- Hurricane Hilary is forecast to make landfall in the Southwestern US this weekend.
- The powerful Category 4 storm was tracked off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on Friday morning.
- It’s expected to bring more than a year’s worth of rain to California, Nevada, and Arizona.
Hurricane Hilary could dump more than a year’s worth of rain in parts of the southwestern US this weekend. Here’s when and where the current Category 4 storm is expected to make landfall.
On Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said Hilary had maximum sustained winds of around 130 mph with strong gusts. A hurricane warning for portions of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula and a tropical storm watch for areas of Southern California were issued, the latter a first-ever for the West Coast of the US.
“Heavy rainfall associated with Hilary could produce areas of flash flooding and result in landslides over portions of the Baja California Peninsula late tonight through late Sunday,” the NHC said, adding that “Rainfall impacts from Hilary within the Southwestern United States are expected to peak this weekend into Monday.”
As of 8:00 p.m. PDT, Hilary was located about 285 miles southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico.
The NHC forecasts that the storm will approach the Baja California peninsula as early as early Saturday morning. Powerful winds are expected across the entire peninsula, but the storm’s core isn’t forecast to make landfall until it’s moved further north.
As it churns northward, “Hilary is expected to weaken to a tropical storm by Sunday afternoon before it reaches Southern California,” where it could move inland, the NHC reported.
Potential for ‘multiple years’ worth’ of rain
Rainfall forecasts predict mostly 2-4 inches across Baja California, but in some areas, particularly closer to Southern California and areas outside Los Angeles and San Diego, rainfall is expected to reach anywhere from 4-10 inches.
Areas in Nevada including regions near Las Vegas, Tonopath, and Reno will also be affected.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, told CNN on Wednesday that “multiple years’ worth of precipitation” could potentially fall in dry regions of California. Dry areas such as Death Valley, which usually receives around 2 inches of rain, could receive double that.
NHC also forecasts a high risk — at least 70% — for flash flooding near San Diego and Los Angeles on Sunday and Monday. Surrounding areas closer to Yuma and Las Vegas face moderate risks of at least 40%.
Hilary is the eighth named storm of the 2023 Pacific hurricane season and the third major storm to reach Category 4 this year. The last time a hurricane hit this area was 84 years ago, per CBS News.
An unusual Southwest cyclone as the climate crisis changes storms
This section of the country doesn’t often see hurricanes and tropical storms for two reasons.
First, the wind patterns that create hurricanes usually push them out to sea instead of sending them toward the West Coast, Scientific American reported. Second, the water temperatures in the Pacific are usually cooler than those of the Atlantic, which means they don’t have enough energy to churn up a storm.
The climate crisis is changing hurricanes, though. Scientists can’t link any single storm to global warming without further analysis, but on the whole, rising global temperatures are driving a trend of increasing hurricane strength (aka windspeed), since cyclones feed on warm waters.
Storms can also bring more rainfall now because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, as well as a higher storm surge due to sea-level rise.
Climate change may also be slowing down the progress of cyclones, meaning they sit over an area for longer, wreaking more destruction.
There are also signs of a northward shift in Pacific cyclones, according to the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions.
How to stay safe during a hurricane
As Hurricane Hilary makes its way toward land, those in its path should check out the NHC’s hurricane preparedness website for how best to prepare. Even if the storm downgrades from a hurricane to a tropical storm with slower wind speeds, these extreme weather events still pose a threat to property and human life.
Some key tips the NHC advises include: Determine whether you live in an area prone to flooding. Also, check to see if you’re in an evacuation zone. After that, take an assessment of your home. Being indoors is the first line of defense against extreme weather.
Does your home have any structural weaknesses that are especially vulnerable to strong winds? You may want to avoid those areas.
Since high winds can blow unsecured objects into your home, it may also be a good idea to clear things like propane tanks, bikes, or lawn furniture out of your yard. Protecting the integrity of your home may keep you safe from the worst of the storm.
These storms can also cause disruptions to your utilities, according to the CDC. You should do your best to have a supply kit that includes clean water, food, flashlights, batteries, government documents, and first aid materials.
Even with all these in order, you may receive orders to evacuate. To be prepared for this possibility, you should have a full tank of gas in your car, a prepped supply kit, and a radio or TV to get the latest updates on when and where it’s safe to travel, per the CDC.