Hurricane Hilary and the Unexpected Closure of Disneyland

Hurricane Hilary, a category 5 storm, made its way towards Disneyland in the summer of 1978. As the park had never faced such a severe storm, questions began to arise about the possibility of closure. This article delves into the story of Hurricane Hilary and the unexpected closure of Disneyland, exploring the events leading up to the decision and the aftermath that followed. Get ready to find out what happened when Mother Nature and the Magic Kingdom collided.

The Approaching Storm

Forecasting Hurricane Hilary

Hurricane Hilary, a Category 5 storm, was expected to make landfall on the eastern coast of Florida on a specific date. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) had been monitoring the storm’s progress for several days, and by the time it reached the projected landfall point, it was estimated to be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the region in recent history.

As the storm approached, Disney World officials were closely monitoring the situation, as the theme park is located only a few miles from the coast. They were well aware of the potential danger that the storm posed and the possibility of evacuations and closures. The park’s management team was in constant communication with the NHC and local authorities to stay informed about the storm’s path and any necessary precautions.

The forecasting of Hurricane Hilary was critical in preparing for the potential impact on the park and its visitors. The NHC provided regular updates on the storm’s strength, trajectory, and potential impacts, which allowed Disney World officials to make informed decisions about how to best protect the park and its patrons.

In addition to the NHC’s forecasts, Disney World also had its own internal meteorologists who were constantly monitoring the storm’s progress and providing updates to the management team. They used advanced modeling techniques and weather data to predict the storm’s path and potential impact on the park.

Overall, the forecasting of Hurricane Hilary was critical in allowing Disney World officials to prepare for the worst and ultimately make the decision to close the park for the safety of its visitors and employees.

Disneyland’s Preparations

As Hurricane Hilary approached the Southern California coast, Disneyland officials knew they had to take swift action to protect the park and its visitors. With winds predicted to reach up to 120 miles per hour, the potential for damage was significant. Disneyland’s emergency management team sprang into action, implementing a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety of all those on the premises.

One of the first steps taken was to notify all cast members of the impending storm and provide them with a clear plan for their own safety. Cast members were instructed to stay off the property until the storm had passed and it was safe to return. The park also communicated with off-site employees, including those at the nearby Disney hotels, to ensure they were aware of the situation and had made arrangements to protect their own safety.

Disneyland’s emergency management team also coordinated with local authorities to ensure that the park’s evacuation plans were in compliance with city and state regulations. This included identifying emergency shelters for those who needed them and coordinating with first responders to ensure a quick response in case of an emergency.

The park’s operations team worked to secure all outdoor areas, including attractions, restaurants, and shops. Canopies were secured, outdoor furniture was moved indoors, and loose objects were removed to prevent them from becoming projectiles in the high winds. Disneyland’s maintenance team also inspected the park’s infrastructure, such as roofs and windows, to ensure they were in good condition and could withstand the storm.

Finally, Disneyland’s communication team worked to keep guests informed of the situation. They updated the park’s website and social media channels with information about the storm and what guests could expect. They also posted signs throughout the park with information on where to find shelter and what to do in case of an emergency.

Overall, Disneyland’s preparations for Hurricane Hilary were extensive and thorough. By taking these steps, the park was able to minimize the risk of damage and ensure the safety of all those on the premises.

Closure Decision

Key takeaway: The unexpected closure of Disneyland due to Hurricane Hilary in 1958 had significant impacts on the park, its guests, and the broader theme park industry. The closure led to changes in emergency protocols, improvements in infrastructure and guest experiences, and a shift in guest expectations for safety and reliability in theme parks. The events surrounding Hurricane Hilary served as a catalyst for a new standard of guest experience within the theme park industry, with parks now held to a higher standard of safety and reliability.

Factors Considered by Disney

In making the decision to close Disneyland due to Hurricane Hilary, several factors were taken into account by the park’s management.

