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Deluge from Tropical Storm Hilary hits California after making landfall along Mexico’s Baja coast

by Andrew Wright
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Tropical Storm Hilary

Tropical Storm Hilary slammed into Mexico’s arid Baja California on Sunday before moving into Southern California, bringing deadly floodwaters that swamped streets. Concerns grew that flash floods could also strike areas as far north as Idaho, where heavy rain is uncommon.

Hilary is the first tropical storm to impact Southern California in 84 years, and forecasters warned of potential flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds, and power outages. The storm made landfall in a scarcely populated area south of Ensenada, Mexico, before threatening mudslide-prone regions like Tijuana.

Around 9 million people were under flash-flood warnings as rain fell across typically dry Southern California. Desert areas and hillsides scarred by wildfires were particularly at risk, experts said.

Damage from the storm included mud on highways, fallen tree branches from San Diego to Los Angeles, and the risk of tornadoes in certain regions. Western states could also face record-breaking rains, as Hilary threatened to become the wettest tropical cyclone to drench Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. The storm was expected to remain tropical in central Nevada on Monday before dissipating.

Despite weakening from a Category 4 hurricane, the storm’s water posed the main threat, as per Hurricane Center Director Michael Brennan. Some areas could experience an entire year’s worth of rain within hours. Brennan emphasized the danger of rainfall flooding, the biggest cause of fatalities in tropical storms and hurricanes in the U.S. over the past decade.

The storm is part of a series of recent major climate disasters across North America, including the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century on Maui and Canada’s worst fire season ever.

Mexican authorities responded by closing beaches in Ensenada and Tijuana and opening shelters. One person drowned in Mexico, and soldiers were deployed to assist with clean-up and rescue.

Rainfall was expected to range from 3 to 6 inches in many areas, with isolated regions receiving up to 10 inches, equivalent to a year’s worth of precipitation. California’s Governor declared a state of emergency, and FEMA prepared to assist.

Residents along the coast took precautions, and authorities issued evacuation warnings for Santa Catalina Island and other vulnerable communities. Efforts were made to move homeless individuals to shelters, and state beaches in San Diego and Orange counties were closed.

The anticipation of the storm led to shortages of sandbags and emergency supplies, and some national parks were closed to prevent visitors from becoming stranded. States like Nevada and Arizona also declared emergencies and readied National Guard troops and other resources.

President Joe Biden urged those in the storm’s path to heed warnings and follow local guidance. At the same time, other storm systems were brewing in the Atlantic Ocean, including Tropical Storm Emily and Tropical Storm Franklin.

The last tropical storm to hit California in 1939 caused significant destruction, ripping apart train tracks, tearing houses from their foundations, and sinking boats, leading to nearly 100 deaths.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Tropical Storm Hilary

What is the main impact of Tropical Storm Hilary?

Tropical Storm Hilary caused deadly floods and mudslides as it hit Baja California and Southern California, leading to widespread damage and warnings across the region.

How long had it been since Southern California experienced a tropical storm?

Tropical Storm Hilary was the first tropical storm to impact Southern California in 84 years.

What were the major concerns associated with the storm’s arrival?

Forecasters warned of flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds, and power outages due to Tropical Storm Hilary’s presence.

What areas were at risk of flash floods in Southern California?

Around 9 million people were under flash-flood warnings, particularly desert areas and hillsides with wildfire burn scars, as heavy rain fell across Southern California.

What was the main threat posed by the storm?

Despite weakening from a Category 4 hurricane, the storm’s main threat was rainfall flooding. Some areas could receive an entire year’s worth of rain within a short period, posing significant danger.

How did authorities prepare for the storm’s impact?

In response to Tropical Storm Hilary, authorities declared states of emergency, issued evacuation warnings for vulnerable areas, moved homeless individuals to shelters, and closed state beaches.

How did other parts of North America experience climate disasters?

Other major climate disasters, including deadly wildfires in Maui and Canada’s worst fire season, highlighted the growing impact of extreme weather events in the region.

What was the historical context of tropical storms hitting California?

The last tropical storm to hit California in 1939 caused extensive damage, resulting in deaths and destruction of property.

What was the broader impact of the storm on the region?

In addition to its immediate effects, the storm led to shortages of emergency supplies and sandbags and prompted the closure of national parks.

How did the government respond to the storm’s threat?

President Joe Biden urged individuals in the storm’s path to follow warnings and local guidance, and FEMA prepared to provide assistance as needed.

More about Tropical Storm Hilary

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