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tierra templada, tropic of Cancer, tierra caliente, worst natural disaster, condensation

Temperatures in Central America, which is situated between the tropic of Cancer and the equator, vary principally according to altitude rather than latitude. Three main temperature zones are discernible. The tierra caliente (“hot country”), which extends from sea level to an altitude of about 915 m (about 3,000 ft), has average yearly temperatures of 24° C (75° F) or more; the tierra templada (“temperate country”), from about 915 to 1,830 m (about 3,000 to 6,000 ft), has a mean annual temperature of 18° to 24° C (65° to 75° F); and the tierra fría (“cold country”), from about 1,830 to 3,050 m (about 6,000 to 10,000 ft), has average yearly temperatures of 13° to 18° C (55° to 65° F).

The Caribbean coast and eastern mountain slopes generally receive twice as much annual precipitation as the Pacific coast and western mountain slopes. The relative dryness of the Pacific slope is due to the presence of cold stable air caused by the cold California Current. This current, much like the Peru, or Humboldt, Current along the Peruvian coast, chills the air, thus preventing it from absorbing much water vapor and reducing the possibilities for precipitation. In contrast, the effects of the warm water of the Caribbean Sea allow the air to absorb abundant moisture, which is then carried by the prevailing easterly winds. Much condensation and rainfall occur as the winds flow up and over the high slopes of Central America. Rainfall is greatest along the Mosquito Coast of easternmost Nicaragua—San Juan del Norte receives about 6,350 mm (about 250 in) of rain per year.

In October 1998 Hurricane Mitch savaged Central America, killing at least 11,000 people, leaving thousands more missing, and displacing more than two million others. Nicaragua and Honduras absorbed the brunt of the damage, but El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and other countries in the region also felt the effects of the storm. Some observers called Mitch the worst natural disaster ever to strike Central America.

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