Hurricane Hilary roared towards Mexico’s Baja California peninsula late on Saturday as the downgraded – but still dangerous – category one hurricane is likely to bring “catastrophic” flooding to the region and cross into the south-western US as a tropical storm.
The National Weather Centre in Miami said the maximum sustained wind speed is 145 kilometres per hour, and the storm was about 281km south of Punta Eugenia, Mexico, and 855km from San Diego, California.
Meteorologists warned that despite weakening, the storm remained treacherous.
One person drowned on Saturday in the Mexican town of Santa Rosalia, on the Baja California peninsula’s eastern coast, when a vehicle was swept away in an overflowing stream, AP said.
Rescue workers managed to save four other people, said Edith Aguilar Villavicencio, the mayor of Mulege township.
It was not immediately clear whether officials considered the fatality related to the hurricane, but video posted by local officials showed torrents of water coursing through the town’s streets.
Forecasters said the storm was still expected to enter the history books as the first tropical storm to hit southern California in 84 years, bringing flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds and power cuts.
The forecast prompted authorities to issue an evacuation advisory for Santa Catalina Island, urging residents and beachgoers to leave the tourist destination 37km off the coast.
Elizabeth Adams, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service San Diego office, said rain could fall more than 7cm an hour across southern California's mountains and deserts from late Sunday morning into the afternoon. The intense rainfall during those hours could cause widespread and life-threatening flash floods.
California Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency, and officials had urged people to finish their preparations before sundown on Saturday. It would be too late by Sunday, one expert said.
SpaceX launch delay
The area potentially affected by heavy rainfall could stretch from Bakersfield, California, to Yuma, Arizona, as well as some parts of southern Nevada.
SpaceX announced on Thursday that the hurricane caused a delay in the launch of a satellite carrier rocket from a base on California's central coast until at least Monday.
The company said conditions in the Pacific could make it difficult for a ship to recover the rocket booster.
Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer have rescheduled games planned for Sunday in the region.
In Southern California, an outlook for excessive rainfall stretched from Sunday to Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles weather office.
The Mexican government said a weakened Hilary might hit the coast on Sunday night between the cities of Playas de Rosarito and Ensenada, in Baja California state.
Residents and workers in Cabo San Lucas put up protective boarding, laid sandbags and stored furniture in preparation, as large waves crashed ashore on Saturday.
Navy personnel were seen patrolling the beach in Cabo San Lucas – a popular destination for both Mexican and foreign tourists.
“We are a little scared and trying to stay positive,” Katrina Morgan, a tourist from the US, said.
Regardless of whether Hilary can make it to California, it will set the stage for a plume of moisture streaming north that could lead to heavy rain and flooding starting on Saturday, said Alyson Hoegg, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.