Hurricane Hilary rapidly intensified into a Category 4 storm on Friday off the Pacific coast of Mexico, and it is now forecasted to potentially make landfall in Southern California, marking the first tropical storm in the region in over eight decades. These unprecedented developments are expected to result in “significant and rare impacts,” including extensive flooding.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm watch for Southern California, an action never taken before. In addition to Southern California, the Bay Area might also experience the remnants of the storm, which could bring light rain showers early next week. The National Weather Service’s Bay Area office has warned of a marginal risk, ranging from 5 to 15%, of flash flooding in the eastern parts of the Bay Area.
The intensity of Hurricane Hilary is clearly evident from its sustained winds of approximately 145 mph, placing it in the Category 4 range. Although it is expected to strengthen slightly further before weakening, the storm is still projected to be a hurricane when it reaches Mexico’s Baja California peninsula on Saturday night and a tropical storm when it approaches Southern California on Sunday. It is worth noting that the last time a tropical storm hit Southern California was on September 25, 1939, according to the National Weather Service, making this an incredibly rare event for the region.
As of early Friday, Hurricane Hilary was located about 360 miles south-southwest of Los Cabos on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. Its current northwest movement at 10 mph is anticipated to make a more pronounced turn towards the north. In response to the threat, the Mexican government has expanded its hurricane watches and warnings for parts of the Baja California peninsula and issued a tropical storm watch for certain areas of mainland Mexico.
The consequences of this storm system are expected to be widespread, as heavy rainfall associated with Hilary is projected to affect the Southwestern United States through next Wednesday, with the peak expected on Sunday and Monday. Flash flooding poses a significant danger from San Diego to Las Vegas, with anticipated rainfall amounts ranging from 3 to 6 inches and isolated amounts potentially reaching 10 inches. Southern California and southern Nevada are predicted to experience these substantial impacts, while other parts of the Western United States can expect rainfall totals ranging from 1 to 3 inches.
In light of these weather conditions, SpaceX has decided to postpone the launch of a satellite-carrying rocket from a base on California’s central coast until at least Monday. The company expressed concerns about the difficulty of recovering the rocket booster due to the Pacific’s unfavorable conditions. Meanwhile, the Mexican government has expressed apprehension that the weakened Hurricane Hilary may skim a sparsely populated region on the western edge of the Baja peninsula early Sunday before potentially striking a more densely populated area of the coast, specifically between the cities of Playas de Rosarito and Ensenada in Baja California state.
In anticipation of the storm’s impact, the city of Yuma has taken precautionary measures by providing residents with a self-serve sandbag filling station. This station will be well-stocked with sand and empty bags to facilitate self-filling, although supplies will be available only while they last. Furthermore, residents are permitted to collect up to five sandbags per vehicle.
In summary, Hurricane Hilary’s rapid intensification to a Category 4 storm off Mexico’s Pacific coast and the potential for it to make landfall in Southern California after an 84-year absence have drawn significant attention. The resulting impacts, such as extensive flooding and flash flooding risks, have prompted the U.S. National Hurricane Center to issue a tropical storm watch for Southern California for the first time in history. With rainfall projections ranging from 3 to 10 inches in parts of the Southwestern United States, including southern California and southern Nevada, the potential consequences of this storm are both substantial and exceedingly rare.