Storm Hilary live updates: Millions are at risk of deadly flooding as rain slows

Published August 21, 2023 at 7:15 AM EDT
A mailbox stands on a flooded residential street in Palmdale, Calif. as a tropical storm moved into the area on Sunday.
Richard Vogel
/
AP
A mailbox stands on a flooded residential street in Palmdale, Calif. as a tropical storm moved into the area on Sunday.

Tropical Storm Hilary has weakened to a post-tropical cyclone, but life-threatening flooding remains a risk for Southern California on Monday.

Here's what we're following:

Yesterday's record-shattering rainfall, by the numbers

Posted August 21, 2023 at 11:51 AM EDT
A person walks past closed vendor stands at Venice Beach on Sunday.
Ryan Sun
/
AP
Vendor stands were shuttered at Venice Beach on Sunday.

Just how much rain did Southern California get?

The National Weather Service Los Angeles said at 3 a.m. local time that "virtually all rainfall daily records have been broken thus far."

Among them: A record rainfall of 2.48 inches was set in downtown Los Angeles, breaking the previous record of 0.03 set in 1906. Palmdale Airport saw 3.93 inches, smashing the old record of 0.05 set in 1934.

Los Angeles International Airport and Long Beach Airport both broke new records with 2.03 and 2.27 inches of rain, respectively.

They broke their old records of "trace" (greater than zero but too small to be measured), which were set in 1973 — the year after Albert Hammond released "It Never Rains in Southern California," as it so happens.

But when it pours ... Other areas saw even higher numbers, including:

  • Lewis Ranch: 7.04 in
  • Saugus: 6.46 in
  • Lake Palmdale: 5.98 in
  • Morris Dam: 5.71 in
  • Stunt Ranch: 4.88 in

The region also saw new temperature highs, according to the NWS: Santa Maria Airport in northern Santa Barbara County clocked a record high of 85 degrees F, breaking the old record of 82 from 2007.

How to stay informed

Posted August 21, 2023 at 11:47 AM EDT
A news crew broadcasts under the rain as Tropical Storm Hilary heads north into Palm Springs, California on Sunday.
David Swanson
/
AFP via Getty Images
A news crew broadcasts under the rain as Tropical Storm Hilary heads north into Palm Springs, Calif., on Sunday.

This live blog is wrapping up, but NPR and its member stations (such as LAist) will keep offering coverage and analysis of the storm and all things climate, both on air and online.

Find your local station here, and come back to NPR.org for national coverage. You can also tune in on the radio or listen to audio on demand on the NPR app.

As for weather and safety updates, check out the National Weather Service in your area and be alert for guidance from state and local officials.

Flooding spotted along the Las Vegas strip

Posted August 21, 2023 at 11:47 AM EDT

A flood watch in effect for parts of Clark County, Nev., this morning has expired, the latest sign that tropical storm Hilary appears to be dissipating as it moves from southern California and across the neighboring state.

One place that appeared to experience some impact is the Las Vegas Strip, a spot normally flooded with tourists. Video shared by Reuters showed water pouring through the parking structure of the LINQ casino.

The National Weather Service warned that deep water could remain pooled throughout the area, posing a serious risk to drivers.

Some colleges are also closed today because of the storm

Posted August 21, 2023 at 11:32 AM EDT

It's not just the K-12 public schools that are closed due to the weather — several college and university campuses in Southern California are canceling classes and certain campus services too.

They include:

The University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles both say campus operations and classes will proceed as normal on Monday.

    Expect more extreme weather events like Hilary, climate scientists say

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 11:19 AM EDT
    People stand on a pier over the Pacific Ocean with Hurricane Hilary approaching in San Diego County on Sunday.
    Mario Tama
    /
    Getty Images
    People stand on a pier over the Pacific Ocean with Hurricane Hilary approaching in San Diego County on Sunday.

    Scientists will need time to determine the role climate change played in Hurricane Hilary's formation and behavior. But humans' use of fossil fuels means that the whole Earth is heating up, and the ocean stores a lot of that heat.

    Hurricanes are more likely to be larger and more powerful when they form over hotter ocean water. That's because hot ocean water is a sort of fuel, an energy source for hurricanes.

    The ocean is a lot warmer than usual this summer. Forty percent of the world’s oceans are experiencing heat waves right now, according to federal researchers, in part due to a natural climate pattern called El Nino and human-caused climate change.

    Part of the ocean that Hurricane Hilary formed over is around Baja California, Mexico, in the Pacific. Temperature anomalies there are part of what’s been fueling this storm, says UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.

