That’s not a typo. It’s Disneyland in California, and not Walt Disney World in Florida, that is currently in the path of Hurricane Hilary. This covers the storm’s status, anticipated rainfall and winds, likelihood of park closures, and tips for staying dry during rain & preparedness info for staying safe during intense weather.
For those who are visiting Disneyland on vacation, it’s worth emphasizing how exceedingly rare this is. It’s been over 150 years since a Category 1 storm made landfall in Southern California, when a hurricane is believed to have hit San Diego in 1858. The storm caused considerable devastation; estimates indicate that if a similar storm happened in the 2000s, it would have caused several hundred million dollars in damage.
In addition to the San Diego hurricane, four cyclones have brought tropical storm force winds to the southwestern United States: a 1939 tropical storm in Southern California, Hurricane Joanne in Arizona (1972), Hurricane Kathleen California and Arizona (1976), and Hurricane Nora in Arizona (1997). Only the 1939 tropical storm made a direct landfall in coastal California, and it’s estimated that would’ve caused roughly $200 million in damages to the Long Beach area had it happened in 2004.
These property damage estimates are a result of population density and high property values according to researchers, as well as the reality that Southern California construction does not take into account the potentiality of tropical storms or hurricanes. The degree to which storms like this are uncommon and California being unprepared for them is the most salient point here.
This much was actually evident during the wet winter weather in California. The state endured 31 atmospheric river storms in Winter 2023, one of the wettest and coldest in California history. Storms killed people, stranded others, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damaged infrastructure. This resulted from rain damage, mudslides, and floods–all due to unprecedented precipitation in California. This was evident even at Disneyland, where rain caused flooding as well as construction damage and delays to the reimagined Mickey’s Toontown.
To put that into context, California’s near-record winter precipitation was still only approximately half of the rainfall Central Florida sees in an average year. Rain that, outside of tropical storms and hurricanes, typically does not have any catastrophic consequences. The not-so-profound conclusion here isn’t that California is “weak” and Florida is “tough” when it comes to rain, but that different places are differently equipped to handle storms. Just as Florida understandably doesn’t have the same readiness for earthquakes or blizzards, usually-sunny Southern California doesn’t have the same storm safeguards.
With that preface out of the way, let’s turn to the forecast from the National Weather Service. According to the NWS, Hurricane Hilary is expected to produce rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 inches, with isolated maximum amounts up to 10 inches, across portions of the Baja California Peninsula through Sunday night.
Heavy rainfall in association with Hurricane Hilary is expected to impact the Southwestern United States from Friday through early next week, peaking on Sunday and Monday. Rainfall amounts of 2 to 4 inches, with isolated amounts in excess of 8 inches, will be possible across portions of Southern California and Southern Nevada.
Rainfall impacts from Hilary within the Southwestern United States are expected to peak this weekend into Monday. Flash, urban, and arroyo flooding is possible with the potential for significant impacts. Hilary is forecast to reach major Category 3 or 4 Hurricane status on Saturday before arriving in Southern California, likely as a tropical storm late Sunday or early Monday.
Hilary has the potential to bring significant impacts to the Baja California Peninsula and portions of the southwestern United States this weekend and early next week, including after it becomes post-tropical. Although it is too soon to determine the location and magnitude of wind impacts, interests in these areas should monitor the progress of Hilary and updates to the forecast.
Los Angeles-area meteorologists are expecting Hilary to lose strength as it gets closer to Southern California, with wind speeds decreasing from 120 mph early Saturday to 70 mph Sunday night and 40 mph by Monday evening.
“We’re tracking what could be the remnants of a tropical storm that could bring some rain, especially Sunday into Monday,” said NBC4 Los Angeles meteorologist Belen De Leon. “It’s going to become a major hurricane, but as it approaches the southwestern part of the United States it’s going to weaken into a tropical storm. The winds are not going to be as strong, but it’s still going to pack a punch.”
Flooding, gusty winds, and high surf are possible throughout the Los Angeles area, but the storm’s track will determine the severity and timing of severe weather. “There’s a possibility for several inches of rain in Southern California,” De Leon said.
Any rain would be a rarity for Anaheim in August, which is historically the driest month of the year. Anaheim typically averages 0.0 inches of rain in August. (Which is why most of my photos below feature Christmas decorations–that’s normally the rainy season, not late summer!) With Hilary, rain estimates are 2 to 4 inches throughout Southern California (including Disneyland Resort), with some inland areas seeing 4 to 6 inches.
