Hurricane Hilary is hurtling toward the Baja California peninsula in Mexico as a weakened, but still dangerous, Category 1 hurricane, forecasters warned early on Sunday.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said that Hilary is expected to lessen to a tropical storm by the time it crosses into the southern U.S., but remain dangerous and will likely bring “catastrophic and life-threatening” flooding to the region.
One man drowned in Santa Rosalia, a town in Baja California, when his vehicle was swept into the sea while he was driving across a stream, The Associated Press reported, citing a local official. Rescue workers saved four other people in the area.
In its most recent advisory, the NHC said the storm was approximately 90 miles south of Punta Eugenia, Mexico, and 450 miles from San Diego, California. The maximum sustained wind speed was 85 mph.
The storm is expected to move closer to the coast of Baja California on Sunday morning before moving across the border into southern California in the afternoon.
Tropical storm watches have been issued for the area from the California-Mexico border to Point Mogul to the west of Los Angeles and for Catalina Island. Los Angeles officials have urged those on the island to evacuate on the Catalina Express ferry service.
Despite weakening, Hilary is still expected to make history as the first tropical storm to hit California since 1939.
“This is actually the first time that tropical storm watches have been issued on the West Coast of the United States,” Elizabeth Adams, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in San Diego, said to The Los Angeles Times.
Adams said that usually when a storm such as this makes its way to the Southwest, it weakens to a depression or storm remnants.
Forecasters warned of flash floods, heavy rainfall, high winds, mudslides and isolated tornadoes. They also expect the storm to cause “life-threatening” surf and rip currents.
“Flash and urban flooding, locally catastrophic, is expected, especially in the northern portions of the peninsula,” the NHC said in its advisory.
San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials issued an evacuation order for areas in the Los Angeles region including Oak Glen, Forest Falls, Mountain Home Village, Angelus Oaks and Northeast Yucaipa on Saturday morning. Orange County issued a voluntary evacuation alert in the area that was hit by the Bond Fire in 2020.
California officials have also warned that there would be power outages as a result of the storm.
The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, proclaimed a state of emergency on Saturday, and urged people to make all preparations for Hilary’s arrival before sundown that day.
“California has thousands of people on the ground working hand-in-hand with federal and local personnel to support communities in Hurricane Hilary’s path with resources, equipment and expertise,” Newsom said in a statement. “We’re mobilizing all of government as we prepare and respond to this unprecedented storm.”
President Joe Biden told reporters at Camp David on Friday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-positioned personnel and supplies in Southern California. He urged those in the path of the storm “to take precautions and listen to the guidance from state and local officials.”
Newsweek has contacted the National Weather Service for comment and updates.