On Monday, Hilary, the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years, caused flooding on roads and knocked down trees. It also saved over twelve elderly residents who were trapped in homes that were left partially covered by mud in an abandoned care home, prompting flood watches and warnings in half a dozen states.
Despite the hurricane’s loss of momentum, the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned of ongoing and potentially catastrophic flooding in the Southwestern U.S. after record-breaking rainfall. The threat of thunderstorms and localized torrential rains was most likely to affect states from southeastern Oregon to Idaho, with warning signs of widespread flooding on Monday.
Initially, Hilary hit the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico as an unseen hurricane, causing one fatality and extensive flooding, before turning into a tropical storm, which was one of several potentially catastrophic natural events affecting California on Sunday. This event also caused tornado watches, wildfires, and quake conditions north of Los Angeles. Although no deaths, serious injuries, or extreme damages have been reported in the state so far, officials have highlighted the potential risks, particularly in mountainous areas where the wet hillsides may trigger mudslide.
Fire Chief Michael Contreras reported that 14 residents were rescued by rescue officials in the Cathedral City community, which involved driving a bulldozer through mud to reclaim their homes. The dramatic scene was one of 46 rescues carried out by officials from late Sunday night to the following afternoon, with water measuring up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) at times.
He stated at a news conference that disasters like this necessitate the use of unconventional rescue methods, which they do not typically consider.
Crews cleared mud from the San Bernardino Mountains to the northwest, where around 800 residents had their homes hindered, as reported by Cal Fire Battalion Chief Alison Hesterly.
In the Oak Glen community, Brooke Horspool assisted a couple, including an elderly man with medical issues, in clearing their house from approximately 4 feet (1.2 meters) of mud.
The Santa Ana River overflowed near Seven Oaks, leaving around 30 people stranded. San Bernardino County first responders were still trying to rescue them, but they were advised by authorities that the hazards of the flow are too great for boats to handle, so they stayed overnight.
A helicopter saved one person with a broken leg on Monday, and efforts to retrieve the others were expected to continue until Tuesday morning, although some people refused to leave while waiting for the floodwaters to subside, according to authorities.
A woman was reportedly missing after witnesses reported seeing her trailer being swept away in a flash flood, according to authorities.
During the storm in Palm Desert on Sunday, Terry Flanigan heard a massive crash and received smuggled text messages from neighbors. The neighbor informed her that despite falling onto their property, an over 100-foot (30 meters) Eucalyptus tree fell onto Grassy Hill Condor, which eventually landed on the 11-year-old son’s bed in another room.
A flood control basin in Palm Desert, Calif. has been crossed by vehicles that have almost reached the street on Sunday, August 20, 2023.
The family had gone to stay with relatives, and removal crews were brought in on Monday morning to remove the branches, which Flanigan described as very unsettling. “What could have happened?”
The U.S., Canada, and Mexico are all wracked by the devastating impact of Hilary’s stormy weather. Maui is still in the midst of a wildfire that killed over 100 people, making it the deadliest in North America to date. Meanwhile, firefighters in Canada are fighting the nation’d worst fire season.
The combination of hot water and air was instrumental in Hilary’s swift growth, as it caused precipitation to fall in places that were traditionally dry.
According to park officials, Death Valley National Park was closed indefinitely and approximately 400 people were left at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, and Panamint Springs until roads could be made passable due to the extreme low rainfall.
The National Weather Service rain gauge at Furnace Creek recorded 2.2 inches (5.6 centimeters) of rainfall on Sunday, in the morning and evening. If confirmed, it would be the most precipitous day in history, surpassing the record set by August 8, 2022, when snow fell as late as 1.7 inches (4.3 centile).
Raw sewage was released into the desert below Stovepipe Wells by park officials on Monday due to sewer line damage.
According to a post on Twitter, the NWS stated that San Diego received 1.82 inches (4.6 centimeters) of rainfall, which was the highest ever recorded in the area since 1977. The previous record was set on August 17, 1977, when 1.8 inches fell in this region after Hurricane Doreen.
The Associated Press was informed by National Weather Service meteorologist Elizabeth Adams in San Diego that the water had completely obliterated all of our previous rainfall records.
Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane scientist at MIT, stated that scientists are still uncertain about why certain storms, such as Hilary, grow larger and others remain smaller.
Kristen Corbosiero, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Albany, remarked that it is uncommon for Eastern Pacific storms to be so large due to their small size and deep subduction into the tropics.
Climate scientist Daniel Swain from the University of California, Los Angeles stated in an online briefing on Monday that the wet weather could prevent wildfires in Southern California and parts of the Sierra Nevada for a few weeks, but there is no guarantee of widespread rain in the most fire-prone areas.
Steven Michael Chacon, a resident of Desert Hot Springs and his spouse, reported that the housing development’s roads were impassable due to flooding, which made it unsafe for emergency crews to reach people.
“There’s no way to enter or exit,” he said on Monday morning, emphasizing that everyone must remain stationary.
The regional weather office referred to Sunday at 7 p.m. in Southern California as “a day for the ages” when Hilary was passed over downtown Los Angeles.
“Despite the challenges we faced, we managed to overcome Los Angeles and achieve our goal,” City Council President Paul Krekorian stated.
California was hit by a tropical storm in September 1939, which caused extensive damage to train tracks, destroyed foundations of homes, and trapped many boats. Nearly 100 people lost their lives both on land and at sea due to the storm.
As Hilary journeyed eastward into Nevada, flooding was observed, power outages were reported, and a boil-water warning was issued to approximately 400 households in the Mount Charleston area, which is roughly 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Las Vegas. The only road in and out was washed out.
A separate tropical system was expected to bring rain and potential flooding to coastal areas in southern Texas, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storms could reach this location by early Tuesday, as some residents prepared with sandbags near the U.S-Mexico border.
On Monday, Tropical Storm Franklin caused a surge in activity near Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.
Antczak and Stefanie Dazio provided coverage from Los Angeles, while Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press reporters Eugene Garcia in Cathedral City; Ken Ritter in Las Vegas; Will Weissert in Washington; Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Walter Berry contributed to this report.