Hurricane Hilary Threatens Unprecedented Flooding in Southern California

Meteorologists and officials are growing increasingly concerned as Hurricane Hilary’s trajectory takes it on a rare path over the southwestern

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Meteorologists and officials are growing increasingly concerned as Hurricane Hilary’s trajectory takes it on a rare path over the southwestern United States and parts of California. This unusual route has prompted the issuance of the first-ever tropical storm watch for California, signaling the potential for a prolific onslaught of flooding rainfall.

The potential ramifications are staggering, with Hilary projected to unleash an extraordinary volume of rainfall, potentially exceeding a year’s worth of precipitation in regions spanning California, Nevada, and Arizona. This dire threat has propelled parts of California into a rarely seen Level 4 (highest level) risk category for excessive rainfall. Remarkably, this marks the first instance of a Level 4 threat being declared for Southern California.

As of Friday afternoon, Hurricane Hilary was a formidable Category 4 hurricane, positioned about 325 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Sustained winds reached 130 mph, accompanied by even stronger gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center.

What sets this hurricane apart is its astonishing rapid intensification from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane within a mere 24 hours between Thursday and Friday. The intensity is projected to persist as Hilary approaches Mexico’s Baja California peninsula through Saturday.

Forecasts have prompted the issuance of hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings spanning Baja California, extending northward to include the Los Angeles area and reaching as far as Point Mugu in Ventura County. The hurricane’s path and its associated threats remain variable, with slight deviations potentially altering the prognosis for both intense rainfall and high winds.

Compounding the urgency, Hilary is progressing at a swifter pace than anticipated, indicating that Mexico and California could experience impacts sooner than initially predicted. Present projections place the core of the hurricane in close proximity to the central portion of Baja California on Saturday night, followed by inland movement over southern California by Sunday night.

The National Hurricane Center also highlights the likelihood of strong winds and heavy rainfall striking areas well before the hurricane’s center makes landfall.

Considering the prospect of Hilary making landfall in Mexico and crossing into California, the likelihood of a tropical storm making landfall in California looms as an unusual possibility. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that such an event has not occurred in nearly 84 years.

The issuance of the inaugural tropical storm watch for parts of Southern California underscores the gravity of the situation, extending from the California/Mexico border to the Orange County/Los Angeles County line.

The hurricane center emphasizes the escalating risk of significant wind impacts, particularly in regions characterized by mountainous terrain across the northern stretches of the Baja California Peninsula and the Southwestern United States.

Preparations for substantial flooding are underway in the Southwest, as Hilary is expected to experience considerable weakening before reaching Southern California and adjacent regions. Irrespective of its diminished strength, the storm’s influence is projected to amplify heavy rainfall and heighten the potential for flooding.

Anticipated heavy rainfall is poised to affect the Southwest starting on Saturday and persisting into early next week, with the most intense deluges forecasted for Sunday and Monday.

The unprecedented peril posed by the elevated risk of excessive rainfall is profound. High-risk situations of this nature are rare, occurring on less than 4% of days on average each year. However, they account for a staggering 83% of flood-related damage and 39% of flood-related fatalities, as underscored by research from the Weather Prediction Center.