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Mountains and deserts forecast to get 5-7 inches of rain, with winds up to 60 mph

By Miriam Raftery

August 17, 2023 (San Diego’s East County) – Hurricane Hilary is barreling toward San DIego County, slated to hit this weekend.

“The storm is going inland, so the strongest winds will be in the mountains,” meteorologist Miguel Miller with the National Weather Service in San Diego told  East County Magazine. “The rainfall, flood potential and winds are actually going to be stronger the more east you go. This will be a really wet and windy storm.”

Currently a category 2 hurricane, Hilary could be upgraded to a category 4 by the time it hits Baja, Mexico, though it will likely be downgraded to a tropical storm once it reaches San Diego County. However, the impacts will still pack a wallop, with thunderstorms, very heavy rains and flooding likely --with the worst in inland areas.

Desert areas are forecast to be soaked with 5-7 inches of rain, with 5-7 inches in the mountains, 2.5 inches in Alpine, and 1.75 inches in El Cajon from Saturday through Monday. The worst of the storm is expected to peak on Sunday.

Wind gusts of 40 to 60 miles per hour are expected in the mountains, with 30 to 50 mph winds on the desert floor. West of the mountains, 30 to 40 mph winds are forecast. High surf will occur along the coast.

This isn’t the first time a hurricane has hit our region.

Back in September 1976,  Hurricane Kathleen had a similar trajectory. Designate a tropical cyclone by the time it reached our region, it as ECM previously reported on an anniversary of that storm, it caused massive flooding and destruction.

Hurricane Kathleen dropped a foot of water on Mt. Laguna and sent a wall of water 10 feet high and 40 feet wide through the town of Ocotillo in Valley, destroying over 70% of the town. Another massive wave swept through Jacumba. The powerful storm killed 13 people in California and Mexico. It also washed out Interstate 8, crumbling the freeway. It destroyed a bridge at Meyer Creek, where a 600 foot wide section of the freeway was wiped out leaving a gully in its place some 35 to 40 feet deep. (Photo, right, by a CalTrans worker) Hundreds of homes were destroyed across the region by the storm, which caused $160 million in damage, ranking as one of the worst storms in California history.

Flooding and mudslides destroyed 3 bridges on the San Diego-Arizona Eastern Railway, ultimately leading to abandonment of the railraoad line.  It smashed airplanes at desert airports and turned one plane on its nose in Yuma. One Salton Sea resort area, Bombay Beach, was completely underwater.  Most of the 14 cities in Imperial County were utterly inundated. All routes out of Imperial County except for State Route 111 were shut down at one time.80 families were left homeless in Mexicali and roofs blew off homes 600 miles south of San Diego. 

Could similar damage occur again with Hurricane Hilary locally this weekend?

Miller told  ECM,  “That’s definitely on the table as a possibility.”

Residents are advised to take these precautions:

  • Take down items that could blow away and cause damage, such as patio umbrellas and patio furniture
  • Fix drainage issues on your property
  • Avoid driving if possible, especially in mountains and deserts
  • Be prepared for power outages and in low-lying areas, flash flood
  • Avoid boating,surfing, or swimming in coastal waters during this storm


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