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Hurricane Hilary will likely be a tropical storm by the time it hits Baja California


Hurricane Hillary continues to march towards Baja, Calif., and people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are getting ready for projected heavy rains and flooding. Joining us now is Erik Anderson, the environment reporter at member station KPBS in San Diego. Hi, Erik.


CHANG: OK. So forecasters are saying that Hillary will likely lose hurricane status and be characterized as a tropical storm as it moves closer to the coast. But, I mean, either way, this is pretty unusual for us here in Southern California, right?

ANDERSON: Yeah, it really is. It's something that, in fact, has not happened in 165 years. The last time a hurricane hit San Diego, the center of the storm actually entered San Diego County was in 1858.


ANDERSON: And the - yeah. And there have only been a handful of named storms that have done the same. These are storms that, you know, originated in the tropical areas of the Pacific and then moved north into the San Diego region. It's only happened a couple of times. And I learned that from Alex Tardy, who's a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office here in San Diego.

ALEX TARDY: 1976, Kathleen; 1977, Doreen; 1997, Nora. So there's not many that we can look back historically that even have a forecast coming right at us.

ANDERSON: There was one storm back in 1939. It was a storm that held its tropical storm strength until it got to San Diego. But really, that's it. So it's pretty unusual for this region.

CHANG: OK. Well, give us the latest on this storm. Like, when are forecasters expecting Hillary to make landfall? And does San Diego expect to see some - when does San Diego expect to see some impacts from the storm?

ANDERSON: Yeah, San Diego is expecting impacts. What National Weather Service forecasters are telling us is that as the storm tracks north, it's probably going to - the center of the storm will probably hit San Diego sometime either late on Sunday or early on Monday morning.


ANDERSON: A couple of things could happen, though, in the meantime, right? The storm could hit land well before it gets to San Diego and hit the Baja California Peninsula. And if that happens, it could really sap a lot of the strength of the storm, or it could continue to skirt up over the ocean and then move inland in San Diego. That's what forecasters are really trying to figure out right now. But either way, they do expect it to bring a lot of heavy rain, and they expect it to bring a lot of strong winds.

CHANG: Right. And at the moment, it sounds like there are real concerns for the storm's impact on Tijuana, which hasn't experienced a hurricane in decades, right?

ANDERSON: Yeah. And the problem with Tijuana is it's a city that grew super-fast. It kind of outstripped the ability of its municipal officials to kind of keep up. And it's a city that's built on a hillside, and there are lots of canyons there, and there are houses built on those canyons. So if heavy rains fall, that increases the chances of a mudslide. We do know, based on past experience, that when there have been big storms, either in the winter or storms like these monsoonal storms, that has caused more problems in Tijuana than in San Diego. They have been deadlier in Tijuana than they are in San Diego.

CHANG: OK. And in just about the 30 seconds we have left, how prepared do you think people are in Southern California given how rare it is for tropical storms to ever hit the West Coast?

ANDERSON: Surprisingly, I think people are actually prepared because of the preparations they make for dealing with wildfires and earthquakes. Many people have plans in place, and they know what to do if they need to get out of their house.

CHANG: I sure hope so. Erik Anderson is the environment reporter at member station KPBS in San Diego. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Erik Anderson