What is the terrain and geography like in El Salvador?
El Salvador, with an area of 8,260 square miles, is the smallest independent state in Central America. El Salvador is rectangular in shape, 60 miles wide and 160 miles long.
El Salvador has 350 rivers. The largest, the Rio Lempa, flows 150 miles from northern to central El Salvador, forming one of the most important Pacific watersheds in Latin America. It is El Salvador's only navigable river.
The land is 90% volcanic in origin, and many places still bear the scars. The country’'s topography is rough and irregular from continuous volcanic activity, accounting for El Salvador’s rich soil. Two volcanic mountain ranges, a central one parallel to the Pacific and a northern one along the border with Honduras, run across almost the entire length of the country. The two ranges divide El Salvador into three distinct and progressively higher zones. The plains along the Pacific Ocean are at sea level; the central plateau is 2,000 feet above sea level; and the northern highlands rise more than 3,000 feet. Although the central plateau represents only 25% of the total area, it contains the heaviest concentration of population and the largest cities.
Geography - note
smallest Central American country and only one without a coastline on Caribbean Sea
El Salvador's tropical climate has pronounced wet and dry seasons. The dry season, "verano" or summer, from December to April is dusty, especially in rural areas. The hottest months of the year, March and April, immediately precede the rainy season, "invierno" (winter). During the May-November rainy season, mornings are usually clear, with heavy rains in early evening and at night. Thunder and strong winds occasionally accompany the rain, and some June and September mornings are overcast. Occasional 2- to 3-day rainy spells occur. The average annual rainfall is 66 inches.
The three geographic zones have distinct climatic characteristics. The narrow coastal belt is a hot tropical savanna with lush vegetation and temperatures that average 80°F. The central highlands, where San Salvador lies, are slightly cooler, with an average temperature of 73°F. San Salvador's temperatures range from 50°F to 90°F throughout the year. Incoming polar air infrequently causes cold nights and even frost. The highlands in the extreme north of El Salvador are consistently cool.
Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have littered El Salvador's history. Earthquakes ranging from 6.5 to 7.9 on the Richter Scale have struck the country at least 15 times since 1700. The most serious recent earthquakes occurred on January 13 and February 13, 2001. Although damage in San Salvador was slight, schools, hospitals, businesses, and public buildings throughout the country were damaged or destroyed. These two powerful quakes resulted in 1,300 deaths and left more than one million homeless. Infrastructure damages are estimated at $1.6 billion, or 12% of the country's GDP.
Of the volcanoes located within the metropolitan area of San Salvador, Volcano San Salvador erupted last in 1917 and Volcano Ilopango in 1879.
Although hurricanes do not usually threaten El Salvador directly, strong Caribbean storms can generate heavy winds and rains. Hurricane Mitch hit El Salvador in November 1998, generating extreme rainfall which caused widespread flooding.