish showed up in the early 16th century, they eventually conquored the Aztecs and decided that this big lake just would not do.  Lake Texcoco was an enclosed lake and tended to flood the city and beside that it impaired their use of horses.  So, they began projects to drain the lake.  Well, in 1519 the city had 250, 000 inhabitants which was a lot of folks when one considers that London had about 200,000 people and Madrid about 64,000 around the same time.  By the turn of the 20th century, Mexico City still had about the same population that it had in 1519 but by 1953, the city’s population had mushroomed to over 3 million and the area went from 29 square miles to about 150.  Much of the expanded city was on the dry lake bed of Lake Texcoco.   By 1996, Mexico City covered 870 square miles and was home for about 17 million people. 

15 Story Steel Reinforced Nuevo Leon Building Collapsed

Now, with the lake gone and the population rising, water became scarce so they started drilling wells on the old lake bed for water.  The result of the extraction of groundwater has been some serious subsidence.  Beyond that, an old lake bed is not a very stable geological formation on which to build a city.  It has the ability to jiggle alot when shaken.  That makes Mexico City one of the most vulnerable cities in the world when it comes to earthquakes.  On this date in 1985 an earthquake registering 8.0 on the richter scale shook Mexico City and the surrounding region.  The earthquake struck at about 7:17:47 AM on September 19, 1985 releasing about 5.61 x 1024 ergs (10 to the power of 24) or about 19 kilotons of TNT which was about twice as much energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.   It was the greatest earthquake event in Mexico since the Great Jalisco Earthquake of 1932.  The geology of the former lake bed is suspected to have contributed to great resonance effects with dominant two second horizontal ground accelerations that were recorded in the area.  The epicenter of the quake was relatively shallow but was 300 km away from Mexico City which is pretty far away in relation to the damage.   Evidence supporting the assertion that the physical characteristics of the earth around Mexico City contributed to the extreme effects is the fact that a large percent of the building damaged or destroyed were between 8 and 18 stories high.  Think of it has buiding a house on jello.   

Steel Reinforced Concrete Suarez Apartments Couldn't Stand

The earthquake was felt as far north as Houston, Texas and as far northwest as El Paso, Texas and all the way in Tuscon, AZ a swimming pool at the University of Arizona lost water due to the sloshing from the vibration.  To the west, a tsunami was generated that was about 3 meters high at Zihuatenejo and 1.4 meters at Acapulco.  That tsunami resonated across the Pacific to Hawaii and even a 5 cm rise was recorded at Tahiti.  An aftershock of magnitude 7.5 on Sept 21 caused a second tsunami, though some geologists suspect that this was a separate earthquake rather than an aftershock.  That is something for academics to argue about because it really makes little difference.  The damage was horrific.  Obviously, severe damage was experienced in Mexico City and the death toll has been pegged in excess of 9500 with some estimates of fatalities approaching 35, 000.  At the time, Mexico City probably had about 15 million people so, when you think about it, the percentage of fatalities vs the total population was pretty small…but when you are talking about such huge numbers. small percentages can translate into large numbers of people.   Like the fatality totals, total casualties may never be known for certain but injuries numbered at least 30,000 and some 100,000 people were left homeless.  412 buildings collapsed and 3124 were severely damaged in Mexico City.  The earthquake affected about 825,000 square miles.  Damage was caused across Central Mexico from Lazaro Cardenas on the Pacific Coast to Vera Cruz on the Gulf Coast. 

Ruins of the Hotel Regis

An interesting aspect of this event was that, initially, the political power of the country said it didn’t need  any help.  The Revolutionary Party had been in power for so long that it was considered by many to be an institution.  But, many political analysts suggest that the governmental early rejection of foreign aid led to the downfall of the Revolutionary Party.  A number of rather somber ceremonies were held today to commemorate what happened in Mexico City 25 years ago with civic memorial services as well as Roman Catholic Masses conducted to remember the dead.  At the location of the Hotel Regis, patrol cars and ambulances lined the streets and turned on their sirens to mark the time of the quake.  That was a particularly imfamous building collapse as shortly following the hotel’s demise, a gas leak fed a fire that made it quite difficult to try to rescue anyone who may have survived.