    "The ocean temperatures off the coast of Baja California are much warmer than usual right now," Swain says, "As much as 3 to 6 Fahrenheit — that’s a pretty significant increment of additional hurricane fuel."

    Three more tropical storms are churning over the Atlantic today

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 11:05 AM EDT
    The Atlantic Ocean has suddenly become very active with multiple storms that meteorologists are watching.
    National Weather Service

    It's not just Hilary: Three tropical storms are churning over the Atlantic Ocean at the moment, with a fourth looking possible in the Gulf of Mexico amid a spate of thunderstorms.

    Tropical storm Franklin, currently in the Caribbean Sea, is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rainfall to Puerto Rico throughout the middle of the week. Two other storms — Emily and Gert — are moving through the open Atlantic and don't appear poised to make landfall.

    We still haven't reached the peak of what's expected to be an above-average hurricane season. In a mid-season forecast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted we'd see 14 to 21 named storms and six to 11 hurricanes, both predictions up substantially from the original season forecast released in May.

    Colorado State University and Accuweather also pushed their forecast warnings up a notch, estimating an above-average season.

    The average season runs from June to the end of November, with the peak falling in mid-September.

    Stay out of the ocean until Thursday, LA County warns

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 10:47 AM EDT
    People stand on a sand berm at Belmont Shore Beach in Long Beach, California on Sunday.
    Justin Sullivan
    /
    Getty Images
    People stand on a sand berm at Belmont Shore Beach in Long Beach, Calif., on Sunday.

    Attention, LA would-be beachgoers: As tempted as you may be to get back to surfing and swimming, avoid going in the ocean for a few more days.

    Public health officials have issued an Ocean Water Quality Rain Advisory for all Los Angeles County beaches until at least 9 a.m. on Thursday.

    "Beach users should avoid water contact for at least 72 hours after significant rainfall," they said.

    This kind of advisory is issued when there is significant rainfall that may cause bacteria levels in ocean waters to increase, the county explains.

    Bacteria levels can increase during and after rainstorms — and remain elevated for up to three days — as runoff brings contaminants into the ocean. And that can cause illness, especially in children and elderly people.

    State beaches in Orange and San Diego counties are closed through Monday, LAist reports.

    Flash flood warnings have been extended for several cities

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 10:24 AM EDT

    Storm Hilary, now a post-tropical cyclone, is heading towards Nevada, but the National Weather Service says the risk for flash flooding in parts of Southern California remains strong.

    The NWS extended its emergency warnings for the cities of Los Angeles, Glendale and Santa Clarita, keeping them in effect until 8 a.m. PDT, as a band of rain swept over the San Gabriel mountains and West Hollywood.

    The agency has also issued warnings for Clark County, Nevada, which is home to Las Vegas, and to the nearby Owens Valley and Spring Mountains area, but the last of them was lifted at 6:30 a.m. PDT.

    How to drive safely in the rain (if you absolutely have to)

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 10:01 AM EDT
    Cars drive through a flooded intersection as tropical storm Hilary moves through San Bernardino on Sunday.
    Justin Sullivan
    /
    Getty Images
    Cars drive through a flooded intersection as Tropical Storm Hilary moves through San Bernardino on Sunday.

    Tropical storms in California may be rare, but climate change may make them more frequent — and it's always good to know what to do in case you find yourself in a torrential downpour, on the West Coast, or really, anywhere.

    Luckily, the crew at member station LAist has compiled a list of tips for driving safely in the rain there (or wherever you may be). Check it out here.

    Some highlights:

    • Check your car proactively to make sure your tires, wiper blades and lights are all in good shape.
    • Plan ahead and leave early to give yourself time to get to your destination. Apps like Google Maps and Waze can help you find the best route.
    • Turn on your headlights — it's law in California and other states to have them on while using your windshield wipers.
    • Slow down, ideally 5-10 mph below the speed limit, in wet conditions. Leave more space between your car and the one ahead of you, and don't slam on the brakes.
    • If you skid, don't panic. Continue steering the car in the direction you want it to go, and apply the brakes with light pressure.
    • Don't drive through standing water. As the slogan goes: "Turn around, don't drown."

    See the flooding and mudslides for yourself

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 9:35 AM EDT
    A street is covered in mud as Tropical Storm Hilary makes landfall in Ensenada, Mexico on Sunday.
    Wally Skalij
    /
    Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
    A street is covered in mud as Tropical Storm Hilary makes landfall in Ensenada, Mexico, on Sunday.