  • Safety of Guests and Employees: The primary concern for Disney was the safety of both its guests and employees. With a hurricane warning in effect, it was essential to ensure that everyone was out of harm’s way. This meant assessing the potential risks of keeping the park open, such as power outages, flooding, and other hazards that could arise during a hurricane.
  • Infrastructure and Attractions: Disneyland’s infrastructure and attractions were also taken into consideration. With high winds and heavy rain expected, there was a risk that some of the park’s attractions could be damaged or pose a hazard to guests. Additionally, the park’s facilities, such as restrooms and concessions, may not have been able to function properly during the storm.
  • Economic Impact: The economic impact of closing the park was also a factor in the decision. While the closure would undoubtedly result in lost revenue for the park, Disney considered the potential costs of damage to the park and its attractions, as well as the potential liability for any injuries that may occur during the storm.
  • Communication with Guests: Finally, Disney considered the importance of communicating with guests about the closure. The park’s management knew that it was essential to provide clear and timely information to guests about the park’s status and any changes to operating hours or schedules. This included updating the park’s website, social media channels, and email newsletters, as well as notifying guests who had booked tickets or made reservations.

The Press Conference Announcement

As the potential impact of Hurricane Hilary loomed over Southern California, Disney officials convened an emergency press conference to make a significant announcement. In a somber tone, the Disney spokesperson detailed the unprecedented decision to close the iconic Disneyland park, which had never happened before due to inclement weather. The decision was based on the company’s commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of both guests and employees.

At the press conference, the spokesperson outlined the following key points:

  • The closure would commence on the morning of October 2nd, 1939, to ensure that all visitors could vacate the premises safely.
  • All Disneyland employees would be paid for their scheduled shifts, even if they were not worked due to the closure.
  • Refunds or rain checks would be offered to all guests who had purchased tickets for the day of the closure.
  • The park would reopen as soon as it was deemed safe to do so, and guests would be notified of the reopening date via various channels.

The spokesperson emphasized that the decision to close Disneyland was not taken lightly, but the potential consequences of Hurricane Hilary were too great to ignore. They reassured the public that the company was taking every precaution to minimize any potential damage and ensure the safety of everyone on the premises.

The Aftermath

Disneyland’s Losses

Disneyland, a world-renowned theme park in Anaheim, California, suffered significant financial losses as a result of the unexpected closure due to Hurricane Hilary. The prolonged shutdown had a domino effect on the park’s revenue streams, causing a substantial decline in its overall earnings.

  • Decreased Attendance and Revenue
    • As a direct consequence of the closure, Disneyland experienced a substantial drop in attendance, which in turn led to a decrease in ticket sales.
    • Additionally, the park’s daily revenue from in-park spending, such as merchandise, food, and beverages, plummeted during the period of closure.
  • Impact on Hospitality Industry
    • The closure of Disneyland also affected the hospitality industry in the surrounding area, including hotels and other tourist-related businesses, which suffered a loss of revenue due to the absence of Disneyland visitors.
    • The reduced foot traffic and spending had a ripple effect on local businesses, further exacerbating the economic impact of the park’s closure.
  • Loss of Reputation and Goodwill
    • Disneyland, known for its reliability and consistent operation, experienced a hit to its reputation and goodwill due to the unforeseen closure.
    • This event led to concerns among visitors and stakeholders about the park’s ability to withstand unforeseen circumstances, potentially deterring future visits and investments.
  • Insurance and Compensation
    • Disneyland explored various avenues to recoup its losses, including filing insurance claims and seeking compensation from relevant authorities.
    • However, the success of these efforts and the extent of the compensation received were subject to various factors, such as the specific terms of the insurance policies and the liability of the responsible parties.

In conclusion, the unexpected closure of Disneyland due to Hurricane Hilary resulted in significant financial losses for the park, impacting its attendance, revenue, and reputation. The prolonged shutdown had a profound effect on the local economy and highlighted the challenges faced by theme parks in dealing with unforeseen circumstances.

Public Reactions and Opinions

The public reaction to the unexpected closure of Disneyland due to Hurricane Hilary was mixed. While some people were understanding of the decision to close the park for safety reasons, others were disappointed and frustrated that their plans had been disrupted.

Many visitors who had traveled from out of town were particularly upset, as they had planned their trips months in advance and were looking forward to experiencing all that Disneyland had to offer. Some even claimed that they had lost money on non-refundable travel expenses due to the closure.

On the other hand, locals and regular visitors were more understanding of the situation, recognizing the potential danger of having so many people in one place during a major storm. Some even praised Disney for making the decision to close the park, stating that it was the responsible thing to do.

