MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Category 4 Hurricane Hilary hurtled towards Mexico’s Baja California peninsula on Friday, a U.S. government agency said, as it issued its first ever tropical storm watch for California and warned of life-threatening and possibly catastrophic floods.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) expects the powerful storm to near Mexico’s popular Cabo San Lucas resort city by late on Friday, though it should weaken before hitting the U.S. West Coast this weekend, nevertheless bringing dangerous rains.
“Life-threatening and potentially catastrophic flooding are likely over much of Baja California and Southern California this weekend and early next week,” the Miami-based agency said in its latest advisory.
Mexico’s Baja California peninsula spans two states.
The northernmost one canceled non-essential public activities on Friday, including school classes through Monday, and authorities in Mexico’s second-largest city, Tijuana, urged people in high-risk zones to move to temporary shelters.
In the peninsula’s southern state, authorities postponed a local baseball match and said ports would be closed through late Friday.
“Without being alarmist, we must all take precautions and stock up on water and basic necessities at home, without resorting to panic buying,” the state’s governor said.
NHC Deputy Director Jamie Rhome warned of flood risks from San Diego to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, with particularly high risks around the Palm Springs area.
“If you’ve got weekend plans, it’s probably time to start altering those plans,” he said. Major League Baseball moved up a trio of Sunday games in Southern California to Saturday.
Though cold waters off California’s coastline usually weaken incoming storms, Rhome said “this system is expected to hold onto to its strength because it will be moving fast.”
Hilary was moving west-northwest at nearly 12 miles per hour (19 kph), packing maximum sustained winds of nearly 130 mph (215 kph), after being upgraded to a Category 4 overnight, it said.
Rhome said California and southern Nevada faced risks from severe flooding caused by up to 10 inches (25.4 cm) of rainfall, while the agency warned a storm surge could cause coastal flooding and destructive waves along Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), this is the first time in its records that a high risk warning has been issued for California’s south-easterly desert regions.
Heavy rains are expected to hit California, Nevada and neighboring Arizona following a record-breaking summer heat wave.
Phoenix, Arizona, endured a month-long stretch of temperatures exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit, (43°C) throughout July, according to NWS, trapped under “heat dome” of stagnant air.
In California’s Death Valley desert, temperatures hit 128 Fahrenheit (53 C) in mid-July, among the highest temperatures recorded on Earth in the past 90 years, while tens of millions of Americans were put under heat alerts.
(Reporting by Valentine Hilaire, Sarah Morland, Brendan O’Boyle and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, Rich Mckay in Atlanta, Timothy Ahmann in Washington, and Frank McGurty and Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Aurora Ellis and Sandra Maler)