Hurricane Hilary (right) off Mexico’s Pacific coast on Aug. 19, 2023, as captured at 11:38 a.m. EDT by satellite. (NOAA via AP)
Ahead of Hurricane Hilary reaching California, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for large swaths of the state’s south, as officials urged people to finish their preparations before sundown on Saturday.
Hilary is expected to bring “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” to the Mexican state of Baja California, and the southwestern United States, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Heavy rainfall in Baja California has already claimed one life. A man died as he and his family were swept out to sea while crossing a local stream, according to Mexican officials.
The hurricane was downgraded from a Category 3 to a Category 2 and later a Category 1 hurricane on Saturday. As of 8 p.m. California time, Hilary had maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kilometers per hour). It was located about 535 miles (855 kilometers) south-southeast of San Diego, and is moving at 18 miles per hour (30 kilometers per hour).
In a public advisory
, the NHC said that Hilary is expected to continue to weaken but still be a hurricane when it when it approaches the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula late Saturday.
The center also predicted that Hilary is set to move across Southern California Sunday afternoon and Sunday night.
General view of the Medano beach in Los Cabos, Baja California State, Mexico, during the passage of Hurricane Hilary, on Aug. 19, 2023. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images)
Tropical Storm to Hit Southern California
However, Hilary is expected to weaken to a tropical storm before reaching Southern California. Heavy rain is expected in Southern California starting late Saturday, potentially persisting through Monday.
It would mark the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in almost 84 years, according to records held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In such an event, residents would face flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds, and power outages. Forecasters warned it could dump up to 10 inches—a year’s worth of rain for some areas—in southern California and southern Nevada.
“This does not lessen the threat, especially the flood threat,” Jamie Rhome, the U.S. National Hurricane Center’s deputy director, said during a Saturday briefing to announce the storm’s downgraded status. “Don’t let the weakening trend and the intensity lower your guard.”
“Heavy rainfall in association with Hilary is expected across the Southwestern United States, peaking during the next day or so,” reads the public advisory from the NHC.
“Rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 inches, with isolated amounts of 10 inches, are expected across portions of southern California and southern Nevada. Dangerous to catastrophic flooding is expected,” it continues.
“Elsewhere across portions of the Western United States, rainfall totals of 1 to 3 inches are expected, resulting in localized significant flash flooding.”
A dangerous storm surge is likely to cause coastal flooding along the western Baja California peninsula, and “will be accompanied by large and destructive waves,” the NHC stated.
“Coastal flooding is possible along the northern coast of the Gulf of California Sunday through early Monday,” it added.
A man walks along a street in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California State, Mexico, as rain and gusts of wind of Hurricane Hilary reach the area, on Aug. 19, 2023. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images)
The tropical storm forecast prompted local authorities to issue an evacuation advisory for Santa Catalina Island in Los Angeles County, urging residents and beachgoers to leave the tourist destination 23 miles off the coast.
The NHC posted tropical storm and potential flood warnings for Southern California from the Pacific coast to interior mountains and deserts.
Residents shovel and fill sandbags from the desert along the side of the road as the path of Hurricane Hilary heads north toward southern California, in Indio, California, Aug. 19, 2023. (David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images)
Meanwhile, the San Bernardino County sheriff announced evacuation warnings for several mountain and foothill areas. Concurrently, Orange County issued alerts to residents in the wildfire burn zones of the Silverado and Williams canyons in the Santa Ana Mountains.
A release from the California governor’s office said there are “currently more than 7,500 boots on the ground deployed to help local communities protect Californians from the impacts of Hurricane Hilary.”
“California has thousands of people on the ground working hand-in-hand with federal and local personnel to support communities in Hurricane Hilary’s path with resources, equipment and expertise,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement
. “We’re mobilizing all of government as we prepare and respond to this unprecedented storm.”
The governor’s office advised the public to “stay out of the ocean during the storm.” The state has closed 10 parks and has 600 staff on the ground to respond to any impacts from Hilary. State parks have also proactively canceled reservations at campgrounds in areas deemed high-risk.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.