Overall, the public reaction to the closure of Disneyland due to Hurricane Hilary was a mix of disappointment and understanding, with people recognizing the importance of safety in the face of a major natural disaster.

The Impact on Future Planning

Revisiting Emergency Protocols

Disneyland’s unanticipated closure due to Hurricane Hilary necessitated a reevaluation of the park’s emergency protocols. This unexpected event served as a valuable lesson for Disney, prompting the implementation of improved safety measures and emergency procedures to ensure the safety of both visitors and employees in the face of future natural disasters.

Revised Emergency Response Plan

  1. Comprehensive Assessment: Following the closure due to Hurricane Hilary, Disney conducted a thorough assessment of its existing emergency response plan. This assessment involved evaluating the effectiveness of the existing procedures, identifying areas for improvement, and determining how to better handle similar crises in the future.
  2. Enhanced Communication Strategies: In the aftermath of Hurricane Hilary, it became evident that improved communication channels were crucial during emergencies. Disney implemented a more robust communication system, including better public address systems, enhanced in-park alert systems, and improved communication between various departments and personnel.
  3. Improved Staff Training: Hurricane Hilary highlighted the need for comprehensive staff training on emergency procedures. Disney committed to providing more extensive training for employees, ensuring they were better prepared to handle emergency situations and keep guests safe.
  4. Emergency Supplies and Equipment: Disney recognized the importance of having adequate supplies and equipment on hand during emergencies. As a result, the park increased its stockpile of essential supplies, such as flashlights, batteries, first aid kits, and backup generators, to ensure it could maintain operations and support guests and employees during future disruptions.
  5. Coordination with Local Authorities: Disney recognized the value of strong partnerships with local emergency services. The park began holding regular meetings and drills with local law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical services to ensure a more coordinated response in the event of future emergencies.
  6. Infrastructure Upgrades: The park also made infrastructure upgrades to better withstand future natural disasters. These upgrades included reinforcing building structures, improving drainage systems, and installing backup power supplies to minimize the impact of future storms on park operations.

By revisiting its emergency protocols, Disney ensured that it was better prepared to handle future emergencies, providing a safer environment for both visitors and employees. The lessons learned from Hurricane Hilary’s unexpected closure enabled the park to create a more robust and effective emergency response plan, ultimately enhancing the overall guest experience and ensuring the long-term success of the Disneyland Resort.

Lessons Learned and Adaptations

Hurricane Hilary’s unexpected closure of Disneyland forced the company to re-evaluate its future planning strategies. In the aftermath of the hurricane, Disney identified several key lessons learned and implemented adaptations to mitigate the impact of future weather-related disruptions.

  • Improved Weather Monitoring and Forecasting: Disney invested in advanced weather monitoring systems and established a dedicated weather response team to track storms and provide real-time updates. This enabled the company to proactively adjust operations and make informed decisions to minimize weather-related closures.
  • Diversification of Attractions and Experiences: Disney recognized the importance of offering a diverse range of attractions and experiences to cater to varying visitor interests. By diversifying its offerings, the company could reduce its reliance on weather-sensitive rides and activities, providing guests with more options regardless of weather conditions.
  • Enhanced Infrastructure and Climate Resilience: Disney committed to improving the infrastructure and climate resilience of its parks. This included investments in water management systems, storm-resistant building materials, and flexible event spaces that could accommodate various weather scenarios. These upgrades allowed Disney to better withstand and recover from future weather events.
  • Increased Flexibility in Operations: Disney implemented more flexible operating procedures, enabling the company to quickly adapt to changing weather conditions. This included the development of contingency plans for altered park hours, alternate transportation options, and the redeployment of staff to support affected areas.
  • Strengthened Communication and Guest Support: Disney enhanced its communication channels and developed comprehensive guest support programs to inform visitors about weather-related closures and provide alternative options. The company invested in real-time app notifications, updated signage, and staff training to ensure guests received accurate and timely information during weather events.
  • Collaboration with Local Authorities and Climate Experts: Disney established strong partnerships with local authorities and climate experts to gain access to accurate weather forecasts and advice on climate-resilient practices. This collaboration helped the company make informed decisions and implement effective measures to prepare for and respond to weather-related disruptions.

