Storm Hilary Moves North after Drenching Southern California, Southwest

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
The iconic Hollywood sign is pictured during the tropical storm Hilary in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 20, 2023.

CATHEDRAL CITY, California (Reuters) – Storm Hilary flooded streets, downed power lines and triggered mudslides across Southern California on Monday after unleashing record-breaking downpours overnight, but no U.S. deaths were attributed to the storm and fears of disaster dissipated.

Hilary arrived in California as a rare tropical storm that dumped 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) of rain on coastal areas and 10 inches (25 cm) or more in the mountains, National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Thompson said. He called it the first landfallen tropical storm in Southern California since Sept. 25, 1939.

In terrain more accustomed to drought, flash floods rushed through desert plains and mountain canyons, washing out roads.

Rain clouds gave way to clearer skies on Monday as the storm moved north. Once hurricane strength off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, it was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone as it moved over the North American mainland.

No fatalities or significant injuries were reported in the U.S.. One man was killed in Mexico when his family was swept away while crossing a stream on Saturday, Mexican officials said.

But the storm was still terrifying for Ronald Mendiola, whose family of five including a 2-year-old took refuge on the roof of their home in the desert town of Cathedral City when the bottom floor flooded waist high to the adults shortly after midnight.

“The roof was our best bet for shelter. Five of us with a 2-1/2 year old baby,” Mendiola said, trudging through knee-deep mud in his neighborhood after the storm had passed. “And we did make it to safety by a Good Samaritan passing by and picking us up. All five of us from the roof.”

Remnants of Hilary were expected to dump heavy rains in Nevada and Utah and into the Northwest, where more than 4 million people remained under the threat of flooding until Monday night, the service said.

“Fortunately, Californians listened to their local officials and took the necessary preparedness actions to help protect themselves and their families,” FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters aboard Air Force One.

The storm produced flash floods in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles and inundated more densely populated coastal areas of Ventura County northwest of the city. Inland desert towns around the resort of Palm Springs also got walloped.

In Cathedral City, a neighbor of Palm Springs about 120 miles (190 km) east of Los Angeles, people raked out debris and assessed the damage on Monday after the water rose thigh high in some areas, witnesses said.

“Who has flood insurance in a desert?” said Nancy Ross, a resident of the Canyon Mobile Home in Cathedral City, where multiple homes suffered flood damage.

Ross said she was “really worried” during the storm because, “It was flowing like a river.”

Record rains for the Aug. 20 date fell across Southern California in places like downtown Los Angeles and at airports in Burbank and Santa Barbara on Sunday, the weather service said.

In the middle of the storm on Sunday, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake hit north of Los Angeles, generating the social media meme #hurriquake.