Tropical Storm Hilary makes landfall along Mexico’s Baja coast, carrying deluge to California

by Michael Nguyen
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Tropical Storm Hilary

Tropical Storm Hilary made its way ashore along Mexico’s Baja California coast on Sunday, sparking fears of potentially lethal flash flooding in places like the border city of Tijuana, Southern California, and even northern locations like Idaho that rarely experience such heavy rainfall.

Hilary was anticipated to be a record-setting storm, becoming the first tropical storm to impact Southern California in 84 years. The storm threatened the region with flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds, and power failures.

The storm touched down around 150 miles (250 kilometers) south of Ensenada, Mexico, in a lightly populated region. Flooding had already begun throughout the Baja peninsula, and the heavy rains posed a particular risk to mudslide-prone areas like Tijuana, especially where makeshift housing exists near the U.S. border.

Unprecedented rainfall was also expected in other western states, with Hilary potentially setting all-time records as the wettest known tropical cyclone to soak Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. The storm was forecasted to remain a tropical storm into central Nevada early Monday before losing strength.

By 11 a.m. Pacific time, the storm was situated about 215 miles (340 kilometers) south-southeast of San Diego, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph), moving northwest at 25 mph (41 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center. Though it had weakened from a Category 4 hurricane, the center’s director, Michael Brennan, emphasized the dangers of flooding rather than wind, citing rainfall flooding as the most significant killer in recent U.S. tropical storms and hurricanes.

Southern California saw residents gathering sandbags as Hurricane Hilary intensified to Category 4 off Mexico’s Pacific coast, approaching the U.S. for the first time in 84 years as a tropical storm.

Hilary is part of a series of major climate catastrophes affecting the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, coming on the heels of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century on Maui and Canada’s worst-ever fire season.

Mexican cities in the storm’s direct path, such as Ensenada and Tijuana, closed all beaches and established shelters. Tragically, one person was drowned in Santa Rosalia, Mexico, while four others were rescued.

Forecasters anticipated rainfall of 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) in many regions, with up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) in isolated areas. Light rain already began to drench Southern California, leading to some recreational enjoyment, such as jogging and surfing.

Preparations across California included sandbagging and declarations of emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mobilized resources, while Governor Gavin Newsom announced a state of emergency.

Infrastructure damage in the wake of Hilary includes washed-out roads, toppled power lines, and extensive wreckage in coastal towns like Mulege and Santa Rosalia. In California, evacuation alerts were sent out for various regions, beaches were closed, and efforts were made to shelter the homeless.

Residents were stockpiling supplies, and some national parks were closed to prevent stranding amid flooding. President Joe Biden urged citizens to heed local guidance and take precautions.

In related news, the Atlantic Ocean saw the formation of Tropical Storm Emily on Sunday, although it was far from land and moving westward in open water.

Reporters contributing to this coverage included Curt Anderson, Ignacio Martinez, Mark Stevenson, Eugene Garcia, Stefanie Dazio, and Seth Borenstein in various locations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Tropical Storm Hilary

Where did Tropical Storm Hilary make landfall?

Tropical Storm Hilary made landfall along Mexico’s Baja California coast, about 150 miles (250 kilometers) south of Ensenada.

What areas were threatened by flash floods due to Tropical Storm Hilary?

The storm threatened flash flooding in Tijuana, Southern California, and even places as far north as Idaho, areas that rarely experience such heavy rainfall.

Was Tropical Storm Hilary expected to be a record-setting storm?

Yes, Hilary was anticipated to be the first tropical storm to impact Southern California in 84 years, possibly setting records as the wettest known cyclone in Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho.

What precautions were taken in Southern California in anticipation of Tropical Storm Hilary?

Residents stockpiled sandbags, emergency alerts were sent out, evacuation warnings were issued for certain areas, and state beaches were closed. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, and FEMA had resources on standby.

What were the possible consequences of Tropical Storm Hilary besides flooding?

Besides flash floods, the storm threatened mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds, and power outages. Infrastructure damage, such as washed-out roads and toppled power lines, was also expected.

How were authorities addressing the needs of the homeless population in California during the storm?

Los Angeles authorities scrambled to get the homeless off the streets and into shelters to protect them from the storm’s effects.

Was there any loss of life reported due to Tropical Storm Hilary?

Yes, one person drowned in the Mexican town of Santa Rosalia when a vehicle was swept away in an overflowing stream. Four other people were rescued.

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