1959 Mexico hurricane
Category 4 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Surface weather analysis of the hurricane on October 27
FormedOctober 22, 1959 (1959-10-22)
DissipatedOctober 28, 1959 (1959-10-29)
Highest winds1-minute sustained: 140 mph (220 km/h)
Lowest pressure955 mbar (hPa); 28.2 inHg
Fatalities1,800 total (Deadliest East Pacific hurricane)
Damage≥ $280 million (1959 USD)
Areas affectedColima and Jalisco, much of western Mexico
Part of the 1959 Pacific hurricane season

The 1959 Mexico hurricane was the deadliest Pacific hurricane on record. First observed south of Mexico on October 23, the cyclone tracked northwestward. It intensified into a Category 3 hurricane on October 25 and reached Category 4 intensity on the following day. After turning toward the northeast, the hurricane made landfall near Manzanillo, Mexico at peak intensity. The system continued on that trajectory before dissipating on the next day.

Impact from the hurricane was severe and widespread. Initially forecast to remain offshore, the system curved northeast and moved ashore, becoming one of Mexico's worst natural disasters at the time. Up to 150 boats were submerged. Countless homes in Colima and Jalisco were damaged or destroyed, large portions of the states were inaccessible by flash flooding, and hundreds of residents were stranded. All coconut plantations were blown down during the storm, leaving thousands without work and instating fear that it would take the economy years to recover. Torrential rainfall across mountain terrain contributed to numerous mudslides that caused hundreds of fatalities. In the aftermath of the cyclone, convoys delivering aid were hindered by the destruction. Residents were vaccinated to prevent the spread of disease. Overall, the hurricane inflicted at least $280 million (1959 USD) in damage.

Meteorological history

Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale
Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

On October 22, a low pressure area was present south of the Gulf of Tehuantepec, having originated out of an area of disturbed weather in the region the day before. That day, two ships reported gale-force winds, suggesting that a tropical storm formed by 12:00 UTC. Moving west-northwestward parallel to the southwest coast of Mexico, the system steadily intensified, reaching hurricane status by late on October 23. The storm continued to intensify, although there were few ships in the path to record the intensity until October 26. During that time, interpolation of observations suggests that the storm attained major hurricane intensity – a Category 3 on the modern Saffir–Simpson scale – with winds of 115 mph (185 km/h) on October 25.[1]

On October 26, the hurricane turned abruptly to the northeast toward the Mexican coast.[2] At 00:00 UTC on October 27, a nearby ship recorded winds of 130 km/h (80 mph), confirming the increase in intensity. Six hours later, another ship recorded winds of 115 mph (185 km/h). At around 12:00 UTC on October 27, the hurricane made landfall just northwest of Manzanillo, Colima, with an eye 13 mi (20 km) in diameter. The Mary Barbara – a ship in Manzanillo Harbor – estimated winds of 155 mph (250 km/h),[1] which was the basis for the previous estimated landfall intensity of 160 mph (260 km/h), which was later determined to be an overestimate.[3] The same ship reported a minimum barometric pressure of 958 mbar (28.3 inHg) in the southeastern periphery of the eyewall; this, in conjunction with other nearby readings, suggested a minimum central pressure of 955 mbar (28.2 inHg). A reanalysis in 2016 indicated that the hurricane's peak intensity at landfall was 140 mph (220 km/h), based on uncertainties in the wind estimates, the central pressure, as well as the storm's small size and slow movement. The hurricane rapidly weakened over the mountainous terrain of southwestern Mexico. Within 12 hours of landfall, the system weakened to tropical storm status, and on October 28, the storm dissipated.[1]

