SAN DIEGO − Hilary, the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years, pounded the Mexican cities of Ensenada and Tijuana Sunday in the Baja California peninsula as it moved ashore carrying torrential rain and powerful winds into the normally sunny region.
Hilary was about 25 miles south-southwest of Palm Springs with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph when the National Hurricane Center released its latest update at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, warning of “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding likely over Baja California and portions of the Southwestern U.S. through Monday.” Even from that distance, Hilary was toppling trees and causing mudslides in the San Diego area.
One person drowned Saturday in the Mexican town of Santa Rosalia when a vehicle was swept away in an overflowing stream, The Associated Press reported. Rescue workers saved four other people, said Edith Aguilar Villavicencio, the mayor of Mulege township.
Mud and boulders spilled onto highways, water overwhelmed drainage systems and tree branches fell in neighborhoods from San Diego to Los Angeles. Dozens of cars were trapped in floodwaters in Palm Springs and surrounding desert communities across the Coachella Valley. Crews pumped floodwaters out of the emergency room at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.
President Joe Biden, who is traveling to Hawaii on Monday to survey damage from devastating wildfires in Maui, urged “everyone in the path of this storm to take precautions and listen to the guidance of state and local officials.”
Jake Sojda, senior meteorologist at Accuweather, said Los Angeles and San Diego likely would be doused by multiple inches of rain. The worst of the storm was targeting the mountains and desert east of the cities, he said. “We are talking about bona fide tropical storm conditions,” Sojda told USA TODAY. “We’re expecting 4 to 8 inches of rain as a general range across the eastern mountain slopes, and 10 to 12 inches certainly is not out of the question.”
Tropical Storm Hilary tracker:Follow the storm’s path as it heads toward Southern California
◾ The Los Angeles school district, the second largest in the nation, said all its schools will be closed Monday. The San Diego school district, which planned to begin its fall term Monday, said it will delay the start of classes to Tuesday.
◾ The city of Palm Springs declared an emergency, “due to unprecedented rainfall in flooding of local roadways and at least one swift water rescue.” The declaration, according to spokesperson Amy Blaisdell, opens up access to extra resources, such as funds for repairs from storm damage and more flexibility with emergency purchases.
◾ In Southern California, at least two debris flows have been reported over roadways in San Bernardino, and rocks have been reported on roads in three locations in Kern, the National Weather Service said. Two semi-trucks were reported flipped along Interstate 8 in Imperial, the weather service added.
◾ California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency, and authorities issued an evacuation advisory for Santa Catalina Island, 23 miles off the coast.
◾ As the storm rolls north, portions of Oregon and Idaho could see as much as 3 to 5 inches of rain, producing some “significant” flash flooding, the National Weather Service said.
Southern California cities begin to see impacts of Hilary
The full strength of the tropical storm had yet to reach the city of Diamond Bar in Los Angeles County early Sunday evening, but the environment is already seeing some effects.A large tree broke off onto one of the city’s major streets on Sunday afternoon. A police car blocked off the route as it covered one whole side of the street that was near a business center.After spurts of rain were scattered throughout the day, the rain began to pick up in the afternoon, as some streets began to see some flooding.
Meanwhile, San Diego County, strong winds and moderate rain toppled trees, moved boulders, and flooded roadways. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria declared a state of emergency on Sunday as the storm’s center closed in on the region.
The weather service in San Diego issued several flash flood and tornado warnings Sunday afternoon for the eastern part of the county. During a live broadcast, the agency said it was watching “one of the remnant eyewall bands moving through the county,” bringing the heaviest rain.
“This is the type of rain that can cause urban flooding, mud debris, even sometimes flash flooding,” the agency said. “… Never before has there been a tropical storm level system intact moving through San Diego County.”
Several roadways were closed or blocked off due to rock slides and rising waters. Crews from the California Department of Transportation were working on Interstate 8 near In-Ko-Pah near the U.S.-Mexico border after boulders had moved into the road.
Earthquake shakes Southern California amid Hilary threat
An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.1 jolted parts of Southern California Sunday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, as residents in the region braced for Tropical Storm Hilary.
The earthquake was centered about four miles southeast of Ojai, California, about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It struck shortly after 2:40 p.m. local time at a depth of approximately 9 miles, the USGS said.
Following the earthquake, several aftershocks with magnitudes up to nearly 4 were recorded in the area, according to the USGS. The U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center said no tsunamis were expected.
To the best understanding of geoscientists, the earthquake is coincidental, and not related to heavy rainfall in the Los Angeles area, Daniel L. Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, told USA TODAY on Sunday.
Canceled flights, closed amusement parks, rescheduled MLB games
Canceled and delayed flights, closed amusement parks, and rescheduled baseball games are among the early impacts of Hilary’s approach to the U.S.
Southwest canceled nearly 900 flights Sunday and Monday, making it the most affected but hardly the only airline traveling in and out of California forced to adjust its schedule. Other major carriers like United, American, Delta, and JetBlue were impacted as well.
By 4:30 p.m. ET, more than 1,000 U.S. flights had been canceled and 3,100-plus were delayed, not all of them involving California, according to the FlightAware tracking site.
“As California’s largest carrier, we’ve made proactive adjustments to our flight schedule throughout the weekend and have communicated with affected customers,” Southwest told USA TODAY in a statement.
Amusement parks like LEGOLAND California and Knotts Berry Farm closed their doors Sunday, as did the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld in the same city. Disneyland in Anaheim is shutting down early, at 9 p.m. PT.
