Dangerous Hurricane Hilary Strikes Mexico and California, Triggering Heavy Rains and Looming Flood Threats

Over the weekend, Hurricane Hilary unleashed torrential rains across sections of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula and parts of southwestern United States, prompting grave warnings of potential “catastrophic and life-threatening” flooding from authorities.

Although the storm weakened from its earlier Category 4 status to a Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, it retained the capability for substantial damage. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) noted that hurricane conditions were expected to persist along the Baja California coast until Sunday morning.

With winds reaching a sustained 110 miles per hour (175 kilometers per hour), Hilary led to “heavy rains” affecting portions of both Baja California and the southwestern United States, heightening concerns of severe flooding.

The hurricane center outlined the storm’s trajectory, explaining that it would approach the west-central coast of the Baja California Peninsula before moving across southern California on Sunday afternoon and night. Despite its anticipated weakening into a tropical storm, the possibility of heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding remained for southern California and southern Nevada.

Preparations were evident in the Mexican resort town of Cabo San Lucas, where residents and workers erected protective barriers and laid numerous sandbags in anticipation of crashing waves. The city’s beach saw military personnel patrolling, demonstrating the gravity of the situation.

Omar Olvera, who works at a Cabo San Lucas beachfront restaurant, emphasized the precautionary measures taken: “We took all the precautionary measures last night. We’re just looking out for the workers and waiting for the weather to come,” he shared.

In other areas like Todos Santos, streets were deserted due to concerns over the strong winds, while Cerritos had to close its beach due to rough waves.

The Mexican government responded proactively, deploying around 19,000 soldiers to the states most affected by the hurricane. The federal electric utility dispatched 800 workers and multiple vehicles to manage potential power outages.

Across the border, in the United States, the NHC predicted rainfall of three to six inches, with isolated amounts reaching up to 10 inches in parts of southern California and southern Nevada. The warning of “dangerous to catastrophic flooding” underlined the urgency of the situation.

California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Director, Nancy Ward, warned that Hurricane Hilary could be one of the most severe storms to impact the state in over a decade. “Make no mistake,” she cautioned, “This is a very, very dangerous and significant storm.”

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mobilized teams to affected regions ahead of the storm’s arrival. President Joe Biden received regular updates, even as he prepared to survey wildfire damage in Hawaii.

FEMA Chief Deanne Criswell conveyed Biden’s message of vigilance: “He has encouraged everyone to make sure that they are aware of what this dangerous storm is potentially going to bring and to listen to their local officials on the steps they can take to make sure that they are keeping safe.”

The impact of Hurricane Hilary was evident in the rescheduling of sports events, with Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer shifting their games planned for the US region on Sunday.

While hurricanes are an annual occurrence in Mexico, the intensification of storms due to climate change is a cause for concern. Although remnants of these storms sometimes affect California, tropical storm intensity impacts are relatively rare for the state. The increasing potency of storms remains a stark reminder of the global consequences of a warming world.