1959 Mexico hurricane
|Category 4 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)|
|Formed||October 22, 1959|
|Dissipated||October 28, 1959|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained: 140 mph (220 km/h)
|Lowest pressure||955 mbar (hPa); 28.2 inHg|
|Fatalities||1,800 total (deadliest East Pacific hurricane)|
|Damage||≥ $280 million (1959 USD)|
|Areas affected||Colima and Jalisco, much of western Mexico|
|Part of the 1959 Pacific hurricane season|
The 1959 Mexico hurricane is the deadliest eastern Pacific tropical cyclone on record. First observed south of Mexico on October 23, the cyclone tracked northwest. It intensified into a Category 3 hurricane on October 25 and reached Category 4 intensity the following day. After turning toward the northeast, the hurricane maintained Category 4 status and made landfall near Manzanillo, Mexico. The system continued on that trajectory prior to dissipating 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.
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.
On October 26, the hurricane turned abruptly to the northeast toward the Mexican coast. 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), which was the basis for the previous estimated landfall intensity of 160 mph (260 km/h), which was later determined to be an overestimate. 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.
Preparations and impact
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 east and made landfall.
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. At that time, it was Mexico's worst natural disaster in recent times. Most of the destruction was in Colima and Jalisco. A preliminary estimate of property damage was $280 million (1959 USD).
The storm sank three merchant ships, and two other vessels. On one ship, the Sinaloa, 21 of 38 hands went down. On another, the El Caribe, all hands were lost. As many as 150 total boats were sunk.
A quarter of the homes in Cihuatlán, Jalisco, were totally destroyed, leaving many homeless. In Manzanillo, Colima, 40 percent of all homes were destroyed, and four ships in the harbor were sunk. 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. 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.
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. 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. In some places, the mud was 10 feet (3.0 m) deep. Water supplies were badly polluted, both by debris and dead bodies.
Aftermath and records
In the aftermath, air rescue operations were conducted, but the destruction of roads in the area hindered convoys carrying aid. Planes also made supply drops, but rescue operations were hindered by broken roads and rails. Survivors were vaccinated against typhoid and tetanus. Part of Manzanillo was placed under quarantine.
- Hurricane Madeline (1976) – one of the strongest landfalling Pacific hurricanes
- Hurricane Patricia – the strongest Pacific hurricane on record, taking a similar path in 2015
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