Hurricane Hilary intensifying on path toward Southwest US

Tropical Storm Hilary reached hurricane strength early Thursday, bringing the threat of heavy rain and strong winds to parts of Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

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Officials with the National Hurricane Center said portions of southern California and southern Nevada could see between 2 to 4 inches of rain. In some areas, rainfall totals are anticipated to top 10 inches.

“This is a lot of rain for this part of the country,” NHC Deputy Director Jamie Rhome said in an update on Thursday morning. “(It) doesn’t typically get that kind of rainfall, and if we see this rainfall materialize, we’re definitely going to have some flooding problems.”

Hilary could also bring strong winds to parts of California, Nevada and Arizona as early as Sunday night. However, officials noted Thursday that “it is too soon to determine the location and magnitude of wind impacts.”

In an advisory issued at 10 a.m. EDT Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said Hilary was spinning about 365 miles south-southwest of Cabo Corrientes, Mexico, and 530 miles south-southeast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph.

Forecasters expect the storm to turn on Friday and Saturday, with its center approaching the Baja California peninsula over the weekend. Officials anticipate it will strengthen in the next day or so and “could become a major hurricane later today,” the NHC said Thursday.

Rhome said the storm will likely weaken before it reaches the Southwest.

“But this is going to be a big concern for us here in the Southwest United States for a heavy rainfall threat and heavy rainfall potential,” he said, adding that even as the storm weakens, it has the potential to bring tropical-storm-force winds. Most at-risk are areas at higher elevations.

“You can see some of these probabilities approaching 40% and 50%, so a coin flip’s chance, at this point in time, of tropical-storm-force conditions,” he said.

Under the forecast, Hilary could become the first tropical storm to make landfall in California since 1939, according to the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles office.

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