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Hilary Brings Flash Floods to Baja and SoCal, but Its Bark Appears Worse Than Its Bite

As the remnants of the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years now evaporate over northern Nevada, people are trying to assess the damage done by the heavy rainfall and flooding from Hilary.

The New York Times said: “Los Angeles Survives Tropical Storm With ‘Minimal Impacts,’ Officials Say,” noting that there have been no reports of deaths or major storm damage in L.A. itself, but that “the impact in other cities is still being assessed.” The Los Angeles Times said, “Hilary Leaves Massive Flooding, Mudslides, Upheaval Across Southern California,” citing that parts of San Bernardino saw mud and debris slides that closed roads.

About 18,000 customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power were without power Monday morning, according to the L.A. Times. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said the damage from Hilary was “minor.” (By the way, yesterday there was a 5.1 earthquake centered near Ojai, inland from Ventura; no damage or injuries were reported, but surely an already tense situation was made worse.)

At the moment, Hilary appears to be more annoyance than the potentially “catastrophic” storm with the potential to bring heavy flooding to desert landscapes that are unable to absorb a deluge of water. As residents of Florida and the Gulf and East coasts well know, hurricanes often come with ominous warnings and a media frenzy, then underwhelm the hunkered-down populace.

This screenshot of then Hurricane Hilary, seen here off the coast of Southern Baja California, was captured on Saturday evening.
© 2023 Windy.com

“If that was the hurricane I have to deal with, I could deal with that every year — no problem,” said my cousin, Ed ‘Frondo’ van Os, who lives with his family in San Miguel, just north of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. “It was, like, 25 knots at its worst. We had zero damage at the house and zero damage at the shop, other than losing a couple of days to preparation, and a lot of stress.”

Mexican authorities are assessing the damage Hilary caused in Baja before crossing the border, according to the New York Times. “Nearly 3,000 Mexican Marines were mobilized to provide aid in parts of the Baja California peninsula, the military said Sunday night.” The Times said that the Mexican navy rescued the municipal president of Mulegé and other government and military officials, as well as 13 citizens, from floods.

Winds of up to 85 miles an hour were reported in Cabo San Lucas, and at least one person died in Baja, according to CBS News.

Above: Footage from Mulegé, Baja California, Mexico, on the Sea of Cortez.

In a summer of record heat, smoke-filled days in the Midwest and Northeast, and the recent tragedy in Lahaina, Hurricane Hilary was another wild headline among a deluge of unbelievable weather-related headlines. Hilary was not the first over-hyped hurricane and it certainly won’t be the last. This is part of what can make hurricanes so deadly: People live through numerous non-events, over-prepare for storms that fizzle, and eventually become numb to warnings, making them complacent — and vulnerable — when a severe storm does actually deliver.

If you’re in Southern California or Mexico, please tell us about your experience with Hilary.

8 Comments

  1. Randi H 8 months ago

    We have just moved from Fairfield, California to San Jose del Cabo (SJD) in Baja California Sur. We have been visiting the area for years, but always outside of hurricane season. So we were concerned that we were in the process of moving into our rental and here comes a hurricane (Welcome to Baja!) The first day, when the hurricane was many miles west of SJD, there was a fair amount of wind (guessing 25 knots), some showers and very high surf. The following day, when the storm was north of us but not as far west, we had about 20 minutes of one of the worst downpours I have ever seen. We had to pull over on the road because our windshield wipers, on full speed, couldn’t keep the windshield clear enough to see. But it only lasted a short time, we noticed some puddles at the doors of some businesses, but it didn’t last long enough to cause any major flooding. So it turned out to have a relatively minor impact on us. The worst was that all of the multistory properties turned off their elevators – they didn’t want anyone stuck in an elevator in the event of a power failure. When you are moving LOTS of stuff from the second floor of one property to the second floor of another, it wasn’t ideal. But all in all, our first Baja hurricane was no big deal!

  2. Orlando Duran 8 months ago

    Gee, the media hyping a weather event…who would’ve thunk it?
    The LA Times was beyond the pale in its prognostications (as always)….

  3. David J Albert 8 months ago

    Sadly, No media spends much attention to places like Guererro Negro where it actually had “hurricane like” affect.

    • milly Biller 8 months ago

      Thank you David. Gurerro Negro looked like ground zero for landfall. I am not sure this weather event was ” overhyped” given people’s inattention to weather for the most part. It depended upon where one was to determine their degree of impact, and some people were quite badly impacted. If you follow weather information closely, you can make your own determination about the impact it might have on you, but I think it is wise for the media to make sure that the general public is made ( possibly overstating ) aware of the possible hazard.

  4. michael kehir 8 months ago

    Just returned from Abaroa boatyard, La Paz June 15. Merilon on hard there. Your great windy colorized weather pic shows Hurricane Hilary raging +100 kts winds , deep purple color, on both sides of lower Baja…Note Bahia La Paz, in light yellow, 25 to 35 kts or so. Whew, another 20 deg to NE and directo hit on Baja Sur, not unlike Odile in 2014 when Merilon trashed in doggy pile at Ellipse in Puerto Escondido. I’m betting St. Ignacio got drilled too besides Mulege(again) and Santa Rosalia ( yc and former home of the legendary Circle of Knowledge, now an AA bldg)

  5. Bill L 8 months ago

    Interesting that the govt evacuated other govt officals from Mulege but apparently left the “citizens” there to work through it. In my mind, serious events are exactly when leadership should stay and do the jobs they were elected or appointed to. Also love the LA Times reporting “massive” problems. Certainly for those directly affected it was big, but not in the overall scheme of things, but bigger headlines sell more papers (or get more clicks today)

  6. Mark Howe 8 months ago

    I’m in the Dana Point area and of course Hillary was over-hyped as usual. KTLAs Henry diCarlo said it will be just like a big winter storm with all the usual heavy winds, mudslides and flooding except the winds will be like a SantaAna; a wet SantaAna. So for much of SoCal it was no big deal but for places that have never seen a big wet storm, like the east side of mountains and deserts, it may have been bad. I think the media did a good job; better to be ready.
    The thing that boggles my mind [nautical term] is how many folks wipe out the shelves in the stores. Do that many people live one day at a time and if there is an interruption in their shopping schedule they panic? [toilet paper?!] Don’t they realize water will be coming out of the sky? [tiny plastic bottles?!]

  7. michael kehir 8 months ago

    Mulege all time record prior to Hilary:7″/ 24hr.
    Hilary: 13″/24hr..
    That Mulege(Santa Rosalia) whitewater river video showing both streets going down to ocean was awesome and right thru town. Refrigerators, goats, lotsa debris..what a shame there ..a Conception Bay hangout when on the hook at Santispac..

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