The National Hurricane Center on Friday issued its first ever tropical storm watch for Southern California as Hurricane Hilary continues to churn toward the Southwest.
The powerful Category 4 storm is expected to remain at hurricane-strength as it approaches the west coast of the Baja California peninsula on Saturday night and Sunday, officials said, though it’s expected to weaken as it gets closer to the Southwest U.S.
“We think we’ve seen Hilary peaking in intensity this morning (with) maximum sustained winds around 145 mph, but Hilary is going to bring very significant impacts, first to portions of the Baja California peninsula and mainland Mexico, and then on up into the southwestern United States as we go through the weekend,” NHC Director Michael Brennan said in a recorded update on Friday morning.
“The biggest change since yesterday is that our confidence has increased on the potential for a rare and very dangerous flash flooding event over portions of the southwestern United States.”
The threat prompted authorities to issue a tropical storm watch for the area from the California-Mexico border to the Orange County-Los Angeles County line and for Catalina Island, the NHC said. A tropical storm watch indicates that forecasters expect to see tropical storm conditions in the watch area, typically within 48 hours.
A tropical storm last made landfall in California in September 1939, according to officials with the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles office.
Hilary is expected to bring rainfall totals as high as 10 inches to some areas, with most places seeing between 3 and 6 inches of rain.
“To put that into context, that’s as much rain as some of these areas get in an entire year, and much of it can fall in a matter of days, or … in a matter of just even a few hours, which could result in very dangerous flash flooding,” Brennan said.
Along with heavy rain, Hilary is also expected to bring strong winds to the region, posing a threat particularly for areas at higher elevations.
On Friday morning, Hilary was about 65 miles south-southwest of Socorro Island and 360 miles south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.