A California hurricane?
The Atlantic and Gulf Coast are infamous for tropical systems, but there are five more states with coastline. The Pacific is definitely an active area for storms. Most hit Mexico while others go out to sea and become "fish storms." We've seen a few storms threaten Hawaii in recent years as it sits near the center of the Pacific Ocean, but what about our Pacific coast, north of Mexico? Any tropical system is usually torn apart by the time it reaches the northern latitudes, so don't expect a hurricane any time soon in Alaska, Washington, or Oregon. With hundreds of miles of coastline running north to south and bordering Mexico, have there ever been storms with enough vigor to make their way into California? It's been a while, but 156 years ago today in 1858, San Diego saw their share of something prepared for every year along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
California usually sees leftovers of Mexican tropical systems which usually bring heavy rain and flooding to areas in the southwest California even experienced the deadly 1939 Long Beach tropical storm, but the San Diego Hurricane of 1858 is the only recorded hurricane to strike the west coast of the contiguous United States.
Military weather observations as well as newspaper accounts from California illustrate rapidly dropping pressure, heavy rain, winds, and flooding. The area, sparsely populated at the time, sustained considerable damage. However, if the same storm were to strike the area today, it is estimated that it would bring with it around $500 million in damage.
When compared to normal observations for the area, the recorded pressure and rain observations are quite impressive. The official lowest pressure observation for the storm is recorded as 994mb and sustaining winds just over official hurricane strength of 74mph. When compared to other records in this area throughout San Diego's history, it's difficult if not impossible to find comparable or stronger readings. The storm likely had just enough forward speed over just warm enough waters to hold together as it inundated San Diego.
The threat does certainly exist for a hurricane in southern California, but a lot of atmospheric variables have to be just right for a storm to survive long enough and steer into SoCal. Although a hurricane may not be the best of scenarios, I'm sure any rain for the Golden State would be much welcomed this year.
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