Major League Baseball moved up three games scheduled Sunday in Southern California ballparks. Each of the games – Arizona at San Diego, Tampa Bay at the Los Angeles Angels, and Miami at the Los Angeles Dodgers — were turned into split doubleheaders Saturday to avoid issues with the storm.
‘Glassy’ waves draw surfers to Venice Beach
More than a dozen surfers and one pelican braved the extraordinary weather conditions at Los Angeles’ famed Venice Beach with distinctly differently goals Sunday afternoon.
For the surfers, this was the perfect storm to ride out the waves, and they were not going to be deterred by a sign saying swimming was prohibited. After all, they were technically not breaking any rules.
Damien Rho, an 18-year-old lifeguard from Santa Monica, arrived with his surfboard and a good bit of knowledge about the last time a storm like Hilary hit these shores.
“It’s not every day you get a hurricane out here. You gotta get out here. When is the last time, 1939?” Rho said, getting the year exactly right even if Hilary has actually been downgraded to a tropical storm.
Rho said the increasingly large waves were “glassy,’’ a surfer term for smooth water.
Two other surfers said these were the best conditions they’d seen at Venice in weeks, brushing off safety concerns by saying it was more dangerous to drive the highway to the San Fernando Valley.
The pelican seemed unimpressed and eventually flew away. Apparently, the fishing wasn’t nearly as good as the surfing.
Hilary potentially an ‘extraordinary event’
AccuWeather meteorologists warned that Hilary could slam some of the desert areas and mountains in Southern California to southern Nevada with a life-threatening flooding disaster. In San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, the sheriff’s office issued evacuation orders for several towns.
Dan DePodwin, AccuWeather’s director of forecasting operations, said some areas could see more than a year’s worth of rain within a day or two.
“The impact from Hilary has the potential to be an extraordinary event, one that is rare and unprecedented,” he said.
As the climate continues to warm, rainfall rates are increasing in some thunderstorms, tropical storms and hurricanes, national climate studies show. Warmer air holds more water vapor, and rain rates are expected to increase as temperatures continue rising.
Disaster relief funding running low, FEMA head warns
Ahead of Tropical Storm Hilary and other weather disasters, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Deanne Criswell, warned that her agency is running low on cash to respond to the deadly events in the future.
“We do still anticipate that we will have a shortage of funding at our current spending levels by mid-September,” Criswell said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” If needed, Criswell said, FEMA will push back recovery projects into the next fiscal year to ensure there is enough funding for any “immediate lifesaving needs.”
FEMA’s disaster relief funding shortfall is against the backdrop of numerous weather disasters that have resulted in hundreds of lives lost and billions of dollars in damage, including deadly wildfires in the Hawaiian island of Maui that have claimed over 100 lives alone.
Sandbags are hard to find
In Diamond Bar, a city of 55,000 about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, locals raced to the three city fire departments Saturday in a fruitless effort to score sandbags to protect their homes from the storm. Residents had begun filling up sandbags Friday and officials said one station ran out within an hour.
On Saturday, one station in the west side of the city got two shipments of sand, but it went out as fast as it came in, according to Los Angeles County Fire captain Jesse Vasquez. Vasquez said many people who picked up sandbags from the stations were panicking, taking more than they could possibly need.
“We can’t go out there and argue with them,” he said. “We can educate and ask and plead with them. But at that point, they’re going to do whatever they want to do.”
All fire stations – operated by Los Angeles County – will be fully staffed with more equipment than normal in the city Sunday, Vasquez said. But depending on the intensity of the weather, it might be difficult to come to the aid of residents as rescue workers try to evacuate anyone severely impacted. In a city with so many hills, mudslides are a concern.
“The department is prepared,” he said. “We do our best to protect life and property. That’s our main objective.”
In Chino Hills, getting ready for a possible evacuation
In Chino Hills, 35 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County, resident Veronica Kemble beat the rush. She shopped early Saturday for food and other essentials for herself, her husband and their cats, as well as items she might need if they are forced to evacuate.
Kemble said she tried to avoid major stores such as Costco and found items she needed at discount store locations. She expressed concern for people doubting the severity of the storm, saying their was no need to panic, but that people should be “prepared just in case” the worst happens.
“I figured if it rains really hard and the stores are closed, or if they start to lose power, you’re not going to be able to buy this stuff,” Kemble said.
Homeless vulnerable as Hilary advances
Volunteers have been driving the streets of Los Angeles passing out tarps and plastic bags to people without homes so they can try and keep themselves and their belongings dry. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department warned those without a place to stay to move away from riverbeds and other likely flooding locations.
In Venice Beach, west of downtown Los Angeles, Bobby Geivet arrived at about 6:30 a.m. with a cooler, weathered guitar, a tarp and a plan. Geivet, 45, said he’s homeless but not defenseless against the storm. He tied his tarp between two palm trees and anchored it by using a stone to pound makeshift stakes into the ground. He said he planned to set up a hammock underneath the tarp.
“I like to be high and dry,” he said. “It’s going to be wet, but I want to be as dry as I can.”
Joshua Tree National Park closed because of flooding concerns
Coachella Valley could see year’s worth of rain over a few days
Tropical Storm Emily takes shape but may not last long
What began as a large area of low pressure off the Cabo Verde Islands has become well-defined enough to earn a name and designation.
Tropical Storm Emily, with maximum sustained winds of almost 50 mph, was heading west-northwest in the Atlantic Ocean at nearly 10 mph Sunday. However, Emily is expected to weaken and lose its status as a tropical storm in the coming days.
Contributing: Eve Chen, Ken Tran, Claire Thornton, and Dinah Pulver, USA TODAY; Kate Franco, Palm Springs Desert Sun; The Associated Press