60th Anniversary of Hurricane Hilda

Track of Hurricane Hilda 1955 (Unisys)
Track of Hurricane Hilda 1955 (Unisys)

Early on the morning of September 19, 1955, Hurricane Hilda slammed into Tampico, Mexico.  The storm, which brought great death and destruction to the city, was the second of a trio of hurricanes to plague the Mexican Gulf coast that year.

Hilda began as a tropical depression forming over the Leeward Islands on Sept. 10th from an easterly wave.  Its west-northwest track took it north of Puerto Rico, which allowed the storm to strengthen to a hurricane by the morning of the 12th.  It turned westward and continued to gain power north of Hispañola, but after traveling through the Windward Passage, it encountered the southern end of Cuba and weakened back to a Tropical Storm.  The high winds and tropical rains it brought to Cuba’s Oriente Province caused four deaths and heavily damaged the area’s coffee crop.  Over the next two days the storm regained its strength as it moved over the Caymans and headed westward toward the Yucatan Peninsula.  It hit a sparsely populated area south of Cancun on the morning of Sept. 16th and caused minimal damage as its center passed near the city of Merida.

Tampico residents use boats to navigate city streets (Archivo Historico de Tampico)
Tampico residents use boats to navigate city streets after Hilda (Archivo Historico de Tampico)

It subsequently moved over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and began to strengthen again.  It reached its peak, with Hurricane Hunters estimating maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 km/hr), while it approached the central Mexican Gulf coast.  But it significantly lost strength before it struck Tampico some eighteen hours later.  It hit with maximum winds of 105 mph (169 km/hr) which destroyed the roofs of about half the city’s homes.  Tampico was still recovering from flooding brought by Hurricane Gladys, thirteen days before, and this new storm inundated 90% of the city’s streets.  As Hilda died over the mountains to the west, its rains compounded the damage brought by the storm surge by swelling the rivers flowing into the Gulf.  Hilda killed an estimated 300 people and brought US$120 million in damage.  It left the city without power or communications with the outside, and it took more than a week to restore the railroad allowing relief supplies to reach the beleaguered residents.  Disease claimed further lives, and relief efforts were complicated when ten days later, Hurricane Janet struck the area.

Despite the woe brought by Hilda, the custom of retiring hurricane names had not yet been instituted so the name remained on the list.  It was used again in 1964, and that Hurricane Hilda, which struck Louisiana, caused the name to be retired.

One Reply to “60th Anniversary of Hurricane Hilda”

  1. Hurricane Hilda never made the recurvature to the north the way Hurricanes Connie & Diane did in 1955. My guess was there must have been a big blocking high in the southern United States which forced the hurricane into Mexico. Very interesting article.

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