Hilary moves into Southern California after making landfall in Mexico's Baja California peninsula

Southern California assessing damage from Hilary: "This isn't something we experience"

Tropical Storm Hilary moved into Southern California on Sunday evening just hours after making landfall in the northern part of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula. Officials warned of "catastrophic and life-threating flooding" in Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

Hilary was downgraded to a tropical storm a few hours before making landfall, as rain from the storm started spreading in Southern California, the National Weather Service said. Then it was downgraded again, to a post-tropical cyclone early Monday morning. The system was expected to dissipate later in the day but still produce heavy rainfall, significant flooding and gusty winds across the western U.S.

As of 8 a.m. PDT Monday, Hilary was about 115 miles west-northwest of Elko, Nevada, and racing north-northeast at 24 mph with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

It was the first time ever that the National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning for Southern California, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm.

More than half a year's worth of rain fell in the desert city of Palm Springs, California, CBS News correspondent Carter Evans reports. Mount Wilson in Angeles National Forest recorded over 8.5 inches of rain as of 7 a.m. PDT, the top amount reported by the National Weather Service's Los Angeles office. Beverly Hills recorded 4.8 inches, and downtown LA recorded nearly 3 inches.

"We are ready," Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass told "Face the Nation" on Sunday. 

Tropical storm conditions began Sunday in the southwestern U.S., with gusty winds spreading well inland. The National Hurricane Center said large swells are expected to effect portions of the Baja California peninsula as well as Southern California over the next several days. The California Department of Parks and Recreation on Saturday ordered a temporary closure of all San Diego and Orange County state beaches and several state parks.  

Disneyland announced Saturday that the parks would be closing early on Sunday, with Disney California Adventure Park closing at 9 p.m., Disneyland Park closing at 10 p.m. and the Downtown Disney District will close at 11 p.m. 

Other parts of the southwestern U.S. were preparing, with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas warning on Sunday that strong winds were likely, as well as flash flooding. A state of emergency was declared in Nevada and in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. 

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

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

However, it was still packing a punch. Widespread "moderate to heavy" rain was 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.

The weather service forecast that some areas had at least a 70% chance of experiencing flash flooding.

By Monday morning, all coastal warnings had been discontinued, the hurricane center said. However, the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center said flood watches were in effect for Southern California, northwest Arizona, much of Nevada, southwest Utah, eastern Oregon, western and central Idaho and southeast Washington. A flood watch means flooding is possible in those areas.

LA County officials had advised all residents and visitors on California's Catalina Island to leave as soon as possible ahead of the storm's arrival.

Evacuees from Catalina Island arrive in Long Beach, California, after leaving due to Hurricane Hilary. Aug. 19, 2023.  Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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

With storm clouds looming overhead from Hurricane Hilary, residents quickly fill sandbags outside City Hall on Aug. 19, 2023 at City Hall in Palm Springs, California.  Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

"It is rare — indeed nearly unprecedented in the modern record — to have a tropical system like this move through Southern California," said Greg Postel, a hurricane and storm specialist at the Weather Channel who has a doctorate in atmospheric sciences.

Postel said there will likely be "damaging wind gusts," especially at higher elevations, in the area, and swells along the coast. 

California was drenched by a historic amount of rain this winter after being hit with an unprecedented number of atmospheric rivers. Chris Heiser, emergency services director for the city of San Diego, told CBS News on Friday that those storms may have helped prepare officials for what is to come from Hilary.

"That really allowed us to get a feel for what the impact of heavy rains and winds are," Heiser said. "But this one's got some unique features. The amount of rainfall is substantial, especially up in the mountains. And the majority of the population of San Diego is at the base of those mountains."

"We're looking at this to be a significant storm, possibly one of those that sets records, and so we're preparing accordingly," he added.

The Navy moved vessels out of San Diego Bay on Saturday to avoid damage from the storm. Ships and submarines left Naval Base San Diego, Naval Base Coronado and Naval Base Point Loma and will remain at sea until Hilary passes over the region, the Navy said in a news release.

"In order to ensure the safety of our Sailors and ships, we are taking all necessary measures to mitigate potential damage to infrastructure and Third Fleet vessels caused by the storm," said Vice Adm. Michael Boyle, commander, U.S. Third Fleet, in the news release. "Safety remains our top priority, and putting all capable ships to sea makes it easier for us to manage the situation ashore."

California State Parks announced that all state beaches in San Diego and Orange counties would be closed Sunday and Monday, while the National Park Service closed the popular Joshua Tree National Park, located east of Palm Springs, through Monday evening over fears of flash flooding.   

The city of San Diego followed suit with all city beaches and public buildings. 

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said in a news briefing that "swift water rescue personnel and rescue aircraft are on alert and ready for immediate response."

LA County officials also asked the homeless to stay away from waterways and river channels during the storm.

Pasadena Unified School District and Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, both said all public schools would be closed Monday.

In San Bernardino County, located about 70 miles east of LA, officials issued evacuation alerts for several mountain communities. 

Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo announced late Friday that 100 National Guard troops had been activated ahead of Hilary. He declared a state of emergency Sunday.

The San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels all had home games scheduled for Sunday. However, those games were shifted to Saturday double-headers in anticipation of the storm.  

Capistrano Beach in the Orange County city of Dana Point Friday was one of several where crews built berms to protect the coastal community from high surf.

"We're getting ready now ahead of this event as it makes landfall to make sure we're prepared," said Chris Dargan, a spokesperson for California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

Workers build a berm near the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach, California, on Aug. 18, 2023. Cities along the coast were preparing for potential high surf as the effects of Hurricane Hilary move north. Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

-Alex Sundby contributed reporting.


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