Powerful Hurricane Hilary heads for Mexico’s Baja as rare tropical storm watch issued for California

Aug 18, 2023, 5:00 PM | Updated: 6:43 pm

Powerful Hurricane Hilary Mexico California...

This Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, 1:10 p.m. EDT satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Hurricane Hilary, right, off Mexico’s Pacific coast. It grew rapidly to Category 4 strength and could reach Southern California as the first tropical storm there in 84 years, causing “significant and rare impacts” including extensive flooding. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said a tropical storm watch has been issued for Southern California, the first time it has ever done that. (NOAA via AP)

(NOAA via AP)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Hurricane Hilary churned off Mexico’s Pacific coast Friday as a powerful Category 4 storm threatening to unleash torrential rains on the mudslide-prone border city of Tijuana before heading into Southern California as the first tropical storm there in 84 years.

Forecasters warned the storm could cause extreme flooding, mudslides and even tornadoes across the region.

Hillary grew rapidly in strength early Friday before losing some steam in the afternoon. Sustained winds fell from 145 mph (230 kph) to 130 mph (215 kph). Nevertheless, it was forecast to still be a hurricane when approaching Mexico’s Baja California peninsula on Saturday night and a tropical storm when approaching Southern California on Sunday.

No tropical storm has made landfall in Southern California since Sept. 25, 1939, according to the National Weather Service.

Where is the powerful Hurricane Hilary 2023?

A tropical storm watch was posted for much of Southern California. The hurricane path is projected to cover a wide swath of the region from the coast to the interior mountains and deserts. The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned of numerous potential threats to life and property.

The Mexican government said Hilary might skim a sparsely populated area on the western edge of the Baja peninsula early Sunday and then perhaps make landfall between the Pacific coast cities of Ensenada, and Playas de Rosarito, a beach community on the edge of Tijuana.

Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero Ramirez said the city was tracking the storm closely and clearing out storm drains.

Who is in danger?

The sprawling border metropolis of 1.9 million people is particularly at risk of landslides and flooding. That’s due to its hilly terrain. Shacks are perched on cliffs with little vegetation to hold soil in place. In addition, dozens of people live under tarps on the streets and in canals in flood zones, including migrants who arrive daily from various parts of the world.

The city was setting up four shelters in high-risk zones, Caballero Ramirez said. City workers also were going to neighborhoods to warn residents.

“We are a vulnerable city being on one of the most visited borders in the world and because of our landscape,” she said.

South of Tijuana, officials in Ensenada set up more than a dozen shelters. That included two church meeting halls on Isla de Cedros, an island with a village population of about 1,350. The residents live directly in the projected path of the hurricane, Ensenada Mayor Armando Ayala said.

What is the projected path of the powerful Hurricane Hilary?

Mexico issued a tropical storm watch for parts of mainland Mexico and put 18,000 soldiers on alert.

At midafternoon Friday, Hilary was centered about 325 miles (525 kilometers) south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas. That’s near the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. It was moving northwest at 12 mph (19 kph) and was expected to turn more toward the north.

Some Cabo San Lucas schools were being prepared as temporary shelters, said Flora Aguilar, a city official.

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 surf. Schools were shut down in five municipalities.

It was increasingly likely that Hilary would reach California early Monday while still at tropical storm strength, though widespread rain was expected to begin as early as Saturday, the National Weather Service’s San Diego office said.

What part of California will Hurricane Hilary hit?

Hurricane officials said the storm could bring heavy rainfall to the southwestern United States, dumping 3 to 6 inches in places, with isolated amounts of up to 10 inches, in portions of southern California and southern Nevada.

“Two to three inches of rainfall in Southern California is unheard of” for this time of year, said Kristen Corbosiero, a University of Albany atmospheric scientist who specializes in Pacific hurricanes. “That’s a that’s a whole summer and fall amount of rain coming in probably 6 to 12 hours.”

The region could face once-in-a-century rains and there is a good chance Nevada will break its all-time rainfall record, said meteorologist Jeff Masters of Yale Climate Connections and a former government in-flight hurricane meteorologist.

Which states and cities will it affect?

Cities across the region, including in Arizona, were offering sandbags to safeguard properties against floodwaters. The National Park Service planned to close vulnerable areas of Joshua Tree National Park on Friday evening. It also planned to suspend all back country camping.

Officials in Southern California were also re-enforcing sand berms, built to protect low-lying coastal communities against winter surf. Huntington Beach, which dubs itself as “Surf City USA,” is one such city.

SpaceX delayed the launch of a satellite-carrying rocket from a base on California’s central coast until at least Monday. The company said conditions in the Pacific could make it difficult for a ship to recover the rocket booster.

Experts said storms usually don’t hit Southern California. Prevailing winds usually push them west into open ocean or northeastward into Mexico and other parts of the Southwest.

“Almost all of them just go out to sea. That’s why we never hear about them,” said Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

That’s unlikely to happen with Hilary mostly because of a high pressure heat dome that is expected to bring triple digit heat indices in the Midwest and block the eastern turn, Masters said.

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Powerful Hurricane Hilary heads for Mexico’s Baja as rare tropical storm watch issued for California