    Hilary broke multiple rainfall records across Southern California on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. The heavy rains flooded streets, overflowed rivers and even triggered a rockslide on the interstate.

    Photographers across the area captured scenes of submerged cars, downed trees, mudslides and rising waters. Take a look at some of them here.

    A car is partially submerged in floodwaters as Tropical Storm Hilary moves through Cathedral City, California on Sunday.
    Mario Tama
    /
    Getty Images
    A car is partially submerged in floodwaters as Tropical Storm Hilary moves through Cathedral City, Calif., on Sunday.

    Schools postpone their first days back from summer vacation due to storm hazards

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 9:22 AM EDT
    A child plays in the rain on Sunday in Los Angeles. Schools in LA and other Southern California districts were closed Monday.
    Ryan Sun
    /
    AP
    A child plays in the rain on Sunday in Los Angeles. Schools in LA and other Southern California districts were closed Monday.

    The Los Angeles Unified School District has closed all campuses and after-school programs for the day, according to a news release.

    The district said the "unique, unprecedented nature" of the storm brought "imminent and major safety hazards" to local transportation routes, and did not allow staff enough time to adequately inspect facilities before school opening times. School is expected to resume on Tuesday.

    Districts in San Diego, Pasadena and Coachella Valley were also closed as of Monday, collectively impacting over half a million students — including some who were anticipating their first day back after summer vacation.

    The storm disrupted lives, though less than officials had feared

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 9:09 AM EDT
    Tents and belongings of unhoused people are seen near the rushing water of the Los Angeles River, near Griffith Park in Los Angeles on Sunday.
    Robyn Beck
    /
    AFP via Getty Images
    Tents and belongings of unhoused people are seen near the rushing water of the Los Angeles River, near Griffith Park in Los Angeles, on Sunday.

    Hilary didn't bring the widespread threat to life that officials had been warning about — at least in part because many people appear to have heeded those warnings.

    "It seems like the public largely heard the message to prepare ahead of time and stay home, which helped a lot," LAist reporter Erin Stone toldMorning Edition. "So that old adage 'better safe than sorry' seems to have been the wisdom of the weekend."

    Stone added that the worst of the storm was "largely within what governments and emergency responders had expected and prepared for, and there really haven't been widespread threats to life."

    But emergency responders did have to rescue and evacuate dozens of people, including from a mobile home park in the Coachella Valley and a homeless encampment along the San Diego River.

    An estimated 75,000 LA County residents don't have access to a permanent home or shelter, and advocates say they are at an exponentially higher risk of being injured or killed by floodwaters, falling debris and hypothermia.

    City and county officials in Los Angeles activated their emergency response to notify and relocate unhoused people to safer locations ahead of the storm, local media reports.

    While California officials haven't reported any fatalities as of Monday morning Eastern time, Mexican authorities have linked one death to the storm. The mayor of Santa Rosalía said one person died after a family's vehicle was swept away on Saturday night, the New York Timesreports.

    One Rancho Mirage hospital is flooded and running on a backup generator

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 8:58 AM EDT
    A city employee retrieves a propane tank from a flooded bridge in Rancho Mirage, east of Los Angeles. Edison
    Josh Edelson
    /
    AFP via Getty Images
    A city employee retrieves a propane tank from a flooded bridge in Rancho Mirage, east of Los Angeles. Eisenhower hospital in Rancho Mirage reported flooding and is running on a backup generator.

    Areas to the east and south of Los Angeles are dealing with the impact of flash floods this morning. The Eisenhower hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif., is one place that's reporting damage.

    An employee told NPR's Julia Simon that the ambulance bay was flooded on Sunday evening and that crews are trying to remove water that entered the emergency department.

    The hospital is running on a backup generator, but no patient care has been impacted, Eisenhower wrote in a statement shared on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

    911 lines are down in 3 cities

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 8:42 AM EDT
    A vehicle drives through a flooded road in Palm Springs, Calif., where 911 services are currently offline.
    Mario Tama
    /
    Getty Images
    A vehicle drives through a flooded road in Palm Springs, Calif., where 911 services are currently offline.

    Three California cities — Cathedral City, Indio and Palm Springs — all reported downed 911 lines on Sunday evening due to damage from the storm. The lines for all three locations appeared to remain down as of Monday morning, according to social media accounts for local emergency responders.

    In Palm Springs, a news release urged residents to call nonemergency lines or text the 911 number to reach the nearest fire or police station. The city declared a local emergency on Sunday after flooding washed out roads and closed the area's major freeway, the I-10, in both directions.

