MARINA DEL REY, Calif − Tropical Storm Hilary drenched Southern California from the coast to inland mountains and deserts Sunday evening, prompting rescues from swollen rivers and forcing some of the nation’s largest school districts to cancel Monday classes
Hilary brought intensifying rain to the region, with some mountain and desert areas seeing more than half an average year’s worth of rain come down in just one day, including the desert resort city of Palm Springs, which saw nearly 3 inches of rain by Sunday evening. Hilary was toppling trees and causing mudslides in the San Diego area.
Hilary was the first tropical storm to cross into California from Mexico since Nora in 1997, the weather service office in San Diego said Sunday night. If Hilary had come in off the ocean in a landfall in California, it would have been the first tropical storm to do so since 1939.
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.”
Tropical Storm Hilary tracker:Follow the storm’s path as it heads toward Southern California
◾ Thousands of Southern California residents were without power on Sunday as storm conditions took down power lines. Over 7,000 Imperial Irrigation District customers in the eastern Coachella Valley and Imperial County service area were without power while over 31,000 Southern California Edison customers lost power areas in or near Los Angeles county.
◾ The National Weather Service extended its flash flood warning for the Los Angeles area until 3:00 a.m. local time. The agency warned some parts of the area would experience life-threatening flooding as the fire department conducted water rescues for cars stuck in flooded roads.
◾ 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.
◾ Hilary’s rainfall is an extreme, record-breaking event, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “There’s a very clear link between increases in extreme precipitation and global warming,” Swain said. In a warmer world, “the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water vapor increases exponentially.”
◾ 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.
‘Walls were moving quite a bit’
Louis Brown, a security guard at Ralph’s grocery store in Marina del Rey, California, surveyed the customers at about 8 p.m. Sunday night. “Last night it was chaos, havoc,’’ Brown told USA TODAY. “It was packed until 1 o’clock, and I could see the fear in their eyes and their soul.’’
He was referring to the customers stocking up on food before the storm arrived. And less than 24 hours later? “Nothing,’’ he said, looking around the store. “No chaos.’’
With the initial hurricane having weakened to a tropical storm, Brown presumed those panicked shoppers survived Hilary as did he — without incident.
Rain fell for most of the day, but 17-year-old Michael Gatto said he still rode his skateboard to work at Local Pizza a block from Venice Beach.
“I did it on purpose so I could tell people that,’’ he said.
He said business was slow but picked up toward the end of the day. One of his last customers of the night was Andrea Iucci, who said he was in town from Amsterdam and visiting with his wife and two children. Originally, Iucci said, they planned to vacation in Maui. But the deadly fires in Hawaii prompted them to head to Los Angeles.
On Sunday, their third day in Los Angeles, they experienced not only the storm but also the earthquake. He said they were on the top floor of a nearby hotel when the earthquake with a 5.1 magnitude hit.
“The walls were moving quite a bit,’’ he said. “But it’s OK. As long as everyone’s safe.”
Senior community impacted by flooding in Coachella Valley
About 60 homes at the Canyon Mobile Home Community in Cathedral City have been impacted by flooding, according to Cathedral City Councilmember Nancy Ross, who also lives in the 55 and older community of 350 homes.
“On the (most impacted streets), there was in several locations at least three feet of rushing water that was like a river and had a current of its own, it’s frightening,” Ross said. “And that rushing water by nature just wanted to follow a straight path up into people’s driveways and into their garages, and so many people flooded.”
Ross says damage to the roughly 60 impacted homes includes water flooded into garages or homes, and water under the mobile homes. Ross and her husband spent the afternoon checking on neighbors and attempting to keep nearby culverts clear of debris.
The Cathedral City Fire Department also came to the park Sunday afternoon to help evacuate several people out of their homes who couldn’t get past the rushing water in the road.
“It’s a senior citizen mobile home park, many of our people are in their 80s. They just don’t deserve to be in such a vulnerable situation, that’s for sure,” said Ross.
— Erin Rode, Desert Sun
Mudslides and debris flow through mountain and desert areas
By Sunday evening, Hilary had moved over San Diego and was headed north into inland desert areas.
Residents of the Coachella Valley had previously expressed anxiety and fear over the storm as many spent the past few days preparing by filling up sandbags as a precaution. And as Hilary closed in on the area Sunday night, the heavy rain turned roadways into rivers and filled up the local wash.
Cities within the desert region are at risk of dangerous flooding due to their location and environment. Surrounded by several mountain ranges, waterways in the area can be overwhelmed by the heavy rain and can cause waters to quickly rise.
“This entire valley is basically a giant river bottom,” Palm Springs resident Carley Pinkney told the New York Times.
In an area where residents are accustomed to intense heat and the blaring sun during this time of year, Hilary is bringing record rain. Palm Springs set a daily record for rainfall on Sunday, recording more than two inches as of 5 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
“Usually, when the weatherman says rain, they’re wrong because we get rain like one and a half days a year,” resident Michael Matera told the Times.
“When it rains, it just sits there, like it’s in a bowl,” he added.
In the San Bernardino Mountains, AccuWeather storm chaser Aaron Rigsby said a large mudslide moved boulders and trees onto the roadway in Forest Falls. Images and videos of the mud slide showed debris flowing in muddy waters, completely covering roads.
San Bernardino County declared a local emergency Sunday afternoon and the sheriff’s department issued evacuation orders for several communities, including Forest Falls.
Southern California cities see impacts of Hilary
The full strength of the tropical storm had yet to reach the city of Diamond Bar in Los Angeles County 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, in 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 has canceled more than 700 flights scheduled for Sunday and nearly 190 flights set for Monday, according to FlightAware, which tracks flight status in real-time. Other major carriers like United, American, Delta, and JetBlue were impacted as well.
“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.
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.
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