"Hurricane" Hilary Turns California From Stained-Glass Perfection To Wild, Windswept Mess In A Matter Of Seconds - Stab Mag
Hilary lost steam as she approached Orange County, but still sent waves and heavy rain to the region. Photo: Newsweek

“Hurricane” Hilary Turns California From Stained-Glass Perfection To Wild, Windswept Mess In A Matter Of Seconds

Was it worth the hype?

elsewhere // Aug 22, 2023
Words by Christian Bowcutt
Reading Time: 2 minutes
“Hurricane” Hilary gets downgraded, rage-summons earthquake.

It was stressful to be a surfer in California yesterday.

Here’s what happens every time a SSE “hurricane swell” hits Southern California:

Surf group chats become meteorological data aggregators, everyone debates which favorite nook or cranny might rear its cyclonic head, and then everyone just ends up at Newport.

This time around was a little bit different. The storm generating the swell wasn’t some distant abstraction off the coast of México. It was coming our way — scheduled to be the first hurricane to hit landfall in California since 1939. The last hurricane before that to hit landfall was the deadly 1858 storm, that was “one of the most terrific and violent hurricanes ever noted”, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration paper.

Every checkout conversation at Trader Joes or 7-Eleven was centered on the “hurricane”. The tone wasn’t of fear but of amusement. Californians are obsessed with impending doom — perhaps a vestige of our earthquake drills, “smoke days”, and nuclear fallout pills at school.

But the one-time category 4 hurricane was demoted to post-tropical storm on Sunday morning.

And Saturday night/Sunday morning was the true golden zone for surf in the region. Saturday evening was eerily utopian — complete doldrums in terms of wind, balmy warm temps, fun waves, and the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen caused by the high clouds marching in toward us.

Sunday was disappointing in terms of size but glorious in terms of pockets of groomed, offshore, fun-sized surf to locales who like the SSE.

Inland carnage.

Everything became a little more serious around 6 pm, however. Those of us in the water experienced the wind going from moderate offshore to extremely strong onshore in a matter of seconds, causing a mass exodus out of the water and back to drenched parking lots.

For coastal communities, it was a delightful summer shower. For inland California, things were more serious — flooding, mudslides, road closures, and power outages. So far, no California deaths have been reported. There was one death reported in Mexico, however. The storm is now on its way to Oregon and is forecasted to lose steam as it slowly creeps north.


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