First tropical storm to strike southern California in 84 years bringing ‘catastrophic’ flooding

Southern California is bracing for its first tropical storm in 84 years, bringing potentially “historic” levels of rainfall.

The extreme conditions set to batter the state will be the remnants of Hurricane Hilary, which was due to strike Mexico‘s Baja peninsula on Saturday.

Forecasters have predicted “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding”, with those in impacted areas – including the tourist island of Santa Catalina – advised to evacuate.

Mexico’s navy had deployed 3,000 troops and already helped hundreds of people flee their homes ahead of the hurricane’s expected landfall about 200 miles south of the port city of Ensenada.

Hurricane Hilary off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Pic: NOAA via AP
Hurricane Hilary off the Pacific coast of Mexico earlier this week. Pic: NOAA via AP

‘Historic’ storm to bring ‘year’s worth of rain’

In California, emergency services as far north as Los Angeles are helping locals brace for the weather, which the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has described as “historic”.

The “catastrophic” tropical storm and flood warnings cover a wide swath of California’s southern regions, from the Pacific coast to several mountain and foothill communities.

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A National Hurricane Centre prediction of potential rainfall in California: Pic: NHC
A National Hurricane Centre prediction of potential rainfall in California: Pic: NHC

Officials have closed the famous Joshua Tree and Mojave national parks, three Major League Baseball games have been cancelled, and SpaceX has delayed a rocket launch from a base on the state’s central coast.

Sandbags have been in cities and towns and police are working to get homeless people into shelters.

John Cangialosi, an expert at the NHC, said there could be “a year’s worth of rain” in the impacted areas, with anywhere between three and 10 inches expected.

Caution tapes prevent the passage at El Medano beach, as Hurricane Hilary hits Mexico's Baja California peninsula, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico August 19, 2023. REUTERS/Monserrat Zavala NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Beaches have been left mostly deserted as the storm approaches

Federal disaster supplies prepared

The storm could also bring a new all-time rainfall record to the neighbouring state of Nevada, experts have said.

President Joe Biden has urged anyone in the path of the storm “to take precautions”, with federal disaster supplies already positioned should they be needed.

Hurricane Hilary is currently a category two storm, having peaked at category four with winds of 145mph on Friday.

Its maximum sustained winds were still a potentially devastating 115mph earlier on Saturday, as it steadily moved northwest towards California at 17mph.

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