▶ Watch Video: Storm preparations underway as Hilary speeds towards California

Hurricane Hilary is expected to hit Southern California as a tropical storm this weekend, bringing heavy rainfall after it makes its way up Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. The storm prompted officials at the National Hurricane Center to issue a tropical storm warning for most of Southern California, upgraded from a tropical storm watch earlier in the day. 

It marks the first time a tropical storm warning or watch has ever been issued for the region. 

Forecasters said the storm is expected to produce 3 to 6 inches of rainfall, with maximum amounts of 10 inches, across portions of Baja California, with the possibility of flash flooding. The same rain totals are forecast for parts of Southern California and southern Nevada on Sunday, according to the hurricane center.

The NHC warned that “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” was “likely” for both regions.  

There will likely be “damaging wind gusts,” especially at higher elevations, in the area, and swells along the coast, Greg Postel, a hurricane and storm specialist at the Weather Channel, told CBS News.

Hurricane watches and warnings were in effect for parts of the Baja California Peninsula, and a tropical storm warning was in place for nearly all of Southern California, from the California-Mexico border in San Diego County, to north Los Angeles County, as well as for California’s Catalina Island. 

L.A. County officials were advising all Catalina residents and visitors to leave the island as soon as possible ahead of the storm’s arrival.   

Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a state of emergency Saturday for all of Southern California. 

A White House spokesperson said that President Biden had been briefed on Hilary and that his team was working “with state and local agencies ahead of the storm.” The president and his family are vacationing in Lake Tahoe in Northern California. The president and first lady Jill Biden are slated to travel to Hawaii Monday to survey the destruction from the Maui wildfires

Hurricane Hilary as of early Sunday, August 20, 2023.


Where is Hurricane Hilary’s projected path?

Hilary was downgraded Saturday from a Category 4 to a Category 1 hurricane. As of 8 a.m. ET / 5 a.m. PT on Sunday, the storm was located about 285 miles south of San Diego. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph.

By the time Hilary reaches California, it is forecast to have downgraded to a tropical storm, which is defined as having winds of at least 39 mph, according to the National Weather Service.   

Widespread “moderate to heavy” rain is expected into early Monday for Southern California, with a high risk of flash flooding that could include “landslides, mudslides and debris flow” in mountains and deserts, according to the National Weather Service in San Diego.

Flash flooding potential for Hurricane Hilary on August 20, 2023.

National Hurricane Center

When will Hurricane Hilary hit the coast of California?

In its advisory, the NHC said that heavy rains were spreading north from Baja California to the Southwestern U.S. Saturday night. 

Hilary is forecast to move close to the west-central coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula Saturday night into Sunday morning, and then move across Southern California Sunday afternoon into Sunday night, the NHC said.

“As of now right, what we know for certain, is that there will be sustained high winds of 50 mph, and that there will be enough rain to flood low-lying areas,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said in a news briefing Saturday afternoon. 

Gloria said that forecasters were predicting that “the most intense portion” of the rain would hit San Diego Sunday afternoon, and he implored the public “to avoid areas that are known to be flood zones.”

The last time Southern California was hit by a tropical storm was in 1939, before storms were given names, CBS News senior weather and climate producer David Parkinson said. Several storms that had been hurricanes or tropical storms have impacted the state since then, but they had weakened to sub-tropical systems by that time, Parkinson noted.

“It is rare — indeed nearly unprecedented in the modern record — to have a tropical system like this move through Southern California,” Postel told CBS News. 

The projected path of the storm showed it could make landfall anywhere from the Baja California Peninsula to as far north as Santa Barbara, California. One model showed the heaviest rain hitting the Palm Springs area after the storm makes landfall.

“But if this storm track moves just 40 miles to the west … now you take all of this heavy rain … and you shift it now into portions of Orange County. You shift it into portions of the [Inland Empire] that are very well populated,” Parkinson said.

How big of a threat is Hurricane Hilary to Southern California?


Either situation would be cause for concern, Parkinson noted. The desert terrain around Palm Springs would not be able to handle the amount of rain expected and, if the track shifts west, the areas scorched by recent wildfires would also be inundated.

Hilary is likely to produce landslides and mudslides in certain areas recently burned by wildfires and storm surges along parts of the southern Baja Peninsula and the Gulf of California coast, the Weather Channel reports.

“You’re looking at a winter-like storm now in the summer in places that are not used to this amount of rain,” Parkinson said.