Orange County beach cities escape serious damage from Hilary

A youngster's umbrella is swept up in the gusty winds at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach.
A youngster’s umbrella is swept up in the gusty winds at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach during the wet and steady rainfall conditions on Sunday brought on by tropical storm Hilary.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
Share via

Hilary, the first tropical storm to assault California in 84 years, left little evidence behind in coastal Orange County after sweeping through Sunday and early Monday, drenching the beach cities as she headed north.

Advanced warnings that allowed time for protecting properties with sandbags and collecting emergency supplies, combined with a mercurial storm that caused far more damage in other parts of the state, helped the cities in the Daily Pilot’s coverage area — particularly low-lying Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach — escape major damages.

“August is a generally dry month for Southern California, and this tropical storm has smashed a lot of rain records,” Mark Moede, of the National Weather Service in San Diego, said Tuesday.

A car rushes through the water in the parking lot of the Balboa Pier. Part of the lot was flooded by early Sunday afternoon.
A car rushes through the water in the parking lot of the Balboa Pier. Part of the lot was already flooded by early Sunday afternoon.
(Lilly Nguyen)

Huntington Beach paced the area, seeing 2.4 inches of rainfall during the storm, according to data collected by Orange County Public Works. Costa Mesa received 2.13 inches of rain, Laguna Beach had 2.01 inches, and Newport Coast had 1.89 inches. The area typically sees only trace amounts of rainfall in August.

Flood-prone Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach was closed between Warner Avenue and Seapoint Street as the deluge began. The northbound lanes were reopened by 11 a.m. Monday, with the southbound lanes following later in the afternoon.

Huntington Beach public affairs manager Jennifer Carey said damage was minimal in Surf City.

“We have reports of a few down trees, and there were just a couple down power line calls that came in,” Carey said. “Nothing major. A few spots of localized flooding, but for the most part we didn’t see anything significant. We think a lot of that is due to the community’s efforts in being as prepared as possible, making sure that they had sandbags to avoid any flooding around their residence and also taking into consideration the winds and bringing items indoors. A lot of people did their best to prepare as much as they could.”

Sandbags line the front of some of the businesses in the Balboa Fun Zone on Sunday. Most were closed.
(Lilly Nguyen)

In a text Monday, Newport Beach spokesman John Pope said there were no major incidents in his city, either. While there was some localized flooding and a handful of felled trees and limbs, it was nothing out of the ordinary compared to a typical winter storm, Pope said.

Reviewing the storm for the Laguna Beach City Council this week, staffers said the public works department provided more than 1,000 prefilled sandbags to help mitigate the potential impact of the storm. The communications team sent out eight storm-related Nixle alerts to the community. By 7 a.m. Sunday, as the storm was still classified as a hurricane and barreling northbound over Baja California, Laguna Beach’s emergency operations center had opened.

The Reyes family from Lake Arrowhead look over the rail at Heisler Park Sunday afternoon.
The Reyes family from Lake Arrowhead look over the rail at Heisler Park as remnants of Hurricane Hilary made for steady rainfall and breezy conditions in Laguna Beach on Sunday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“Our marine safety team ensured vulnerable lifeguard towers were moved and secured well before the storm,” said Brendan Manning, the city’s emergency operations coordinator. “They had a plan in place to close the city beaches if that became necessary. [They] ended up closing the Aliso Beach parking lots out of an abundance of caution. [They] staffed additional marine safety personnel for the anticipated large surf. In addition to lifeguard coverage for the beach, we also staffed floodwater response units, just in case.

“Throughout the storm, they closely monitored the beaches and beach access points, and at one point had to temporarily close Thousand Steps 9th [Avenue] stair access due to some pretty significant storm runoff down the stairwell to ensure public safety.”

Laguna Mayor Bob Whalen thanked everyone involved in the tropical storm mitigation efforts.

“Hopefully, we don’t have to do this too often, but it gave me a lot of confidence to see how prepared we are, and how hard you all work, and how coordinated you are across departments,” Whalen told the staff. “I think we can all feel good as a community that when these types of emergencies come forward, we may not see much of it, but there’s a lot going on in the background and great work.”

High winds

Hilary brought with her the predicted high winds and caused some power outages, but the gusts arrived later than expected, according to meteorologist Moede. Initial projections suggested winds would reach about 40 mph in local cities on Sunday.

At Newport Pier, close to midnight on Sunday, winds clocked in at 43 mph. Earlier in the evening, at 7 p.m., Huntington Beach Pier showed gusts of 47 mph, according to the National Weather Service station in San Diego.

A surfer takes a hard wipeout as he surfs large waves at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach on Sunday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

As residents have commented on social media, the storm didn’t seem nearly as bad as they had braced for based on media reports. That, Moede said, was likely due to confusion in the messaging.

“[The tropical storm] played out pretty much as we forecast. I think for Orange County, and all areas west of the mountains, the messaging that we were getting out through the headlines from social media, television and all the sources that people typically get their news from, was that there was a tropical storm. Hurricane Hilary was moving up into Southern California, with the potential to bring catastrophic flooding, so we better prepare for this,” Moede said. “But the actual messaging that we sent out was that the likelihood for flooding was going to be in the mountains and the deserts.”

A handwritten note announces Greeter's Corner Restaurant is closed.
A handwritten note tells the public that the Greeter’s Corner Restaurant is closed on Sunday due to Tropical Storm Hilary.
(Andrew Turner)

On Sunday afternoon people were found venturing out into the beach cities, some to take advantage of favorable surfing conditions — especially at Newport Beach’s famed Wedge — and others to see for themselves what effect Hilary was having on the community. They generally shrugged off any fear for what the storm might bring overnight.

Dan Barabas, a New Jersey native, was visiting Laguna Beach with family. He said the trip had been planned for a few months, and they were dismayed to see some businesses buttoned up for the duration.

“We’re not going to let this little drizzle ruin our day,” Barabas said. “We’ve been kind of horrified by how closed everything is because this isn’t much of a storm so far.”