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Hurricane Hilary is expected to make landfall in Southern California today


We'll start this hour in Southern California, where Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of Tropical Storm Hilary making landfall. It was downgraded earlier today from a Category 1 hurricane. Saul Gonzalez with member station KQED joins us now from San Diego. Welcome to the program, Saul.


RASCOE: First, what's going on out there? Like, has the brunt of the storm arrived yet?

GONZALEZ: Well, no, not yet. The full brunt of the storm is expected to strike Southern California later today, with the center reaching where I am in San Diego sometime in the mid-to-late afternoon. The most recent tracking puts the storm on a northeasterly course, taking it over inland mountain areas and out toward Palm Springs and the Mojave.

RASCOE: We can't emphasize enough just how unusual a weather event this is for California, right? This doesn't happen.

GONZALEZ: That's right. In technical terms, it's just bizarre. Now, California is no stranger to natural disasters - right? - like earthquakes and wildfires. And we've had other big storms but not anything that relates to a hurricane - at least not in recent times. That's the kind of disasters we usually see on TV as they hit the Eastern Seaboard or the Gulf Coast. Actually, Hilary has prompted the National Weather Service to issue its very first tropical storm warning for the West Coast of the U.S. Meteorologists say the last time a storm like this of this power hit Southern California was way back in 1939.

RASCOE: What kind of conditions is the storm expected to bring?

GONZALEZ: Well, you know, no surprise - lots of wind and lots of rain, right? Although the storm has lost some punch, forecasters say we could still see sustained wind speeds of up to 35 to 45 mph along the coast but much higher in inland areas. As for rain, several inches are expected to drop across the region today and into tomorrow. The biggest rainfall totals are expected in mountain areas and out in the Mojave. There, meteorologists say we could see more rain in a single day then usually falls all year.

RASCOE: And what are Southern Californians doing to prepare for the storm?

GONZALEZ: Well, they're heading to their supermarkets - right? - to buy food and water. Another item that's in big demand are sandbags, but some distribution sites have run out of both bags and sand. That was the case at one sandbag site in the San Diego County community of Encinitas late yesterday. I was there, and I met local resident Vic Sellers (ph), who drove up with her husband and kids.

VIC SELLERS: Well, we were up in Orange County for a family event, and we're on our way home and looking for sandbags just to prepare ourselves for the hurricane.

GONZALEZ: And you came here, and...


GONZALEZ: ...No sandbags.

SELLERS: No sandbags. So I guess we're going to go home. We've already done our grocery shopping to make sure that we have nonperishable items - you know, got our flashlights and everything ready, but sandbags was last on our list.

GONZALEZ: Now, like so many other Southern Californians, Sellers hopes the preparations she's made will be enough to get her through this historic storm.

RASCOE: What kind of precautions are authorities taking?

GONZALEZ: Well, so many. Roads have been closed or will be closed in areas that are prone to flooding. Authorities are issuing evacuation warnings for residential areas that might see flash flooding, especially in hillside neighborhoods scarred by recent wildfires. Many schools will be closed for in-person classroom instruction tomorrow. And here in San Diego, even the U.S. Navy is taking action, sending warships that were docked out into the open ocean to ride out the storm there.

RASCOE: We've been talking to Saul Gonzalez of KQED, who joins us from San Diego. Thank you, Saul. And please stay safe.

GONZALEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Saul Gonzalez