As Hurricane Hilary approaches, Palm Springs braces for direct impact

A person holds an umbrella in front of the "Forever Marilyn" statue
A person holds an umbrella in front of the “Forever Marilyn” statuein Palm Springs, California, on August 19, 2023.
(David Swanson / AFP via Getty Images)
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As gray clouds loomed low over the San Jacinto Mountains, dozens of Palm Spring residents crowded around a pit of sand at City Hall, rushing to fill bags to prep their houses for projected flooding from Hurricane Hilary.

“Since yesterday about 8 a.m., the crowds have been just like this all day. Nonstop,” said Daniel Martinez, the acting deputy director for the Department of Maintenance and Facilities. He pointed to another truck, arriving to dump sand into the pit, where residents stood shoulder to shoulder — arms glistening with sweat from laboring amid the thick, hot air.

“As soon as it gets here, you’ll see the sand disappear,” he said.

An unprecedented tropical storm warning is in effect from the California-Mexico border to Point Mugu and for Catalina Island.

Aug. 20, 2023

Since Friday morning, over 22,000 sandbags have been handed out to residents at local fire stations, said Daniel DeSelms, the city’s emergency management coordinator. By noon Saturday, another 20,000 were on track to arrive. Each household is allotted 10 bags.


DeSelms said the city is preparing for road closures and potential power outages. As residents rush to stores to stock up on food and water and to the sand pit at City Hall, he said he wants to remind everyone that “we’re all going to be in this bad weather together. Human kindness goes a long way.”

Jane Williams, 62, who has been living in a condo in Palm Springs for the past five years, said she’s been seeing “everybody help everybody,” as neighbors rush to beat the rains, projected to hit by Saturday afternoon. Last night, she and three other women stepped in to help an older man shovel for sand.

High winds are creating unprecedented tropical storm conditions but officials emphasize that rain remains the greatest concern in Southern California.

Aug. 18, 2023

“He stood there like, ‘What am I gonna do?’ I mean, how do you have an 80-year-old man in this pit? But we three gals jumped into action.”

In Palm Springs, neighbors expressed concern for the older demographic of retired residents, who might not be as fit to manually prepare for the weather — as well as the community of unhoused people who reside along a wash that is expected to flood.

Since Friday morning, the Police Department has been flying helicopters over the washes, urging unhoused people to move their tents away from the creek and into safety, said Mike Vasadan, a patrol sergeant for the Palm Springs Police Department.

National Weather Service forecasters’ warning of lashing winds, intense rain and harrowing conditions along the beaches prompted Los Angeles County officials to advise people on Catalina Island, particularly those with medical conditions or those who might be in need of help during a natural disaster, to evacuate on the Catalina Express. The county noted there could be prolonged utility outages on the island.


Tropical Storm Hilary threatens heavy rains, flash flooding, high winds and intense surf across Southern California this weekend. Here’s what to expect.

Aug. 20, 2023

Flood concerns also prompted San Bernardino County sheriff‘s officials to issue an evacuation warning for the Oak Glen, Forest Falls, Mountain Home Village, Angelus Oaks and Northeast Yucaipa areas Saturday morning.

The storm has prompted officials to cancel events and issue dire alerts, with the system expected to move across southwestern California on Sunday and Monday. The National Weather Service issued a tropical storm warning at 8 p.m. Friday for the area from the California-Mexico border to Point Mugu and for Catalina Island.

Around 12:45 p.m. Saturday, the San Bernardino County fire station in Twentynine Palms ran out of sandbags for the second time in as many days. The station gave out about 2,500 bags Friday and 3,000 Saturday, a firefighter said as he taped a sign to the door informing residents that they had no more.

By the time the weakened Hurricane Hilary hits SoCal, it will likely cover the entire region, from the Ocean in Los Angeles County to the Colorado River, forecasters say.

Aug. 19, 2023

It wasn’t clear if another order of 5,000 bags to be split among stations in the Morongo Basin would arrive before the storm, he added. There was plenty of stuff to fill the bags with, though. Residents passed around a shovel to scoop sand from the fire station parking lot.

More people were pulled over along Amboy Road leading out of town, shoveling sand from the shoulder of the two-lane highway. Rebecca Rasmusson and Martin Reem, both Marines, said they’d been fighting about whether they needed to get sandbags ahead of the storm. In the end, they decided they did.

“I figured we might as well put in the work now so we’re not sorry later,” Rasmusson said in the fire station parking lot as she scooped sand into a bag. “We’re preparing for the worst.”


They’d loaded up on water and groceries, including food that can be grilled if the power goes out, and made sure they had flashlights and filled up their car with gas, she said.

“I don’t think we’ll be driving anywhere, though,” Reem said.

Hurricane Hilary is likely to make landfall in Los Angeles as a tropical storm, bringing heavy rains and potential flooding. Here’s what you can do now to prepare, and how to stay safe when the storm arrives.

Aug. 18, 2023

Rasmusson is from Oklahoma, the so-called buckle of the tornado belt, and Reem is from Minnesota, where snowstorms are common.

“Now we get the trifecta, with this hurricane,” Rasmusson said.

About a mile away, congregants from the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship Church were posted at an event center with 1,200 sandbags to dole out to residents.“I hope we run out — that’s why we got them,” said Mark Powell as he sat behind a folding table dispensing bags and advice on how to use them.

In preparation for the storm, Powell did some grading around his property and assembled enough supplies to hunker down for about three days, he said.The 50-year resident said he’s not too concerned about himself, as his home is near a ridge.

But he’s worried about people in low-lying areas, he said, citing the potentially historic strength of the storm.

“I’ve seen some pretty bad ones, but if it hits like they’re forecasting, this would be the big one,” he said. “Who knows — we live in the desert. Anything could happen.”


Spencer reported from Palm Springs and Wigglesworth from Twentynine Palms. Hannah Fry in Los Angeles contributed to this report.