Unstoppable Fury: Tropical Storm Hillary Wreaks Havoc in Southern California

By Olivia Weaving August 21, 2023

From scorching heatwaves to catastrophic landslides, California faces its worst onslaught ever due to tropical storm Hillary. Record-breaking rains and unforeseen quakes displace thousands.

As drenched Southern Californians take stock of the aftermath of tropical storm Hillary, its trail of destruction is becoming painfully clear. The unprecedented downpours that have curtain-raised this week in the Golden State and Mexico are attributed to Hillary, a former category 4 hurricane, boasting winds of 145 mph.

Coming ashore on the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico on Sunday, the storm claimed at least one life before it ventured northwards, saturating Tijuana, and then heading into the U.S. regions. Many parts of California, including the Palm Springs area, were deluged by rainfall exceeding three inches on Sunday — roughly half the amount these regions typically receive in an entire year.

Significantly, the last time California grappled with a tropical storm was at the onset of World War II. The National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center issued severe warnings to Californians on Monday morning, alerting them to continuing unsafe conditions. Southern California is now battling under its first-ever tropical storm warning, thanks to Hillary's footprint spanning across California, Arizona, and Nevada.

Despite preparing for the impending storm by shutting down state beaches in San Diego and Orange counties, many areas have been severely impacted. “Across the Southwestern United States, the ongoing and historic amount of rainfall is expected to cause life-threatening to locally catastrophic flash, urban and arroyo flooding including landslides, mudslides and debris flows today,” noted officials.

Notably, flooding was expected to persist in northern areas of California's Intermountain West until Tuesday. More than a dozen homeless individuals had to be rescued from a flooded encampment near the San Diego River.

San Diego experienced the wettest August day on record, with rainfall levels of 1.82 inches, barely exceeding the previous record of 1.8 inches reported on August 17, 1977. All public schools in Los Angeles and San Diego remained closed on Monday.

Besides the record-breaking rains, a surprise 5.1 magnitude earthquake was reported 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles at 2:41 p.m. local time on Sunday, though thankfully it did not result in any injuries.

The relentless storm has left even emergency services floundering. Riverside County’s Eisenhower Medical Center had to pump water out of its emergency room on Sunday, while technical malfunctions disrupted 911 phone lines in Palm Springs the following morning.

The turbulent weather in California emerged hot on the heels of the deadly wildfires in Hawaii that claimed over 100 lives just two weeks ago, spurred by violent wind gusts. As California grapples with the chaos of Hillary, expert weather trackers from Accuweather are closely watching "several areas for development across the tropical basin" as hurricane season looms over Florida and Texas.