Temperature varies little with the seasons in Nicaragua and is largely a function of elevation. The tierra caliente, or the "hot land," is characteristic of the foothills and lowlands from sea level to about 750 meters of elevation. Here, daytime temperatures average 30° C to 33° C, and night temperatures drop to 21° C to 24° C most of the year. The tierra templada, or the "temperate land," is characteristic of most of the central highlands, where elevations range between 750 and 1,600 meters. Here, daytime temperatures are mild (24° C to 27° C), and nights are cool (15° C to 21° C). Tierra frķa, the "cold land," at elevations above 1,600 meters, is found only on and near the highest peaks of the central highlands. Daytime averages in this region are 22° C to 24° C, with nighttime lows below 15° C.
Rainfall varies greatly in Nicaragua. The Caribbean lowlands are the wettest section of Central America, receiving between 2,500 and 6,500 millimeters of rain annually. The western slopes of the central highlands and the Pacific lowlands receive considerably less annual rainfall, being protected from moistureladen Caribbean trade winds by the peaks of the central highlands. Mean annual precipitation for the rift valley and western slopes of the highlands ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 millimeters. Rainfall is seasonal--May through October is the rainy season, and December through April is the driest period.
During the rainy season, eastern Nicaragua is subject to heavy flooding along the upper and middle reaches of all major rivers. Near the coast, where river courses widen and river banks and natural levees are low, floodwaters spill over onto the floodplains until large sections of the lowlands become continuous sheets of water. River bank agricultural plots are often heavily damaged, and considerable numbers of savanna animals die during these floods. The coast is also subject to destructive tropical storms and hurricanes, particularly from July through October. The high winds and floods accompanying these storms often cause considerable destruction of property. In addition, heavy rains (called papagayo storms) accompanying the passage of a cold front or a low-pressure area may sweep from the north through both eastern and western Nicaragua (particularly the rift valley) from November through March. Hurricanes or heavy rains in the central highlands, where agriculture has destroyed much of the natural vegetation, also cause considerable crop damage and soil erosion. In 1988 Hurricane Joan forced hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans to flee their homes and caused more than US$1 billion in damage, most of it along the Caribbean coast.
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