LOS ANGELES – Tropical Storm Kay brought sizzling temperatures, intense rain and winds topping 100 mph to some parts of Southern California, sparking concerns about coastal flooding and mudslides in fire zones.
The storm system churning along the northern coast of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula is expected to deliver heavy rains, flash flooding, strong winds and muggy conditions through at least Saturday.
Kay was about 200 miles off the coast of San Diego on Friday morning, said Miguel Miller, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s San Diego office. The bureau has issued a flurry of advisories about the impending storm.
“We don’t have any snow blizzard warnings, but that’s about all we don’t have,” Miller said.
Rain was scattered across San Diego County in the morning, and showers were expected to reach Riverside and Orange counties before midday and San Bernardino by the afternoon, the weather service said. Heavy rains with possible thunderstorms could begin Friday afternoon.
So far, San Diego got the biggest hit, with rain and winds up to 109 mph.
Winds gusted from 60 mph to more than 100 mph, stressing power lines and toppling trees from Valley Center to Alpine. Roadways became clogged, and some school districts closed for the day. The top wind speed was clocked at 109 mph at Cuyamaca Peak, about nine miles south of Julian.
But temperatures started to drop before noon. And the winds will soon lose some of their punch. The National Weather Service says that Kay, which was about 140 miles south of San Diego at noon Friday, was about to turn left into the Pacific and fizzle out after an impressive run along the coast of Baja California.
Forecasters say moisture from the storm could still end up dropping about an inch of rain at the coast, twice that amount in the valleys, 3 to 4 inches in Julian, and 5 to 7 inches in the mountains. Mount Laguna has already received 2 inches of precipitation, and juicy clouds were circling into East County on Friday afternoon.
The rain could disrupt or cancel the San Diego Padres’ Friday night home game with their greatest rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The threat of foul weather led singer Alicia Keys to postpone her sold-out Friday night concert at San Diego State University.
Orange County is expected to get about a half-inch of rain, and San Diego County should get about three-quarters of an inch. The mountains in San Diego and Riverside counties are projected to get the most rainfall, with up to 7 inches expected in Riverside County. Shane Reichardt, a spokesperson for the Riverside County’s Emergency Management Department, said that the storm has escalated the potential for a public safety power shutoff. It has also repositioned threats from just fires to include flash flooding.
“When you look at everything that we have, with the heat we’ve had, the power concerns we’ve had, the storm, the potential for public safety shutoffs, that creates a lot of anxiety, it is a lot for the community to keep taking in,” Reichardt said.
The low desert areas, including the Coachella Valley, are also vulnerable. A flash flood watch is in effect for all Southern California mountains, valleys and deserts, meteorologists said. Parts of the desert, including Mount Laguna, Ocotillo and areas near the Imperial Valley, are under a flash flood warning.
Coastal San Diego County, Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains were not under a flash flood watch Friday morning, Miller said.
Tropical Storm Kay’s winds are ramping up, with gusts of 90 to 100 mph expected Friday afternoon and evening. A high-wind warning is in effect until midnight throughout the Inland Empire region, the mountains of Riverside and San Diego counties and the San Diego coast and valleys. Orange County and the San Bernardino mountains and deserts are under a wind advisory. Even coastal and valley areas could see up to 60 mph winds.
“It will be noticeable,” said Elizabeth Schenk, a National Weather Service meteorologist in San Diego. A gale warning was also in effect for coastal waters, with seas as a high as 12 feet. Orange county surf conditions could reach 6-foot waves. Strong currents are expected through at least Sunday.
In National City, Courtney Jones has been tracking Kay on her phone and tapping into her experience of growing up with storms on the East Coast. “I was kind of expecting to wake up and look outside and see the trees bending, and leaves everywhere, loose debris, but when I looked out, all I saw was puddles, and people driving a little more slowly,” Jones, 28, said. She was hoping the rain would alleviate the heat, but the conditions were still unbearable on Friday, what she and her family call “dog breath weather”: hot, muggy and sticky.
Daye Salani zipped out of his house in downtown San Diego without his umbrella and jacket when he left for work Friday morning. If this were any other day of the year, or the middle of winter, Salani would have made sure to bring both items. But not today. “If I leave work and it is pouring, I don’t mind getting soaked,” Salani, said, adding that it’s “been a minute” since it’s bucketed down on him. This is a rare occasion. “I’m inviting it.”
The strong gusts could make the already critical fire situation more dire. Near Hemet, the Fairview fire had exploded to more than 27,000 acres Friday – becoming this year’s largest wildfire – with only 5% containment.
Heather Leer was traveling for work this week and on a layover at the airport in Denver, hoping not to encounter any weather-related disruptions so she could get back to her house in Hemet, located inside the evacuation grid. Her husband, who remained at their home, had not reported any rain Friday morning. But Leer was worried about the winds aggravating the fire and challenging containment efforts. The rain could lead to flash floods and mud slides.
“It is a huge concern,” Leer, 41, said. “We have never seen so many things, one on top of each other, happening that could potentially change our lives forever.”
On Friday, Los Angeles International Airport announced on Twitter that, because of wind conditions, it would shift operations to have aircrafts depart from the east and arrive from the west. There were few delays, with “99% of our schedule on time so far today,” LAX said in the tweet.
The storm is not expected to bring significant rain to Los Angeles County and the surrounding areas, which are likely to stay dry most of Friday, although some rain bursts and thunderstorms could develop by the evening. Meteorologists have issued a flash flood watch for L.A. and Ventura counties, as well as the Antelope Valley. Forecasters are particularly concerned about Catalina Island, which is under a coastal flooding advisory.
Southern California last felt the effects of a tropical storm in 1997, when Tropical Storm Nora caused flooding, power disruptions and traffic crashes, as well as destroyed several homes in Orange County.
Despite the coming rain, excessive heat remained an issue Friday. The temperature in downtown Los Angeles was already at 80 degrees by 9 a.m., said Dave Bruno with the weather service’s Oxnard bureau. Most valley and foothill areas did not drop below 90 overnight.
Storm clouds could prevent record-breaking heat, but temperatures still could reach 100 degrees, even near the coast, forecasters said.
The Inland Empire region and Orange County could reach highs from the upper 90s to triple digits, while San Diego County will likely stay in the low 90s.
But a cooldown is coming. “Today will be the last of the extreme days,” Bruno said.
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