Notice the Uprooted Foundation of this 8 story building that split in two

The really sad thing is that this type of catostrophe will probably happen again.  When the Spanish first conquored the city they considered moving it but chose not to do so.  The center of the city is really pretty close to the center of the old lake bed and that lake bed has a relatively high water content.  Hence, when there is considerable shaking then liquification of the sediment takes place making it unsuitable to support large structures.  The same thing happened in the landfill areas around San Francisco Bay in the 1991 earthquake there.  In California, there is the San Andreas Fault which makes that part of the US susceptable to earthquakes but Mexico is extremely vulnerable as there’s a lot of constant friction between the North American Plate, the Cocos Plate and the Pacific Plate.  It’s one of the more seismically active regions of the world with some 90 temblors of maginitude 4.o of more recorded on average each year.  Not only is the region active and the dry lakebed not overly stable, the lakebed also has a natural harmonic pitch of about 2.5 which means everything on the lakebed shakes at the same frequency and it just happens that 2.5 is a very common frequency of shallow earthquakes.  Mexico City is kinda like New Orleans, or Los Angeles or Pompeii or Seattle or any of a number of large, urban environments that are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters that have come in the past and will come again in the future.  It’s just part of the risk of living on an active planet.


Pancho Villa and the Ides of March
March 15, 2010

Doroteo Arango Said, "Et tu, Uncle Sam" On the Ides of March

Caesar's Last Moments with Marlon Brando Looking on March 15, 44 BC

On This Date in History:   It’s March 15.  If it weren’t for William Shakespeare, most people would probably have never heard of the Ides of March.  Of course, the Ides of March is when Julius Caesar was stabbed to death my several members of the Roman Senate.  Even now, most people probably don’t even know that there are ides of other months.  Believe it or not, there have been other significant events of the day.

Doroteo Arango

In 1878, Doroteo Arango was born in Mexico.  Through his early years, he witnessed the ascent of the wealthy in Mexico and the difficulties of the poor.  Conditions have improved since Arango’s early days but, even today, the Mexico class structure is one in which nearly 25% of the population is in poverty with a 2008 per capita income of less than $10,000. (World Bank Data)  However, the unemployment rate in 2008 was just 3 percent.  To make things worse for the Arangos,   the patriarch of the family died when Doroteo was 15 and he became a sharecropper to support his mother and siblings.   In 1894, the 16-year-old Doroteo returned from a day in the fields to find the owner of the hacienda attempting to sexually assault his 12-year-old sister.  So, the teenager grabbed a pistol and shot the wealthy owner.  That sent the teenager on a life of eluding the law.

Villa Spent Much of His Life on A Horse On the Run

He went to the mountains and after a couple of years of difficult survival, he joined up with a group of bandits and he quickly became thier leader.  They stole cattle, robbed various forms of transit carrying money and generally committed crimes against the wealthy.   By giving some of the spoils of their trade to the poor, Arango and his compadres saw themselves as modern day Robin Hoods as did many in the general population.  Authorities, however, viewed them as nothing but hoods and stepped up the attempts to apprehend Arango and the banditos. 

Heroic Image of Pancho Villa

As his imfamy rose, it seemed like a good time to create an alias.  Now, some say that Arango took the name of a fellow bandit he had met along his journey.  Others say that the name Francisco Villa was a derivative of his grandfather’s last name.  But, either way, Doroteo Arango became Francisco Villa.  Since, “Pancho” is a popular nickname for “Francisco,” Franciso Villa quickly became Pancho Villa.  Now, while the authorities were not too enthused at Villa’s propensity for avoiding capture and escaping seemingly impossible odds, one group took an interest.  That would be a political group of revolutionaries who thought that Villa had the skill set to lead guerilla operations.  Porfirio Diaz was the President of Mexico and many of the poor blamed their plight on him.  His political opponent, Francisco Madero, came to the forefront on a promise of change.  He called for big changes to help the poor and, presumably, adversely affect the rich.  That seemed like a good idea to Villa so he agreed to be a leader of Madero’s revolutionary army.

End For Villa Not Pretty or Heroic

He did pretty well for a couple of years but abrutly resigned his position in 1911 following a dispute with another revolutionary commander, Pascual Orozco, Jr.  Madero became Mexican president and, not long after he resigned his position, Villa got married and tried  to settle down to a life of normalcy.  But, that was not to be.  Seems that Orozco was not included in the new president’s governmental plans so, he started his own revolution in 1912.  Villa agreed to join forces with a general in support of Madero but the general accused Villa of stealing his horse and ordered him executed.  While, Villa escaped the gallows with a reprieve, he was left in prison for 6 months until at the end of 1912 when he did what he was good at doing: he escaped.

