Ensenada, Mexico • Tropical Storm Hilary headed north Sunday just off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. It’s no longer a hurricane, but it’s still bringing enough rain with it that forecasters said “catastrophic and life-threatening” flooding is on the cards for much of the U.S. Southwest
As of 8 a.m. Pacific Time, the National Hurricane Center reported, Hilary was about 220 miles (350 kilometers) south-southeast of San Diego. Hilary had maximum sustained wind speeds of 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) and was moving northwest at a speed of 25 miles per hour (41 km/h).
The Mexican cities of Ensenada and Tijuana stayed directly in the tropical storm’s path, and forecasters warned that the storm remained treacherous despite its weakening.
On Saturday, one person drowned when a vehicle was swept away by an overflowing creek in the Mexican city of Santa Rosalia on the peninsula’s east coast. Rescuers managed to save four more people, said Edith Aguilar Villavicencio, the mayor of the municipality of Mulege.
It wasn’t immediately clear if officials linked the death to the hurricane, but videos released by local officials showed streams of water flowing down the city’s streets.
Forecasters said the storm would continue to go down in history as the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years, bringing flash flooding, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds and power outages. Authorities issued an evacuation alert for Santa Catalina Island, urging residents and beachgoers to evacuate the tourist destination 23 miles (37 kilometers) offshore.
Elizabeth Adams, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s San Diego office, said rain could reach 3 inches per hour from late Sunday morning into the afternoon over Southern California’s mountains and deserts. The heavy rains during these hours could cause widespread and life-threatening flash floods.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and officials had urged people to complete their preparations before sundown on Saturday. An expert said it would be too late by Sunday.
The hurricane is the latest major climate disaster to wreak havoc across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Hawaii’s island of Maui is still reeling from last week’s fire that killed over 100 people and devastated the historic town of Lahaina. It was the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than a century. Firefighters in Canada continued to battle the blazes Saturday during the country’s worst fire season on record.
Hilary brought heavy rain and flooding to Mexico and the southwestern United States earlier on Saturday before the storm crossed the border on Sunday. Meteorologists have warned that southern California and southern Nevada could get as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain — a year’s rainfall in some areas.
“This does not reduce the threat, particularly the risk of flooding,” said Jamie Rhome, deputy director of the US National Hurricane Center, during a briefing on Saturday announcing the storm’s downgrading. “Don’t let the flagging trend and intensity lower your vigilance.”
Meteorologists also said the storm would cause “life-threatening” surf and currents, including waves up to 12 meters high, along Mexico’s Pacific coast. Dozens of people took refuge in storm shelters at the Los Cabos twin resorts on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, and firefighters rescued a family in San Jose del Cabo after the resort was hit by torrential rain and winds.
In Tijuana, fire chief Rafael Carrillo expressed the fear on everyone’s mind in the border city of 1.9 million, particularly those living in houses on steep hillsides.
“If you hear noises or the ground cracks, it’s important that you check and get out of there as soon as possible because the ground can weaken and your house could collapse,” Carrillo said.
Tijuana on Saturday ordered all beaches closed and set up half a dozen storm shelters at sports facilities and government offices.
The Mexican Navy evacuated 850 people from islands off the Baja coast and dispatched nearly 3,000 troops for emergency response. In La Paz, the scenic capital of Baja California Sur state on the Gulf of California, police patrolled closed beaches to keep swimmers away from the churning surf.
The US Hurricane Center issued tropical storm and possible flooding warnings for southern California from the Pacific coast through mountains and inland deserts to eastern Oregon and Idaho. The San Bernardino County Sheriff issued evacuation alerts for several mountain and foothill communities ahead of the storm, while Orange County issued its own alert for anyone living in a burn scar in the Silverado and Williams Canyons of the Santa Ana Mountains.
Los Angeles authorities scrambled to move the homeless off the streets into shelters, and officials ordered all state beaches in San Diego and Orange counties to be closed.
Across the region, communities were running out of free sandbags and grocery shelves were emptying as residents stockpiled supplies. The US National Park Service has closed Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve in California to prevent visitors from being stranded amid flooding.
Major League Baseball has postponed three Sunday games in Southern California, moving them to Saturday as part of split doubles games, and SpaceX has delayed launching a satellite rocket from a base on California’s central coast until at least Monday.
The White House said President Joe Biden was briefed on the latest preparedness plans ahead of the hurricane heading toward the United States. ” he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it has officers at the California Emergency Preparedness Office and teams on standby to provide food, water and other assistance as needed.
Hilary had quickly evolved into a very dangerous Category 4 severe hurricane on Friday, with peak sustained winds peaking at 145 mph (230 km/h). Its wind speeds dropped to 115 miles per hour (185 km/h) as a Category 3 storm early Saturday, before weakening further to 100 miles per hour (161 km/h) as a Category 2 storm.
On Sunday it was moving north-northwest at a speed of 21 miles per hour (33 km/h). The hurricane swept past Punta Eugenia on the Pacific coast and was expected to make landfall in a sparsely populated area of the peninsula south of the Pacific port city of Ensenada.
One of several developing storm systems in the Atlantic Ocean became Tropical Storm Emily on Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was far from land about 1,000 miles (1,615 kilometers) west-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands, with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (85 km/h). Emily was moving at a speed of about 17 km/h in the open sea.
This story was first published on August 19-20, 2023 and dated CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico. It was updated August 20, 2023 to correct the attribution of storm updates to the National Hurricane Center and not the National Weather Center.
Associated Press contributors include Ignacio Martinez in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Stefanie Dazio and John Antczak in Los Angeles, Seth Borenstein in Washington, Maria Verza and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City, Julie Watson in San Diego and Eugene Garcia in Newport Beach, California.