By Jack Phillips
Tropical Storm Hilary made landfall on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula Sunday as forecasters said “catastrophic and life-threatening” flooding is likely across a broad region of the southwestern United States.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said that as of Sunday afternoon, the storm made landfall over the northern Baja California peninsula. Tropical storm warnings were still in effect for a swath of the Southern California coastline.
Meteorologists warned that despite weakening, the storm remained treacherous. One person drowned Saturday in the Mexican town of Santa Rosalia, on the peninsula’s eastern coast, when a vehicle was swept away in an overflowing stream. Rescue workers managed to save four other people, said Edith Aguilar Villavicencio, the mayor of Mulege township.
Hilary is slated to bring more rain than most areas in Southern California and Southern Nevada normally get in an entire year, Zack Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center, told Reuters.
“This is a dangerous storm,” Taylor told the outlet. “It’s not just the rain totals but the intensity. This is the wettest rainfall from a tropical storm to hit the Western U.S.”
Forecasters stated the storm was still expected to enter the history books as the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years, bringing flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds and power outages. Authorities issued an evacuation advisory for Santa Catalina Island, urging residents and beachgoers to leave the tourist destination that sits 23 miles off the coast.
“Continued weakening due to cool waters, dry air, and land interaction is expected, but Hilary is forecast to remain a tropical storm before it reaches southern California later today. The strongest winds are expected to be to the east of the center and in areas of high terrain,” said the National Hurricane Center in an update Sunday.
Meanwhile, tropical storm conditions are expected to start later on Sunday in areas of the southwestern United States within the tropical storm warning area. Winds could be strong and gusty in high-terrain areas, although the winds are expected to spread inland across the western United States, according to the NHC.
“The potentially historic amount of rainfall is expected to cause flash, urban, and arroyo flooding including landslides, mudslides and debris flows. Dangerous to locally catastrophic flooding impacts are expected through early Monday morning,” the National Hurricane Center warned also on Sunday morning.
The NHC says it expects rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 inches with isolated totals of up to 10 inches in Southern California and Nevada, according to a forecast map.
Tijuana ordered all beaches closed Saturday, and set up a half dozen storm shelters at sports complexes and government offices. Mexico’s navy evacuated 850 people from islands off the Baja coast, and deployed almost 3,000 troops for emergency operations.
In La Paz, the picturesque capital of Baja California Sur state on the Sea of Cortez, police patrolled closed beaches to keep swimmers out of the whipped-up surf.
The San Bernardino County sheriff issued evacuation warnings for several mountain and foothill communities ahead of the storm, while Orange County sent out its own alert for anyone living in a wildfire burn scar in the Santa Ana Mountains’ Silverado and Williams canyons. Authorities in Los Angeles scrambled to get the homeless off the streets and into shelters, and officials ordered all state beaches in San Diego and Orange counties closed.
As the storm hits California, it could bring adverse effects to the state’s agricultural yields, said one forecaster.
“A cool, wet spring has the harvest of many crops behind schedule,” AccuWeather’s Dale Mohler said. “Fresh fruits and vegetables may be susceptible to mold and spoilage due to excessive rain and further delays in the harvest from the storm. Cotton may be discolored, and yields may be reduced. Winds may knock almonds to the ground, where they may become moldy or rot due to the incoming rain.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it has officials inside California’s emergency preparedness office and teams on standby with food, water and other help as needed. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden got a briefing Saturday from senior staff members about the storm, according to a White House readout.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.