San Diego

San Diego Leaders say luck and preparation minimized Hilary damage and destruction

While some have criticized elected officials and the media for overblowing the potential impacts of Tropical Storm Hilary, officials on Monday said the region's preparedness helped minimize damage.

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Hilary updates

  • City and county leaders Monday thanked San Diegans for taking precautions and staying at home during Tropical Storm Hilary as crews continue to assess damages caused by the storm.
  • San Diego Gas & Electric reported a total of 15,000 customers lost power -- the vast majority of which have had power restored. City and county crews are still assessing downed trees, sinkholes and infrastructure damage, but ultimately it appears disaster was averted.
  • The region's emergency shelter bed usage was 72%, according to San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria.

Hilary continued to weaken as it moved away from San Diego County, but not before drenching the region in inches of rain, causing flash flooding in the mountains and creating powerful winds that downed trees and caused other damage.

That damage could have been worse, according to county authorities, but preparations by the emergency response teams -- like clearing oft-flooded roadways and positioning themselves in the areas that would see the most impact -- helped make Hilary's impacts as minimal as possible.

San Diegans heeded the warnings, which leaders now say played a major role in minimizing damage.

City and county leaders Monday thanked San Diegans for taking precautions and staying at home during Tropical Storm Hilary as crews continue to assess damages caused by the storm.

"We asked the public to stay off the roads for a number of reasons, because they did, we didn’t see the traffic accidents you would have expected, we didn’t see our emergency vehicles being impeded when they're trying to get somewhere. We also saw a number of stores, this is a big commitment by the community, a number of retail stores shut down to allow their employees to be home so it's that public willingness that minimizes it," said Chris Heiser with the Office of Emergency Services. 

The region saw no loss of life caused by the weather, the leaders said Monday.

"I want to again express my appreciation and thanks to our city and county teams for the efforts and preparations over the last several days," Mayor Todd Gloria said. "Because of their hard work, the worst that we feared, never came to pass. Tropical storm Hialry was still a very significant event that still caused damage and flooding, but our crews were positioned well in advance to respond effectively and very quickly."

Crews remained fanned across the county to clear and damage and debris from Hilary, including several downed trees and a massive boulder that was blocking a portion of Interstate 8 in East County.

There were also two roads that remained closed due to overwhelmed pump stations. Those were:

  • Pacific Highway at Barnett
  • Mission Gorge Place

County Supervisor Chair Nora Vargas also thanked the public for doing their part before and during the storm.

"So grateful for every one of you who was able to stay home, continued to stay informed and who made sure that what could have been something really detrimental turned out as best it could," Vargas said. "Because of all of you being prepared, you helped all of us and you helped our residents stay safe and we’re very grateful for you."

The below graphic shows the predicted trajectory of tropical storm Hilary vs. the storm's actual path:

Hilary's track, marked by its location from August 16 to August 20, largely stayed within predictions made by the National Hurricane Center.

Data: National Hurricane Center • Nina Lin / NBC

Gloria said that by staying home, the public allowed crews to focus on the most significant emergencies. Two emergency shelters opened for those who needed them, one in Chula Vista and another in North County.

The county reported more than 50,000 people signed up for Alert San Diego to stay informed on the latest updates, Vargas said. About 33,000 people downloaded the county's app and 211 answered more than 9,000 calls from people asking for resources in preparation for the storm.

County response teams also released water from reservoirs to prevent flooding. There were no issues reported, the county said.

The county's inclement weather shelter program was also initiated to protect San Diego's unhoused population from the elements. Gloria said the shelters were not fully occupied Saturday or Sunday night. There were about 110 beds available Monday night at various shelters in San Diego, according to the San Diego Housing Comission.

Now a post-tropical depression, the remnants of Hilary continued to track north where more heavy rain, gusty winds and thunderstorms were possible. In San Diego County, the storm had passed. Showers and thunderstorms may linger in the mountains and deserts through the afternoon but the rest of the county should stay dry, NBC 7 Meteorologist Sheena Parveen said.

"That tropical storm that moved through yesterday is way to our north. It's pretty much dying out here," Parveen said. "So you can see what's leftover, a lot of rain continuing to head north but we, though, are actually going to be drying out as we head through today."

The storm first made landfall in Mexico’s arid Baja California Peninsula on Sunday south of Ensenada. One person drowned. It then moved through mudslide-prone Tijuana, threatening the improvised homes that cling to hillsides just south of the U.S. border.

NBC 7's sister station Telemundo 20 has been tracking Hilary's effects on Baja California.

See how Hilary is affecting Baja California, Mexico, from our sister station Telemundo 20 here.

By the time Hilary reached San Diego County late Sunday afternoon, it was a powerful tropical storm -- the first for the region in 84 years. The tropical storm made Sunday the wettest August day on record for San Diego with 1.82 inches of rain. The previous record was 1.80 inches on Aug. 17, 1977, when post-hurricane Doreen drenched San Diego.

Some areas saw more rainfall in one day than they had for the entire month of August, including Escondido with 2.66 inches, Vista with 2.12 inches and Cuyamaca with 4.11 inches, the NWS said.

Also setting a record with the San Diego River at Fashion Valley, which crested at 9.87 feet overnight and was starting to fall. The crest is nowhere near a record but it is for the summer, the National Weather Service said. The previous highest crest was 8.88 feet on July 20, 2015.

Rescuers pulled 13 people from the flooded river on Sunday. The individuals were stuck on an island of the river and swift water rescue teams had to pull them out individually.

NBC 7’s Joe Little shows us how powerful winds toppled trees in Julian.

Sustained winds in the 20-35 mph range also knocked down trees and possibly power lines. SDG&E at its peak reported 16,000 people without power in unplanned outages across the county.

Hilary will bring up life-threatening surf and rip currents, affecting parts of the Baja California Peninsula and SoCal into Monday and possibly Tuesday.

The Red Cross opened overnight storm shelters in San Marcos and Chula Vista for people who were forced from their homes. The shelters have food and will accommodate for pets, children, seniors and those with disabilities.

  • Corky Smith Gymnasium: 274 Pico Avenue, San Marcos, CA 92069
  • Southwestern College Jaguar Aquatics Wellness and Sports: 900 Otay Lakes Road, Chula Vista, CA 91910

A flash flood watch remained in effect for the mountains and deserts early Monday but was terminated by the afternoon. Drivers should also be on the lookout for mud or rockslides or flooding.

A beach hazards statement warning of dangerous swimming and surfing conditions was in effect. Strong rip currents and breaking waves of 2 to 5 feet were expected until at least noon.

Tropical storm Hilary had large rocks come tumbling down on a highway at the Imperial County line on Sunday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for much of Southern California ahead of Hurricane Hilary's projected landfall.

Newsom activated the State Operations Center at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), focusing on positioning emergency resources, maintaining road safety, protecting vulnerable communities, coordinating with private sector retailers like Target, and closing state parks and beaches.

“He assured me that the state of California is watching and monitoring the storm closely and that the full weight of our state government will be here to support our city before, during and after this event,” Gloria said.

Following Newsom's steps, San Diego County officials proclaimed a local emergency in response to Hilary on Saturday around 9:30 p.m. The proclamation allows county officials to use "all available resources, actions and measures deemed necessary" to protect residents.

Cal OES and FEMA say their priority is getting people ready for what's ahead. NBC 7's Dana Williams reports on Aug. 19, 2023.

City News Service also contributed to this report.

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