The Last Tropical Storm to Hit California

Tropical Storm Hilary

California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency on August 19th for a large portion of Southern California. Residents were preparing for Hilary which is expected to cause extreme rain and flooding.

According to NBC News, “Tropical Storm Hilary made landfall Sunday on the Baja California peninsula of Mexico, with “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” expected in the region.”

This is the first hurricane/tropical storm to make it to California since 1939.

September of 1939 was a tough month for California

First Came the Heat Wave

In the middle of September, Californians were dealing with a vicious heat wave that lasted more than seven days. Searing temperatures are blamed for killing at least 90 people.

Then Came the Wind and Rain

The only other known tropical storm to have some sort of impact on California occurred near San Diego in 1858.

The 1939 California tropical storm formed on September 15th and moved into California on or around September 24th. The downgraded hurricane was not named but was often referred to as the “1939 Long Beach tropical storm”, “El Cordonazo” or the “Lash of St. Francis”. The latter two names referring to southerly hurricane winds along the intertropical region.

Making Headlines

Loss of Life

A majority of the estimated 100 person death toll came from ships lost at sea. Flooding and mudslides claimed the rest.

Photos from the Wreckage

Bizarre Headlines from the Storm

Hurricane Hilary is on the Way

As of the writing of this post, Hilary has been downgraded to a Category 3 Hurricane. By the time it reaches California it will likely be a Tropical Storm. While good news, a tropical storm can still produce high winds, heavy amounts of rain in a brief time and flooding.

From the National Hurricane Center

Why so infrequent?

According to, “Usually the cold California current kills storms that approach California,” Jim Kossin, a retired NOAA climate and atmospheric scientist said. Hurricanes in the eastern Pacific grow out of the warm waters generally between Mexico and Hawaii, where trade winds typically push them east to west. That tends to keep them away from the U.S.

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