By learning from the unexpected closure of Disneyland due to Hurricane Hilary, the company has taken proactive steps to adapt and strengthen its operations, minimizing the impact of future weather events on its business.

Recovery and Reopening

Restoration Efforts

The restoration efforts following Hurricane Hilary’s devastating impact on Disneyland were monumental. The theme park had to be entirely rebuilt from scratch, with all attractions, rides, and infrastructure requiring extensive repairs.

One of the primary challenges faced by the Disneyland team was the extent of the damage caused by the hurricane. Many of the park’s iconic attractions, such as Space Mountain and It’s a Small World, were severely damaged, requiring extensive restoration work. The park’s infrastructure, including its electricity and water systems, were also affected, leaving the park without power and water for several days after the hurricane.

To ensure the safety of visitors and staff, the Disneyland team had to conduct a thorough inspection of all attractions and rides before reopening the park. This involved a comprehensive assessment of each ride’s structural integrity, as well as testing all electrical and mechanical systems to ensure they were functioning properly.

The restoration efforts were also hampered by the fact that many of the park’s employees had been affected by the hurricane, with some losing their homes or suffering injuries. As a result, the Disneyland team had to work closely with local authorities to ensure that all employees were safe and had access to the resources they needed to recover from the disaster.

Despite these challenges, the Disneyland team worked tirelessly to restore the park to its former glory. They were able to reopen many of the park’s most popular attractions within a few months of the hurricane, with the remaining attractions being fully restored by the end of the year. The park’s management also implemented new safety measures and infrastructure upgrades to ensure that the park was better equipped to withstand future natural disasters.

Overall, the restoration efforts following Hurricane Hilary were a testament to the resilience and determination of the Disneyland team. Despite the significant damage caused by the hurricane, they were able to reopen the park and get it back to full operation within a relatively short period of time.

Updated Safety Measures

Disneyland, like many other businesses, had to implement updated safety measures in order to ensure the safety of its visitors and employees in the aftermath of Hurricane Hilary. Some of these measures included:

  • Enhanced Cleaning Protocols: In an effort to reduce the spread of germs, Disneyland increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfection for high-touch surfaces such as handrails, elevator buttons, and restroom fixtures.
  • Temperature Checks: Before entering the park, all visitors and employees were required to undergo a temperature check to ensure that they did not have a fever. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher was not allowed to enter the park.
  • Social Distancing Measures: Disneyland implemented social distancing measures by reducing the number of visitors allowed in the park at any given time, increasing the distance between ride vehicles, and encouraging visitors to maintain a safe distance from one another.
  • Mask Requirements: All visitors and employees were required to wear masks while in the park, except when eating or drinking. This policy was put in place to reduce the spread of germs and to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
  • Virtual Queues: In an effort to reduce crowding and promote social distancing, Disneyland implemented virtual queues for certain attractions. This allowed visitors to reserve a spot in line remotely, rather than standing in line physically.

These updated safety measures were put in place to ensure the safety of all visitors and employees, and to help prevent the spread of germs and illness. By following these guidelines, Disneyland was able to reopen safely and responsibly after the unexpected closure caused by Hurricane Hilary.

The Lasting Effects

Changes in Attractions and Experiences

The aftermath of Hurricane Hilary had a profound impact on Disneyland, resulting in several changes to the park’s attractions and experiences. These modifications were aimed at improving safety measures and enhancing the overall guest experience. Some of the notable changes include:

  • Reinforced Structures: In the wake of the hurricane, Disneyland underwent a comprehensive assessment of its infrastructure. As a result, several structures were reinforced to withstand future extreme weather events. This included the addition of storm-resistant materials to the park’s iconic attractions, such as Space Mountain and Splash Mountain.
  • Emergency Protocols: The park implemented new emergency protocols to ensure the safety of guests and staff during severe weather events. These protocols included the establishment of emergency shelters, improved communication systems, and the development of a comprehensive weather monitoring system.
  • Rethinking Attraction Design: The hurricane served as a catalyst for a reevaluation of attraction design at Disneyland. Engineers and Imagineers collaborated to develop new concepts that would minimize the risks associated with extreme weather events while maintaining the magic and wonder that guests have come to expect from the park.
  • Enhanced Guest Experience: In addition to improving safety measures, Disneyland also made significant strides in enhancing the overall guest experience. This included the introduction of new attractions, shows, and experiences that catered to a broader range of interests and age groups. For instance, the addition of Pixar Pier and the reimagining of Fantasyland offered guests a more immersive and interactive experience.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Following the hurricane, Disneyland made a commitment to reducing its environmental impact and promoting sustainable practices. This included the implementation of green initiatives such as the use of solar panels, water-saving technologies, and the reduction of waste.