Villa and Pershing in 1914...Before They Became Enemies

Now, this general, General Victoriano Huerta, switched allegiances and turned against Madero.  On George Washington’s birthday in 1913, Huerta killed Madero and named himself as president.  As part of the pattern, Villa joined up with another person opposed with the president.  This time it was Venustiano Carranza and Villa had a string of victories across much of North Mexico where he redistributed land and tried to stablize the economy.  I dunno…maybe Carranza got jealous or maybe he was afraid of the power his partner was gaining…but for some reason, Villa and Carranza went from friends to enemies and a Civil War between the two factions continued for a couple of years.  Enter Uncle Sam, who decided it was time to support Carranza after initially backing Villa.  Villa responded on March 9, 1916 by crossing the border and attacking Columbus, New Mexico.  Now, that old arbitor of peace and law, President Woodrow Wilson, was not about to let the first attack on American soil since the War of 1812 go unanswered on his watch.  So, on this date in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the invasion of Mexico by 12,000 US troops led by General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing in an attempt to kill or capture Villa.

Recruiting Poster to Join US Army to Capture Villa

   As part of the American Expedition was a young George S. Patton, Jr.  After a year, the United States Army failed to capture Villa and Carranza was assassinated.  Interim Mexican President Adolfo de la Huerta negotiated a peace that involved Villa retiring to a nice hacienda in Chihuahua.  Villa enjoyed himself until in 1923, he was gunned down while sitting in his car.  They made a movie about the Death of Pancho Villa in 1974

So, you see, in the early 20th century, the United States invaded a sovereign nation to kill or apprehend an individual who had orchestrated and participated in an attack on US soil.  While history really doesn’t repeat itself, the early 20th century and the early 21st century do have some interesting parallels.

NAM calls for clearing at 700 mb by 2pm Monday

Weather Bottom Line:  Everything is pretty much running down the line.  The weekend was as gloomy as I said it was and the temperatures in the 40’s felt a little chillier now than it would have a couple of weeks ago because last week we had highs in the low 70’s.  Now, the low behaved as expected and therefore there is no reason to think that it won’t move off to the northeast with clouds over our area on Monday before things improve.  In general, we should begin to warm up slowly as the week progresses but, there is one fly in the ointment.  Midweek, both the GFS and NAM call for an upper low to drop down, cut off from the main flow, over the Ohio Valley.  Its my guess that we may be a little cooler on St. Patrick’s Day than some forecasts suggest.  Otherwise, we move toward the 60 degree mark by the end of the week.  There is some indication of a trof late next weekend that may keep us in the 30’s on Sunday and some models are trying to throw out snow…though at this point, ground temperatures won’t support much accumulation and I’m not so sure we will get cold enough for it anyway.  But, it’s something to file away.

More Midwest Flood Stuff; Santa Anna A US Founding Father?
June 22, 2008

For Sunday, look for the old Led Zepplin Forecast: The Song Remains the Same. Another trof will swing around and down into our region by late in the day. Most strong thunderstorm activity will be in the heat of the day and probably to our northwest. The data seems fairly consistent between models to bring the trof through here as the sun is going down. While it is a stronger version of what happened on Saturday, the results will generally be the same but given that we may be a shade more unstable and the dynamics a tad better, then I suspect that we will see more goings on than on Saturday. Still, if you find yourself under a t’storm, it would have the potential for a heavy downpour with small hail and gusty winds the best probability. Since it’s swinging through later, there may be some scattered showers lingering early Monday. In fact, if it doesn’t move out by sunrise, some t’storms might erupt. As it stands now though, I think Monday afternoon looks pretty good. The pattern remains unsettled for the balance of the week.

Mississippi River Flooding Update

We’ve been seeing photos and video of the flooding going on in the Midwest. From what I can tell from the data though, in most cases, this event is really not as comparative to the 1993 flooding as reports indicate or as I had thought it would be. That is little consolation to those who have been affected adversely. In any event, I thought you might see what the Army Corps of Engineers is reporting and their forecast data…found on the link below.

Mississippi River Levels As of June 21

Here is a link to a page that has a bunch of You Tube videos of Iowa flooding.

Iowa Flooding Video Link

Here’s another from a guy who is compiling AP video footage

More Iowa Flooding Video

On This Date In History: On this date in 1876, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna died and I’m surprised the Mexican people don’t have a holiday. This guy was like Jason in Halloween except he was real and didn’t wear a hockey mask. He began as a low to mid level officer in the Spanish Army in the early 19th Century. The only thing he had on Hitler was that at least he was an officer. He gained fame due to his exploits in the Mexican war of Independence from Spain and that got him elected El Presidente by a landslide. When he failed to make a proper democracy, he simply declared himself dictator in 1835. By 1836, he had lost Texas. But, he wasn’t done.

