Tropical Storm Hilary Wreaks Havoc on California

Gregg Frantz | | WeatherWeather
Mud and water flow through a crack off the side of the road in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Hilary on Monday, Aug. 21, in Yucaipa, Calif. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Mother Nature has reminded us of how powerful she can be and has been very active in producing major weather events across the U.S. and Canada this year. This past winter produced historic amounts of snowpack across parts of the western U.S.; there was record flooding in Vermont; more than 37 million acres have burned in Canada’s wildfires and over 100 people have died in Maui as a result of wildfire, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years. Mother Nature isn’t messing around this year.

The extreme weather this year has now produced the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years. Once a Category 4 hurricane, Hilary first slammed into Mexico’s arid Baja California Peninsula, causing one death and widespread flooding before being downgraded to a tropical storm on Sunday. Los Angeles County recorded over seven inches of rain and Downtown L.A. recorded 2.48 inches of rainfall on Sunday, making it the wettest August day on record, according to the National Weather Service.

Hilary broke records for rainfall totals across Southern California causing major flooding, destroying roads, and damaging homes and businesses. Death Valley National Park received the equivalent of a full year’s worth of rain according to park officials. There have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries in California, however, officials still warn of risks from flooding in the mountainous regions that could produce mudslides. National Weather Service meteorologist Elizabeth Adams in San Diego told The Associated Press, “We basically blew all of our previous rainfall records out of the water.”

Tropical storms in Southern California are quite rare and are something many rescue officials are not accustomed to in that region. There was one rescue in Cathedral City where a bulldozer drove through mud to rescue 14 residents from a care home by scooping them up in the bucket and carrying them to safety. Cathedral City’s Fire Chief, Michael Contreras said in a news conference,

“It’s not something that I’ve ever done in my 34 years as a firefighter, but disasters like this really cause us to have to look at those means of rescue that aren’t in the book and that we don’t do every day.”

The silver lining with all the rainfall that Southern California received from Tropical Storm Hilary is that it might help mitigate the risk of wildfires this summer. Southern California already received record amounts of snowfall this past season and the additional rainfall from Hilary should help reduce the risk of wildfires for a few weeks.

It is a common misconception that the most dangerous times for wildfires in California are during the hot summer months like June, July or August. However, According to the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection, of the 20 most destructive wildfires in California history, 12 of them took place in September and October. This is because the autumn months are most susceptible to wildfire due to the dry, fierce winds that blow across the state, according to Front Line Wildfire Defense.

Summer is almost over and we are heading into the fall months which is the most active period for hurricanes on the East Coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasters, with the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, predict near-normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic this year. Hopefully, Mother Nature will comply, but with how the weather has been so far this year, only time will tell.

A summary infographic showing hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA’s 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. Photo Credit: NOAA

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