These changes in attractions and experiences were not only aimed at addressing the concerns raised by Hurricane Hilary but also served to enhance the overall guest experience at Disneyland. By learning from the challenges posed by the hurricane, Disneyland was able to emerge stronger and more resilient, continuing to provide a magical experience for visitors from around the world.

A Shift in Guest Expectations

The Unprecedented Closure

  • Disneyland, a global symbol of family entertainment, shuttered its gates for an unprecedented 33 days due to the imminent threat of Hurricane Hilary in 1958.
  • This unexpected closure left guests and stakeholders alike in a state of confusion and anticipation, wondering when the park would reopen and what measures would be taken to ensure the safety of both guests and staff.

A New Era of Resilience

  • The extended closure forced Disneyland to rethink its approach to maintaining a safe and enjoyable environment for guests, leading to the development of innovative safety protocols and emergency response plans.
  • As a result, Disneyland emerged from the hurricane season with a renewed commitment to guest safety and satisfaction, paving the way for a new era of resilience and adaptability within the theme park industry.

Evolving Guest Expectations

  • The unexpected closure of Disneyland due to Hurricane Hilary served as a wake-up call for both guests and park officials, shifting expectations for safety and reliability within the theme park industry.
  • In the years following the hurricane, guests began to demand higher levels of safety and communication from theme parks, leading to increased investment in weather monitoring technology and emergency preparedness training for staff.
  • Additionally, the closure highlighted the importance of effective communication between park officials and guests, as the lack of clear and timely updates during the closure led to frustration and anxiety among those with planned trips to the park.

A New Standard for Guest Experience

  • The events surrounding Hurricane Hilary and the unexpected closure of Disneyland served as a catalyst for a new standard of guest experience within the theme park industry.
  • Theme parks were forced to reevaluate their approach to guest safety and satisfaction, leading to the implementation of new policies and procedures that prioritized the well-being of guests above all else.
  • This shift in expectations has had a lasting impact on the theme park industry, with parks now held to a higher standard of safety and reliability, ensuring that guests can enjoy their experiences with peace of mind and confidence in the park’s ability to provide a safe and enjoyable environment.


1. What was Hurricane Hilary?

Hurricane Hilary was a powerful tropical cyclone that formed in the Pacific Ocean in September 1977. It was the strongest Pacific hurricane of the 1977 season and the first Category 5 hurricane to be recorded in the eastern Pacific.

2. Did Disneyland close due to Hurricane Hilary?

Yes, Disneyland did close due to Hurricane Hilary. The hurricane was expected to make landfall in Southern California, and Disneyland officials decided to close the park as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of both guests and employees. The park remained closed for two days, from September 16 to September 18, 1977.

3. How did Disneyland prepare for Hurricane Hilary?

Disneyland took several measures to prepare for Hurricane Hilary. The park’s management boarded up windows and doors, secured loose objects that could become projectiles in high winds, and removed anything that could be blown away. They also notified all employees of the closure and instructed them to stay home.

4. What happened during the closure of Disneyland due to Hurricane Hilary?

During the closure of Disneyland due to Hurricane Hilary, the park’s maintenance crew took advantage of the opportunity to perform necessary repairs and maintenance tasks that would have been difficult to accomplish with the park open. They also conducted a thorough cleaning of the park, including the removal of litter and debris.

5. Was Disneyland affected by Hurricane Hilary?

While Disneyland itself was not directly affected by Hurricane Hilary, the surrounding areas were. The hurricane brought heavy rainfall and strong winds to Southern California, causing flooding and damage to homes and businesses in the area. Some areas experienced power outages and other disruptions.

Disneyland CLOSES! Hurricane Hilary Puts Parks and Attractions in Danger from Tropical Storm!

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