Sunday update: With preparations winding down, city residents, first responders, officials brace for impact of major storm

Strong winds, heavy rains, and flooding are predicted to accompany a storm associated with Hurricane Hilary. Here’s what we know about sandbags, flights at PSP, school closures and more.
Palm Springs police are stationed near road closures to prevent motorists from driving through washes that are expected to flood.

As Hurricane Hilary hurtles toward the Baja California peninsula — now classified as a weaker but still dangerous tropical storm — Palm Springs residents are waking to light rain. That rain is expected to intensify as the storm crosses into Southern California later today, pushed by strong winds.

As of Sunday morning, forecasters said between two and five inches of rain could fall in the Coachella Valley during the storm, with eight or more inches possible in the nearby mountains. Winds with 40+ mph gusts are expected.

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By 7 a.m., a quarter of an inch of rain had fallen at Palm Springs International Airport since midnight.

The rain and wind are part of the first ever tropical storm warning for Southern California, issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) earlier this weekend. The warning is in effect for the southwestern part of the state, including the Coachella Valley.

In preparation for possible flooding, Palm Springs police closed all roads through all washes surrounding the city at midnight. Officials are advising residents to avoid travel unless absolutely necessary.

“The Palm Springs Police Department is requesting that residents stay home and avoid driving city roadways during the storm,” city officials wrote. “Officers will be on scene at barricaded roads to enhance public safety.”

Below is the latest information we have.

At Palm Springs City Hall, thousands of sandbags were being filled and hauled to waiting vehicles Saturday as the city prepared for a major storm bringing heavy rains.

Massive effort to supply sandbags

A large contingent of volunteers helped distribute and fill tens of thousands of sandbags in the city on Friday and Saturday. The efforts were centered around City Hall and Fire Station 2, where the bags were handed out and then taken to two pits of sand that were continuously restocked.

“It’s great to see the community out here,” City Manager Scott Stiles remarked as volunteers filled sandbags. “Everybody’s just been pulling together magnificently.”

On Friday, the high demand for the bags made available at all the city’s fire stations caused some frustration for residents. City officials urged patience.

Palm Springs Emergency Management Coordinator Daniel DeSelms told The Desert Sun that the city is now limiting residents to 10 bags each. After starting with 6,000 bags and letting residents take as many as they wanted, the supply ran out. Another 15,000 bags were then secured, followed by 20,000 additional bags on Saturday.

In social media posts, some residents expressed disappointment after arriving at fire stations and not being able to obtain bags because they were being kept inside and firefighters were away on calls.

In response, city officials took to Facebook to ask those who want sandbags to wait until firefighters return from calls. They also reminded residents not to block emergency vehicles as it may prevent them from responding to emergencies.

Watch this video to learn how to properly arrange sandbags for flood protection.

Palm Springs firefighters perform a swift water rescue during a major storm on Valentine’s Day 2019. (Photo courtesy Palm Springs Fire Department)

Fire department readies response

Palm Springs Fire Department (PSFD) firefighters and paramedics hope the public heeds warnings about dealing with flooded streets, but experience has taught them they must prepare for the worst.

Of particular concern are roadways that go through the washes along North Indian Canyon Drive, Gene Autry Trail, and East Vista Chino. It’s there that drivers often ignore barriers erected to prevent them from driving through water that floods across the road. Emergency workers say no matter how safe it may look, water moves fast and can quickly overtake a vehicle, leaving you stranded and at risk of drowning.

PSFD personnel spent Friday getting equipment, including rafts, ready for swift-water rescues. They also warned that because the storm is expected to cause issues throughout the valley, their responses might be delayed since other area departments will also likely be busier than usual and unable to assist here.

“Please take this warning seriously and plan ahead,” officials wrote. “Keep traveling on the roads to an absolute minimum and some intersections may also be flooded so please be cautious. Power outages may also occur in some areas. Dark or flashing signals are to be treated as a four-way stop.”

Police trying to warn most vulnerable

Palm Springs police, along with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, are actively working to alert unhoused city residents who live in and around areas likely to flood in the city, including those in and near the Dinah Shore flood channel, the Gene Autry Wash, and also in the desert at Gateway Drive west of Highway 111.

In this video, a Sheriff’s Department helicopter can be seen working above one such area, repeating a warning every 90 seconds.

“With the help of RSO via helicopter, drones with speakers, officers on foot and by patrol vehicles, the announcements include storm information and advise seeking a safe area, on higher ground,” PSPD wrote in a social media post. “As the storm develops, we will continue to ensure people have vacated to safe areas.”

The Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and Martha’s Village are also working to get people sheltered with any available beds, police wrote. One such shelter is at the site of the city’s former boxing club at 225 El Cielo Road (across from Palm Springs International Airport). That shelter is open from 4:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. seven days a week.

Cancellations at airport

Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) said in a news release Saturday afternoon that officials there are taking proactive steps to ensure passenger safety and reduce disruptions. Later it was announced that Southwest Airlines had canceled all flights in and out of the airport through Monday morning.

Airport officials requested that all passengers check with their respective airlines for the most up-to-date information concerning their flight status before they arrive at the airport.

“It’s difficult to predict the exact number of canceled or delayed flights,” officials wrote. ” However, with the impending storm, it’s anticipated that there will be several flight disruptions over the upcoming days. PSP emphasizes the importance of passengers checking their flight status directly with their respective airlines before departing for the airport, as airlines possess the latest and most accurate information.”

Water streaming off the nearby hillside flooded parts of the Safari Mobile Home Park in February 2019. A county flood control project in the area is nearly complete.

Power outages possible

In a news release Friday evening, Southern California Edison (SCE) officials said the utility company had activated its emergency response teams and will be fully staffed throughout the weekend. Additional personnel, including restoration and repair crews, will be stationed in areas that are expected to receive the most significant impacts.

Along with similar warnings issued by Palm Springs firefighters about treating intersections with signals that are out as four-way stops, they also warned that downed power lines should always be considered dangerous.

“They can electrify puddles, wet grass and the surrounding area,” the officials wrote. “If you see a downed power line or dangling wire – even if it appears not to be live – don’t touch or approach it or anything that is in contact with it and call 911 immediately.”

A complete list of SCE safety tips is available here. To report an outage in your neighborhood, or to check if one has been reported, bookmark this website.

How to prepare

Before the storm, it is important to secure outdoor furniture and other light-weight items to prevent them from flying away. Additionally, you should gather emergency supplies such as food, water, radios, medication, pet supplies, batteries, flashlights, backup cell phone chargers, and charging cables.

It is also crucial to charge medical devices and cell phones completely and have back-up systems ready in case of a power outage. Checking on neighbors to ensure they are prepared for the storm is also recommended, as well as checking storm drains for debris to prevent flooding.

During the storm, it is advised to avoid driving if possible due to dangerous road conditions. Bringing pets inside is important to keep them safe from falling debris. In life-threatening situations, such as people trapped by flooding or damaged trees, and debris flows threatening buildings, it is necessary to call 911.

Lastly, generators should not be operated indoors or in garages.

How to check flood zones

While the washes and hillsides of Palm Springs typically see the most water rush through them during heavy rain events, much of the city is vulnerable to flooding. During the Valentine’s Day flood of 2019, water inundated many neighborhoods, damaged roads, and entered homes.

Especially hard hit that year was a mobile home park in the Rimrock neighborhood in South Palm Springs. Riverside County is constructing approximately 5,450 feet of underground pipe and a seven-acre water detention basin there as part of a flood control project, but the project is not fully complete.

To check the flooding potential of your location, you can use the tools located at this FEMA website.

School district to evaluate

Palm Springs Unified School District (PSUSD) officials will evaluate the storm situation Sunday and decide whether to hold classes on Monday, a spokesperson said Saturday afternoon.

“At this time there are no planned schedule changes for Monday morning,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Tony Signoret wrote to parents in an email sent Friday. “As we monitor the conditions over the weekend with our local and state agencies and administration team, we remain prepared to make and communicate any adjustments to one or more of our school’s schedules if needed to ensure the safety of our entire school community.

“Any affected families will be notified before the start of school if there are schedule changes at your school site.”

What else we know

  • Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for much of Southern California in preparation for Hurricane Hilary and to support the response and recovery efforts.

  • In an email, the Palm Springs Animal Shelter said it will close to the public on Sunday and Monday. It plans to reopen on Tuesday and encourages anyone interested in adopting to check out available animals online.

  • Multiple businesses announced via their social media accounts that they would be closed Sunday into Monday out of an abundance of caution. Church services, performances and events are also being canceled in an effort to encourage people not to venture out. 

  • Joshua Tree National park is closed through Monday out of an abundance of caution.

  • The city has an emergency alert system that sends texts and emails to those who sign up. To learn more about the system and how to register, go to this city website.

Monitoring the news

Multiple news outlets in the Coachella Valley are staffing up to cover this event. You can most often find the very latest on their Twitter (renamed as ‘X’) accounts, including those associated with The Desert Sun, KESQ-TV, and NBC Palm Springs. The Post’s Twitter account can be found here.

The National Weather Service is also posting the latest information via its Twitter account for the region here.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story. It was last updated at 8:25 a.m. Sunday.


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