Preparations and impact

Known Pacific hurricanes that have killed at least 100 people
Hurricane Season Fatalities Ref.
"Mexico" 1959 1,800 [4]
Paul 1982 1,625 [5][6][7][8]
Liza 1976 1,263 [9][10][11]
Tara 1961 436 [12]
Aletta 1982 308 [13][14]
Pauline 1997 230–400 [15]
Agatha 2010 190 [16][17]
Manuel 2013 169 [18]
Tico 1983 141 [19][20]
Ismael 1995 116 [21]
"Lower California" 1931 110 [22][23]
"Mazatlán" 1943 100 [24]
Lidia 1981 100 [17]

Thousands of people were unprepared for the storm. Thus, the system was dubbed "a sneak hurricane". After passing well offshore from Acapulco, it was forecast to head out to sea. Instead, it recurved eastward and made landfall.[25]

The hurricane had devastating effects on the places it hit. It killed at least 1,000 people directly, and a total of 1,800 people.[4] At that time, it was Mexico's worst natural disaster in recent times.[25] Most of the destruction was in Colima and Jalisco.[26] A preliminary estimate of property damage was $280 million (1959 USD).[27]

The storm sank three merchant ships,[28] and two other vessels.[29] On one ship, the Sinaloa,[30] 21 of 38 hands went down.[31] On another, the El Caribe, all hands were lost.[30] As many as 150 total boats were sunk.[26]

A quarter of the homes in Cihuatlán, Jalisco, were totally destroyed, leaving many homeless.[28] In Manzanillo, Colima, 40 percent of all homes were destroyed, and four ships in the harbor were sunk.[32] Large portions of Colima and Jalisco were isolated by flooding. Hundreds of people were stranded. Minatitlán, Colima, suffered especially, as 800 people out of its population of 1000 were dead or missing, according to a message sent to President Adolfo López Mateos.[29] In Colima, all coconut plantations were blown down and thousands of people were left out of work. That state's economy was damaged enough that officials thought it would take years to recover.[26]

The hurricane also dumped heavy rains along its path. This water-logged the hills near Minatitlán, and contributed to huge mudslide late on October 29 that claimed 800 victims. The slide uncovered hundreds of venomous scorpions and snakes, which killed tens more people in the aftermath.[4] Additional hordes of scorpions were driven from their nests when the adobe walls crumbled away. The Governor of Colima, Rodolfo Chávez Carrillo and his wife issued a plea for venom inoculations afterwards.[25] In some places, the mud was 10 feet (3.0 m) deep.[33] Water supplies were badly polluted, both by debris and dead bodies.[26]