How Hurricane Hilary will impact operations at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is unclear at this point. Bringing this full circle, there were a handful of occasions during the wet winter weather from January to March 2023 that the parks closed a few hours early due to the intense rain.
We’ve visited Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in torrential downpours, including this past winter. Frankly, we make a point of going to the parks when there’s rain in the forecast! Unlike Walt Disney World, where rain has only a negligible impact on crowd levels, it’s a huge deal at Disneyland.
The difference is demographics. Although this has shifted a bit in recent years, Walt Disney World is still fueled by out of state tourists. They’re largely a captive audience who already spent a ton of money on park tickets, hotel reservations, etc. A little rain isn’t going to stop them from visiting.
By contrast, Disneyland is still powered by locals, especially during the winter and fall off-season (which has more or less started now that school districts have gone back into session). Californians are essentially allergic to precipitation, and largely stay home on the rare rainy days.
That might sound tongue-in-cheek, but locals can’t be faulted for this, as rain has outsized impacts in SoCal. To give just one example, the roads tend to be slicker than in other places due to a mix of poor drainage and oil that accumulates on the surface since it rains so infrequently.
There are also a variety of ways that the in-park experience differs from Walt Disney World on rainy days. The biggest is that Disneyland has considerably more outdoor areas, attractions, and queues. Again, this is a result of the typical sunny weather, which makes these design decisions perfectly suitable for the environment (as contrasted with Central Florida).
This means that more rides close when it rains, and you’re more likely to get wet since more is outdoors. Entertainment is also likely to be impacted, with fireworks almost sure to be cancelled (that happens in even a slight breeze!) as well as parades and outdoor atmospheric acts. World of Color, essentially a reverse-rain storm, is usually shown regardless of weather.
In-park flooding is also an issue because, again, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure weren’t built with tropical storms or deluges in mind. Honestly, it’s tough to dub this a way that Disneyland and Walt Disney World “differ,” since the latter have a surprising number of areas that flood. (Lookin’ at you, Tomorrowland!)
Suffice to say, you’ll want to pack ponchos, umbrellas, and shoes that are suitable to wet weather if you’re visiting Disneyland on a rainy day. It’s too soon to say what’ll happen with this storm, as the trajectory of Hurricane Hilary is still uncertain. However, it’s probably a safe bet that Sunday and Monday, August 20-21, 2023, won’t simply be regular rainy days at Disneyland, though.
Without knowing anything more, we’d say it’s probably a safe bet that Disneyland will close early on Sunday night if the storm stays more or less on its current path and pace. There’s likewise a reasonable probability that Disneyland will have a delayed opening on Monday. Depending upon the damage caused by rain and wind, it’s also possible that certain attractions may not open at all. (Jungle Cruise and Tom Sawyer Island being the most obvious candidates.)
In our view, that’s the base case, taking the current forecast at face value and drawing a relatively conservative conclusion. It’s always possible that the storm worsens or weakens. If the latter happens, it might just end up being an atypically rainy couple of days at Disneyland, in which case visitors will likely benefit from lower crowd levels and wait times. We don’t want to engage in fearmongering or doom & gloom about what a worst case scenario looks like. You can probably draw your own conclusions based on a lot of the above.
Ultimately, that’s what we know so far about Hurricane Hilary and the likelihood of the storm having an impact on operations or causing a closure of Disneyland. For its part, Disney has not yet commented on the coming storm; Disneyland unsurprisingly does not have an official hurricane policy like Walt Disney World.
Our expectation is that will change in the coming days. Disneyland will likely informally waive cancellation fees, penalties, and change fees for those who do not want to visit during Hilary, and will presumably issue a statement in the next day or two. We’ll keep you posted about any major developments.
If you’re in Southern California or were planning to visit this weekend or early next week, we’d recommend you continue to monitor the weather forecast. Finally, don’t underestimate the potential impact based on your experience with storms elsewhere; as should be obvious from the forgoing, it’ll be different in California–so be careful and stay safe!
Are you currently at Disneyland or in Southern California? Have you visited DLR on rainy days in the past? Any additional info, thoughts, or first-hand experiences to share about storms at Disneyland? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!