Out of the fire and into the flood
Just two years ago, the state of California suffered a record number of wildfires, the hottest summer in its history, and severe drought. In 2023, it’s facing the opposite: a deluge of rain and flooding from the first tropical storm to slam the state in 84 years.
Tropical Storm Hilary made landfall Sunday afternoon in the Baja California peninsula of Mexico, leaving a trail of devastation and killing at least one. A man drowned when a car was swept away by floodwaters in the town of Santa Rosalia; four other people were saved.
Despite being downgraded from a category 4 hurricane, Hilary still posed a risk of “life-threatening” floods. Californians were taking it seriously: Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the southern part of the state, airlines canceled 1,000 flights, and even the actors’ strike was paused.
Up to nine million people from San Diego to Los Angeles were on alert for the storm's high winds and flooding, with some areas getting more than half a year's worth of rainfall in just one day. (For context, the average August rainfall in southern California is zero.) A 5.1-magnitude earthquake also struck Sunday afternoon near Ojai, about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles. By early Monday, the storm had toppled trees and caused landslides around San Diego, and 65,000 Californians were without power.
Then there’s the political fallout. US President Joe Biden was already criticized for his “no comment” remarks when asked about the devastating fires in Maui last week, and for not cutting short his vacation in Delaware as the tragedy unfolded. While he was on the phone daily with officials and issued a written statement of condolence early on, he only made his first public remarks about the fires five days later. He is scheduled to visit the Aloha state on Monday.This time, Biden issued a statement on Tropical Storm Hilary as it hit Sunday afternoon. “As soon as [the storm’s] path became clear, my Administration took immediate action to prepare,” it read. Biden’s support included deploying federal personnel and supplies and prepositioning Coast Guard aircraft for rapid response and search-and-rescue missions. We will be watching to see whether Californians think he’s done enough.