Tropical Storm Hilary unleashed heavy rainfall across Southern California on Sunday evening, saturating coastal areas, inland mountains, and deserts. This event led to water rescues in response to swollen rivers and compelled several of the country’s largest school districts to cancel classes for Monday. Millions of residents prepared for further flooding and potential mudslides, despite the storm’s gradual weakening.
Remarkably, this marked the first tropical storm to strike Southern California in 84 years. Hilary brought torrential rain, particularly impacting mountainous and desert regions where more than half a year’s average rainfall occurred in just a single day. For instance, the desert resort city of Palm Springs received nearly 3 inches of rainfall by Sunday evening.
Meteorologists issued warnings about hazardous flash floods across Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Firefighters rescued around a dozen individuals from a homeless encampment along the rising San Diego River. The storm-induced rain and debris caused road closures and stranded vehicles. Notably, floodwaters had to be pumped out of the emergency room at Rancho Mirage’s Eisenhower Medical Center.
Before reaching Southern California, the storm made landfall on Mexico’s arid Baja California Peninsula on Sunday, near a sparsely populated area about 150 miles south of Ensenada. It then moved over Tijuana, which is susceptible to mudslides and where homes cling to hillsides just south of the U.S. border.
While the storm was projected to weaken as it moved northward over California and into Nevada, significant risks persisted. Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, indicated that the storm would likely transition into a “post-tropical cyclone” on Monday, losing its well-defined center. However, the forecast still anticipated “very heavy” rain and strong winds.
As a result of the storm’s impact, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest school system, announced the closure of all campuses for Monday. Similar decisions were made by school districts across desert areas. San Diego postponed the first day of classes from Monday to Tuesday, prioritizing safety.
The unpredictability of the situation was underscored by a magnitude 5.1 earthquake that shook Southern California in the afternoon. The quake’s epicenter was near Ojai, approximately 80 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. While smaller aftershocks followed, there were no immediate reports of major damage or injuries.
Tropical Storm Hilary joins a series of recent climate-related disasters affecting the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Hawaii’s Maui Island is still grappling with the aftermath of a deadly wildfire, while Canada battles its worst recorded fire season. Hilary also struck Mexico, leading to tragic incidents like a vehicle being swept away in an overflowing stream, resulting in one fatality.
Emergency response efforts were underway in both Mexico and California to address the storm’s impact. While some individuals heeded the warnings to stay indoors, others ventured out despite the adverse conditions. In coastal Carlsbad, north of San Diego, a group of young surfers kept a close watch on the powerful waves, anticipating an opportunity to ride them as the storm subsided.
Interestingly, while Hilary made headlines, other storm systems were brewing in the Atlantic Ocean. One of them, named Tropical Storm Emily, was forming far from land and moving westward. Additionally, Tropical Storm Franklin emerged in the eastern Caribbean, prompting tropical storm watches for parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Reflecting on history, the last significant tropical storm to strike California occurred in September 1939. That storm inflicted substantial damage, including dismantling train tracks, displacing houses, and capsizing numerous boats, resulting in nearly 100 fatalities on land and at sea.
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