Hurricane Hilary, a large and powerful Category 4 storm, on Friday afternoon barreled towards the Baja California Peninsula and the Southwestern United States, where it could cause “life-threatening and potentially devastating flooding,” said the meteorologists.
The National Hurricane Center issued its first tropical storm watch for Southern California, including downtown Los Angeles, on Friday.
The watch means tropical conditions are possible over the area for the next 48 hours. The watch extends from the California-Mexico border to the Orange County and Los Angeles County lines and for Catalina Island, forecasters said.
The system has sustained winds near 130 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical disturbances with sustained winds of 39 mph have earned a name. Once the winds reach 74 mph, a hurricane becomes a hurricane, and, at 111 mph, it becomes a major hurricane.
Hilary formed as a tropical storm off the coast of Manzanillo, Mexico, on Wednesday and began moving west-northwest toward Baja California as it strengthened.
While the storm’s strength is expected to fluctuate throughout Friday night, it will weaken but remain a hurricane as it approaches the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula on Saturday.
Hilary will become a tropical storm before reaching Southern California on Sunday night.
Hilary’s precise landfall probably won’t make much of a difference in terms of expected hazards in the region, meteorologists said.
Hilary will bring up to six inches of rain, with isolated amounts of up to 10 inches, to parts of the Baja California Peninsula through Sunday night, with the possibility of flooding.
Parts of Southern California and Southern Nevada will record similar rainfall totals through Tuesday morning, which could lead to “dangerous and locally catastrophic flooding,” forecasters said.
A flood watch has been issued for Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, including Catalina Island. Some areas in the West can expect several inches of rain.
Forecasters said strong winds will develop ahead of the storm’s center.
The Mexican government has issued a hurricane warning for the Baja California peninsula from Punta Abreojos to Cabo San Quintin. A hurricane watch is also in place on the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula north of Cabo San Quintin to Ensenada.
A tropical storm warning and watch was also issued for several regions of the peninsula and mainland Mexico.
It’s “very rare” for a tropical storm to exit the ocean and make landfall in California, said Stefanie Sullivan, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in San Diego. The only tropical storm to actually make landfall in Southern California was an unnamed hurricane in 1939 that made landfall in Long Beach, he said.
However, the storms have weakened or weakened before coming ashore, causing flooding and dangerous winds, like Kay, a post-tropical cyclone, last year. Sometimes storms move across the state from Mexico; in 1997, Hurricane Nora made landfall in Baja California before moving inland and reaching Arizona as a tropical storm.
The Eastern Pacific hurricane season began on May 15, two weeks before the Atlantic season began. Seasons run through Nov. 30.
Complicating matters in the Pacific this year is the development of El Niño, the widespread, large-scale weather pattern that can have major weather effects around the world.
An average hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific has 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes. The Central Pacific typically has four or five hurricanes develop or move across the basin each year.
There is a strong consensus among scientists that hurricanes are becoming more intense due to climate change. Although there aren’t many named storms overall, the possibility of major storms is increasing.
Climate change is also affecting the amount of rain that hurricanes can produce. In a warming world, the air can hold more moisture, which means a named storm can hold back and produce more rain, as Hurricane Harvey did in Texas in 2017, when some areas received more than 40 inches of rain in less than 48 hours.
The researchers also found that hurricanes have slowed over the past few decades.
When a storm slows over water, it increases the amount of moisture it absorbs. When a storm slows over land, it increases the amount of rain that falls in one location, like Hurricane Dorian in 2019, which slowed to a crawl in the northwestern Bahamas, resulting in 22.84 inches of rain in Hope Town for the duration of the storm. .
These are just a few ways that climate change is likely to affect these storms. Research shows that there may also be other effects, including storm surge, faster intensification and wider reach of tropical systems.
Derrick Bryson Taylor, jesus jimenez, Orlando Mayorquin and Mike Ives contributed to the report.