Southwest braces for “unprecedented” Hurricane Hilary

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Southwest braces for “unprecedented” Hurricane Hilary

Concern was high throughout the weekend as Hurricane Hilary is expected to bring a prolific amount of flooding rainfall to the southwestern U.S. and parts of California in what is the first tropical storm to hit the region since 1939.  

The phenomenon which hit Mexico’s Pacific coast early Friday with sustained winds of 145 mph, was expected to move into Southern California on Sunday and continue into early this week. 

Hilary could dump more than a year’s worth of rain in parts of three states: California, Nevada and Arizona. Because of the threat, parts of California face a rare high risk for excessive rainfall. This Level 4 of 4 threat is the first to ever be issued for this part of Southern California.

According to CNN, there is some potential for Hilary to become the first Category 5 hurricane this season briefly before it enters colder water and loses some strength.

Jack Vessey, president of Vessey and Co., located in Imperial Valley in California, on Friday 18 tells, “in regards to timing, it's not as bad for us because we haven't started planting yet, we got some red cabbage transplants in the ground which the rain shouldn't affect too much.”

Vessey says this shouldn’t interrupt the planting season of lettuces and leafy greens in a couple weeks. In terms of preparations, he notes that if drains are clear and ready to handle their yearly rainfall in one to three days they should be ok.

Table grape industry on high alert 

Moving northwest through the state, where the storm is expected to hit the hardest, the mood is not so positive. 

California has enjoyed a prosperous table grape season, with around 3.5 million boxes harvested per week out of the state, adding up nearly 16 million boxes to date, just about 15% of the total expected for this season. 

“We are all following the movement of Hilary on our phones, but there is no certainty on whether it will go north through the coast, or inland. If it comes into the valley, and we get the amount of rain that is expected (around 4-5 inches), it will sweep away snow and ice, affecting fields and villages, which could be very serious,” David Espinoza of Hronis, Inc, located in Delano, California tells on Friday 18. 

Espinoza notes that the unprecedented climate phenomenon at this point of the table grape season could bring this year’s projections down from 90-95 million boxes to around 50 million for the state. 

Even though California growers are hoping for the best, in an effort to prevent any damages, on Friday and throughout the weekend they covered vines. They harvested on Saturday, and some even on Sunday, which is not usual. 

“We are acting quickly, assuming the worst possible scenario which is that on Monday and Tuesday, we won't be able to harvest, so we will cover as much of the grapes as possible and harvest as many as we can with the hands we have,” adds Espinoza. 

The state is currently in the range of 600,000 to 700,000 table grape boxes a week, therefore two days of no harvest means more than 1.2 million boxes are not shipping. 

“We are not taking any export orders until we know exactly the magnitude of this event, it’s going to be a hard weekend for the state,” says Espinoza. 

Retailer concern

Espinoza indicates they have received calls from all their retail clients concerned about the situation in California. 

“Luckily we have enough supply to continue shipping throughout the next weeks and keep the supply chain going, so we want to give them a message of relief in spite of the uncertainty,” he assures. 

On Sunday afternoon, Hurricane Hilary made its way into California, passing through San Diego and Los Angeles losing its intensity and changing its status to a post-tropical cyclone, but high amounts of rainfall are still expected. 

Thousands of flights have been canceled or delayed, especially towards California and Nevada, and the Los Angeles area and San Diego schools will be closed Monday.

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