Aftermath and records

In the aftermath, air rescue operations were conducted, but the destruction of roads in the area hindered convoys carrying aid.[34] Planes also made supply drops, but rescue operations were hindered by broken roads and rails.[29] Survivors were vaccinated against typhoid and tetanus.[33] Part of Manzanillo was placed under quarantine.[26]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Andrew Hagen; Josh Morgerman; Erik Sereno Trabaldo; Jorge Abelardo González. Great Mexico Hurricane of 1959 (PDF) (Report). iCyclone. Retrieved February 2, 2016.
  2. ^ National Hurricane Center; Hurricane Research Division; Central Pacific Hurricane Center. "The Northeast and North Central Pacific hurricane database 1949–2019". United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service. Retrieved October 1, 2020. A guide on how to read the database is available here.
  3. ^ "Eastern North Pacific Tracks File 1949–2007". National Hurricane Center. March 4, 2008. Archived from the original on August 22, 2008. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Natural Hazards of North America. Supplement to National Geographic magazine (Map). National Geographic Society. April 1998.
  5. ^ "More Flood Victims found". The Spokesman-Review. September 28, 1982. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  6. ^ "More flood victims found". The Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. September 28, 1982. p. 12. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  7. ^ "Mexico - Disaster Statistics". Prevention Web. 2008. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  8. ^ "24 killed from hurricane". The Hour. October 1, 1982. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  9. ^ "Mexico gives up to try and find storm victims". Bangor Daily News. United Press International. October 6, 1976. p. 8. Retrieved March 2, 2013.
  10. ^ "Hurricane Liza rips Mexico". Beaver County Times. United Press International. October 2, 1976. p. 18. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
  11. ^ "Historias y Anecdotas de Yavaros". Ecos del mayo (in Spanish). June 14, 2010. Retrieved June 11, 2013.
  12. ^ Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (August 1993). "Significant Data on Major Disasters Worldwide 1900-present" (PDF). Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  13. ^ "Nicaragua seeks aid as flood victims kill 108". The Montreal Gazette. May 28, 1982. Retrieved September 18, 2011.
  14. ^ "Canada Aids Victims". The Leader-Post. June 10, 1982. Retrieved September 17, 2011.
  15. ^ Miles B. Lawrence (1997). "Hurricane Pauline Tropical Cyclone Report". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved January 2, 2007.
  16. ^ Jack L. Beven (January 10, 2011). "Tropical Storm Agatha Tropical Cyclone Report" (PDF). National Hurricane Center. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
  17. ^ a b Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. "EM-DAT: The Emergency Events Database". Université catholique de Louvain.
  18. ^ Steve Jakubowski; Adityam Krovvidi; Adam Podlaha; Steve Bowen. "September 2013 Global Catasrophe Recap" (PDF). Impact Forecasting. AON Benefield. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  19. ^ Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development (1989). "Disaster History: Significant Data on Major Disasters Worldwide, 1900-Present". Retrieved November 14, 2008.
  20. ^ "Oklahoma residents clean up in Hurricane's wake". The Evening independent. October 22, 1983. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
  21. ^ Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres (2006). "Impacto Socioeconómico de los Ciclones Tropicales 2005" (PDF) (in Spanish). Retrieved November 9, 2006.
  22. ^ Associated Press (November 17, 1931). "Hurricane Toll Reaches 100 in Mexico Blow". The Evening Independent. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
  23. ^ "World News". The Virgin Islands Daily News. September 18, 1931. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
  24. ^ Howard C. Sumner (January 4, 1944). "1943 Monthly Weather Review" (PDF). U.S. Weather Bureau. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 23, 2008. Retrieved September 7, 2008.
  25. ^ a b c "Scorpions Add To Storm Havoc" (PDF). San Mateo Times. October 30, 1959. Retrieved May 9, 2008.[dead link]
  26. ^ a b c d e "Mexico Fights Threat of Epidemic After Hurricane That Killed 2,000" (PDF). Ogden Standard-Examiner. November 2, 1959. p. 8. Retrieved May 19, 2008.[dead link]
  27. ^ "Deaths Near 1500 in Mexico storm". Pacific Stars and Stripes. November 3, 1959. p. 31. Retrieved May 19, 2008.[dead link]
  28. ^ a b E. Jáuregui (2003). "Climatology of landfalling hurricanes and tropical storms in Mexico" (PDF). Atmósfera. p. 201. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 14, 2006. Retrieved December 28, 2007.
  29. ^ a b c "Toll of Over 1,000 Now Feared in Mexico Hurricane and Floods" (PDF). Titusville Herald. October 30, 1959. Retrieved May 9, 2008.[dead link]
  30. ^ a b "Mexico Hurricane Kills 800". Pacific Stars and Stripes. October 31, 1959. p. 29. Retrieved May 17, 2008.[dead link]
  31. ^ Charles H. Guptill (October 30, 1959). "Hurricane Kills 1000 in Mexico" (PDF). Lowell Sun. Retrieved May 9, 2008.[dead link]
  32. ^ "Mexico Hit by Killer Hurricane" (PDF). Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune. Associated Press. October 29, 1959. Retrieved March 18, 2008.[dead link]
  33. ^ a b "1,452 Dead in Hurricane". San Antonio Express and News. November 1, 1959. Retrieved May 9, 2008.[dead link]
  34. ^ Jimmie S. Payne. "Toll in Mexico Hurricane Now at 300" (PDF). Helena Independent Record. Retrieved May 9, 2008.[dead link]