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Hurricane Hilary Forecast To Hit L.A. Sunday With Tropical Storm-Force Wind, Rain & Big Waves


A former hurricane may, in a rare event, make landfall in Los Angeles this weekend with tropical-storm-force winds (39–73 mph) and significant rainfall. The present Caribbean Storm By Thursday at noon, storm Hilary off the coast of Mainland Mexico is expected to intensify into a major storm (Cat 3 or higher) by Saturday at midnight.

By 1 p.m. Sunday, Hilary is anticipated to weaken into a hurricane before making landfall as a tropical storm in Southern California, possibly near Los Angeles.

The Long Beach tropical storm, which made landfall at San Pedro in 1939, is the only known full-blown tropical cyclone to have struck the coast of California. No hurricane-force tropical cyclone has ever been observed making landfall in California.

These storms are typically avoided by Southern California due to two factors: upper-level steering winds in the eastern Pacific and colder sea surface temperatures, which deplete the storms’ fuel. The El Nio phenomenon this year has resulted in significantly greater ocean temperatures than usual; today, the sea in Malibu registered 70 degrees. The warmest coastal ocean temperatures Los Angeles typically experiences in the summer are 67 or 68 degrees.

Even still, four days in advance is a challenging time to anticipate a hurricane’s path. According to the most recent forecast from the National Weather Service, “There remains a very large spread in the ultimate track so this remains a very low confidence forecast in terms of the track as well as the impacts.” Having said that, almost all of the members of the GEFS ensemble predict moderate to heavy rainfall, especially in the area south of Pt. Conception.

According to the NWS, there will likely be a significant accumulation of rain in Southern California this summer, with “several solutions at or above 2.5′′ and as high as 2.9.” So there is definitely a higher chance of a highly unusual rain event. Currently, a 1- to 2-inch area-wide total of rain is officially predicted for Sunday through Tuesday, but the actual track might result in significantly greater (or lower) totals.

There may also be lightning, which might increase the risk of a fire if it occurs with wind but no rain.

In terms of waves, the NWS indicates Hilary “will bring the potential for hazardous marine conditions to all coastal waters starting this Sunday. While any wind/weather impacts from these systems over the local area are highly uncertain, long- period, steep, southerly swells and high surf will be possible during the upcoming weekend and beyond.”

Waves of 4-5 feet are expected in Northern Los Angeles County and 6-8 feet in Northern Orange County, according to surf forecaster Surfline. However, should the storm hew closer to the Baja California coast or if it were to move out further into the swell window, those projections may drastically change within a day. In fact, on Wednesday, Surfline predicted 15-20′ surf in Northern Los Angeles, which would be unusual for the area in the summer.

This is the NWS Los Angeles forecast for today:

Tropical storm Hilary is official now and expected to continue strengthening over the next couple days. The official track has it moving northwest, roughly parallel to the coast of Mexico, then west of the southern tip Baja Saturday morning.

There remains a very large spread in the ultimate track so this remains a very low confidence forecast in terms of the track as well as the impacts. However, having said that, virtually all the GEFS ensemble members show moderate to heavy rain amounts, especially south of Pt Conception.

The EPS is not far behind that now as the last few solutions have trended more towards the more northerly GEFS. The mean PW from both ensemble systems is now right at 2″ with several solutions at or above 2.5″ and as high as 2.9″. So the probability of a very anomalous rain event is certainly increasing.

The official rain total forecast currently is around 1-2″ area-wide Sunday through Tuesday but with the potential for much higher (or lower) amounts depending on the actual track.

The potential exists for isolated flooding and residents, particularly near burn scars should monitor the situation closely. The most likely period for the heaviest rain is later Sunday into Monday, though again the speed and track of the storm will impact the timing and rain intensity.

There is a chance for occasionally gusty gusts given the current projected trajectory. Though more recent estimates have slightly backed off that prediction, earlier runs suggested as much as 8-9mb offshore LAX DAG gradient Sunday and Sunday night ahead to the storm’s approach.

It will likely take a few more days before there is much confidence in the forecast for a “wet” Santa Ana wind storm with gusty northeast winds on Sunday in the typical locations spanning L.A. and Ventura counties.

This weekend’s increase in south-to-southwest swells, which may be strong enough to cause serious problems at south-facing harbors like Avalon and Long Beach and even as far north as Morro Bay and Port San Luis along the Central Coast, will also have an impact.

Although the storm is now predicted to leave the region by Tuesday, persistent southeast flow aloft will maintain at least a probability of showers through the end of the following week.

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