April 19, 2024
National Weather Service officials say that tropical storms are exceedingly rare in California. The last one hit Southern California on September 25, 1939.

As Hurricane Hilary barrels toward Southern California, millions of residents could soon be bracing for the region’s first tropical storm in more than 80 years.

A hurricane watch has been declared in Baja, California, according to officials at the National Weather Service station in Monterey. And large portions of Southern California have also been placed on tropical storm watches — that means wind speeds may fall between 39 to 73 miles per hour.

But what about the Bay Area?

“It’s going to move completely to the east of us,” said Crystal Oudit, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey. “It may clip southeast of Monterey county, but in our forecast, we don’t have anything crazy.”

In the next 72 hours, some portions of the South and East Bay may get a light sprinkle of rain, no more than a tenth of an inch. Compare that to the usually bone-dry Palm Springs, which could get up to 4 inches of rain in the same time period.

Hurricane Hilary is expected to transition from its peak strength as a category 4 hurricane with sustained windspeeds of 145 mph into a tropical storm before it sweeps through San Diego on Sunday at around 8 p.m.

Tropical storms are exceedingly rare in California, National Weather Service officials say. The last one hit Southern California on Sep. 25, 1939.

Flash floods warnings have been issued in large swaths of Southern California, though there is not enough precipitation in the core of the storm to categorize it as an atmospheric river.

After our drought-busting winter, Golden State residents grew familiar with atmospheric rivers, which are distinct from tropical storms in that they are defined by the amount of water held in the inner core of the storm, rather than by windspeeds, and they generally develop in winter months — rarely after May.

The timing of Hilary could hardly be better when it comes to wildfire risk. Officials say that all the forecasted rain down in Southern California will put a serious damper on the region’s fire season, though it’s not enough rain to put an end to the season outright.