    Call it a 'Hurriquake': A magnitude 5.1 earthquake shook Southern California as Hilary approached

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 8:15 AM EDT

    Just as Tropical Storm Hilary was making landfall in Southern California, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck the area, prompting locals to marvel at the confluence of a highly usual natural disaster with an all-too-familiar one. The term "hurriquake" set off on social media.

    The earthquake's epicenter was registered along the Sisar fault in Ojai, which is located between Santa Barbara and Ventura, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The Ventura County Sheriff's Office and Los Angeles Fire Department both reported no immediate damage or injuries.

    Residents could feel a slow rolling motion as far away as Valencia (50 miles from the quake's epicenter), according to a USGS self-reporting tool.

    Geologists predict a 10% chance of one or more aftershocks larger than magnitude 5 in the next week. As of Monday morning, the area had experienced 13 aftershocks of a magnitude 3 or higher, which were strong enough to be felt nearby.

    Utility CEO says fewer than 20,000 people without power in California

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 7:56 AM EDT
    TOPSHOT - A road is washed out as Tropical Storm Hilary heads north into Palm Springs, Calif. on Sunday.
    David Swanson
    /
    AFP via Getty Images
    A road is washed out as Tropical Storm Hilary heads north into Palm Springs, Calif., on Sunday.

    According to poweroutage.us, a total of 57,100 homes and businesses were without power on Monday morning, as of 4:30 a.m. PDT.

    But in a sign of the state's colliding natural disasters, over 12,000 of those outages were coming from Del Norte County, in the Northwest corner of the state, an area where the storm had not yet reached. The power lines had been shut off in an attempt to minimize the impact of an approaching wildfire, local news outlets reported.

    Fewer than 20,000 customers were still without power due to the storm and its impact in Southern California, according to Steve Powell, the president and CEO of Edison Power.

    In an interview with CNN, Powell said crews rushing to restore the power were hoping they've "seen the worst of it."

    "Our crews are out working right now. Over the weekend, we've already restored nearly 400,000 customers with power. They'll work in the rain. They will only work if it's safe to do so. If there's heavy flooding, they'll assess the conditions," he said.

    The latest forecast warns of 'catastrophic' flood risks as rainfall breaks historic records

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 7:40 AM EDT
    Cars sit submerged in floodwaters on the Golden State Freeway as tropical storm Hilary moves through the area on Sunday in Sun Valley, Calif.
    Justin Sullivan
    /
    Getty Images
    Cars sit submerged in floodwaters on the Golden State Freeway as tropical storm Hilary moves through the area on Sunday in Sun Valley, Calif.

    Hilary may have been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone this morning, but the National Hurricane Center is still warning it will bring "life-threatening and locally catastrophic flooding" to portions of the Southwest.

    The storm is expected to produce wind speeds of nearly 35 mph and about 2 to 4 additional inches of rainfall today, pushing some "isolated total storm total amounts" to 12 inches, according to the center's latest bulletin.

    Yesterday's rainfall broke daily records, especially in Los Angeles County. The local National Weather Service office shared what it described as "impressive" totals, including over 7 inches in the conservation area of Lewis Ranch.

    As of 2 a.m. PDT, the center of the storm was located just over Fullerton and moving north at a speed of 29 mph. "This general motion is expected to continue today," forecasters wrote.

    Millions under risk of life-threatening floods as of Monday morning

    Posted August 21, 2023 at 7:21 AM EDT
    A vehicle drives through a flooded intersection as tropical storm Hilary makes landfall in Palm Springs, Calif., on Sunday.
    Josh Edelson
    /
    AFP via Getty Images
    A vehicle drives through a flooded intersection as tropical storm Hilary makes landfall in Palm Springs, Calif., on Sunday.

    Hilary, the first tropical storm to hit southern California in over 80 years, dropped as much as 7 inches of rainwater in some mountain regions and up to 4 inches in lower-lying areas as it moved across the state on Monday.

    Early Monday, officials reclassified the storm as a post-tropical cyclone.

    The storm traveled from northern Baja California in Mexico into the United States, drenching California along the coast, in the mountains and in the Coachella Valley, home to the desert city of Palm Springs.

    The National Weather Service cautioned that heavy rain had passed in some areas, such as Ventura County, but lighter rain still posed potentially deadly threats. Just after midnight, it reported that rain was falling at 0.5 to 1 inch per hour in the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles, and that rock and mudslides were occurring.

    The center of the storm is expected to travel north through Nevada today. Officials in Las Vegas warned of wind gusts of up to 75 mph. Flash flood warnings will remain in effect there until 6:30 a.m. PDT.