SAN DIEGO (KXAN) — Rapidly-intensifying Hurricane Hilary in the eastern Pacific is expected to reach category four intensity with winds of up to 140 miles per hour. While the storm is not expected to impact Texas, it may bring rare direct impacts to southern California, including damaging wind and flooding rainfall.
“The combination of heavy rainfall, the potential for flash flooding, and strong winds could very well make this a high-impact event for Southern California,” the San Diego National Weather Service office warned in their Thursday afternoon forecast discussion.
“It’s pretty rare, but not unheard of,” Megan Healy, weather anchor at KSWB in San Diego, said.
Eastern Pacific hurricanes are common, but they don’t typically track due northward into southern California as Hurricane Hilary is expected to.
Chilly ocean temperatures off the coast of southern California typically weaken storms to just a remnant low-pressure system before they brush the coast, and this factor is expected to weaken Hilary. But the question remains: Will the powerful storm maintain itself sufficiently as it races over colder waters to trek into California as an official tropical storm?
Weakening storms typically bring a much lower damaging wind threat, although mountains in southern California can serve to funnel and enhance wind gusts. This can still produce widespread power outages and even spark wildfires, depending on the placement of rainfall.
“I don’t know if a lot of San Diegans really realize the big impacts that this storm system can have just as early as Saturday afternoon,” Healy said. “But a lot of people are starting to get more prepared.”
Healy says the San Diego Office of Emergency Services is encouraging residents to get sandbags because the most concerning impact is expected to be flooding rainfall amounts as high as 7-10 inches — highest in the mountains and deserts. This would be two to three times the desert’s typical yearly rainfall amount and could cause dangerous landslides and mudslides.
“We’re also looking at the potential for storm surge and really dangerous rip currents,” Healy said. “We’re a huge surf community here in San Diego, so a lot of those experienced surfers are probably getting pretty stoked for the strong south and southeast swell that we’re forecasting, but we really have to make sure that we’re getting that message of safety across.”