In 1845, the Americans annexed Texas and Santa Anna tried to make a deal. He was deposed for trying to negotiate with the Americans. During the ensuing Mexican War, the guy in charge got tossed out and Santa Anna took over again. He promptly lost just about every major battle he waged and the war concluded with the ceding by Mexico of much of the Southwestern United States for $15 million plus the US took on all American claims against Mexico. Santa Anna voluntarily went into exile. But, he wasn’t done.

In 1853, the conservative party in Mexico gained power and for some reason invited Santa Anna back. He declared himself dictator again and this time required everyone address him as “His Most Serene Highness.” Pretty gutsy for someone who had his rear-end kicked for years and losing huge chunks of his country’s territory. But, he was a gift that just kept on giving. He needed to raise money to support his he sold the United States another chunk of land in the Gadsden Purchase….another $10 million. But that didn’t help as he was overthrown again in 1855. That was the end. All told…Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was the head of the Mexican Government 11 times!!!

He spent the last 20 years of his life scheming to take over again. It is my understanding that if you mention Santa Anna to a Mexican citizen today, it would be like calling a cop in North Carolina Barney Fife. And understandably so. The guy lost or sold Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, California and part of Nevada during his lifetime. Think of all the oil, gold and silver that was found there. Perhaps we should make Santa Anna an honorary founding father of the United States since he contributed so much to our growth and wealth. Gotta be the biggest loser General in world history and you gotta feel badly for the Mexican people for what might have been.

Cinco de Mayo Ain’t What You Think It Is!
May 5, 2008

The weather is great.  Don’t worry about it for a couple of days.  Rain chances on Wednesday look minimal at best. Thursday is the best chance for rain and there is a possibility that it may have some good storms with it.  I suspect that on Wednesday, Arkansas will be under the gun again.  Hopefully they won’t have towns blown off the map like last week.  The system lifts up our way and will be in a very good position for us to get rough weather.  What is unclear is whether or not all of the ingredients stay together as it moves our way.  There is nothing that jumps out at me at this time to suggest that but it is something that bears watching and we will let you know of what shakes out.

On This Date in History: Alan Shepherd became the first American in space on this date in 1961. The flight lasted about 15 minutes.  Basically it was like shooting a big cannon shot.  It went up in Florida and come down in the Atlantic Ocean…up and down.  Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space.  A few weeks before Shepherd’s flight on April 12, 1961 the Soviet Gagarin not only became the first man in space, he also was the first to orbit the earth.   John Glenn didn’t become the first American to orbit the earth until February 20, 1962.  He was the third American in space.

Now…Cinco de Mayo, if you know Spanish, means simply May 5.  It has been a celebration of Mexican-Americans in the Southwestern states for years.  More recently, it’s popularity has spread to other parts of the country.  Most Americans think that Cinco de Mayo is sorta a Mexican Fourth of July…their Independence Day.

Wrong. Mexican Independence Day is in September.

Did you know that it’s not even an official holiday in Mexico?  In the state of Puebla, it’s a day to take off but in much of the rest of the country, its voluntary.  It is a day commemorating the victory of the Mexican army over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.  That’s fine but it was not a decisive victory.  The French shortly thereafter took over Mexico and ruled the nation until 1867 when Maximilian and the French were expelled.

So…what’ the big deal?  Well, remember that California had been under Mexican control until they ceded it to the United States as outlined in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  The US took just about all of the Soutwestern quadrant of what is now the United States in exchange for $15 million.  At that time, there were 80,000 Mexicans living in California.  Well, in 1863, the Mexicans living in California wanted to have a demonstration of solidarity with their fellow citizens in Mexico who were resisting the French.  So, the chose the 5th of May, since it was a day of victory over the French. 

Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in parts of the US like St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest.  In other words it’s largely an invention of the Americans and is an excuse for people to party down and claim they are celebrating without really knowing what it is they are supposed to  be celebrating or the reason.  However, if you challenge them and explain the origins of the day, they will simply say “well…that’s not why I celebrate, I’m celebrating my heritage!” and then they continue on doing whatever it is they are doing.  So, you too continue to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  But if you tell people at your party that it’s not Mexican Independence Day and tell them about he Battle of Puebla, then you may get a free drink or who knows what else.