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Floods and strong winds likely in Southern California as Tropical Storm Kay passes offshore

Kay weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm on Thursday after making landfall in Mexico. It could bring several inches of rain to parts of Southern California.
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Flooding and strong winds were expected across parts of Southern California on Friday night as Tropical Storm Kay looms offshore.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm's center was about 130 miles south-southwest of San Diego at 5 p.m. It was still primarily affecting Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Kay made landfall in Mexico on Thursday afternoon, coming ashore near the center of Baja California with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, as well as heavy rain and a powerful storm surge.

Kay's maximum sustained winds now hover around 40 mph, and it was traveling northwest at 12 mph. A westward turn was expected on Saturday, taking it farther from land.

Winds and moisture from the storm are moving into parts of Southern California and southwestern Arizona. The heaviest rain is forecast to fall east of San Diego, in desert areas. Rainfall of 4 inches in mountain areas was recorded Friday, and more could come through Saturday morning, forecasters said.

Some isolated areas could get up to 8 inches.

Kay helped set rainfall records for the date in San Diego County, including more than six tenths of an inch measured in Campo, near the U.S.-Mexico border, and at San Diego International Airport; two inches were registered at Lake Cuyamaca in the wilderness east of the city.

The National Weather Service had issued flash flood warnings for parts of neighboring Imperial County through mid-afternoon. The New River, which flows through the county and across the U.S.-Mexico border, was expected to overflow its banks. Flood watches continue through tomorrow for 8 million people across Southern California, western Arizona and southern Nevada.

Tropical Storm Kay moves northwestward near the coast of the northern Baja California peninsula on Sept. 9, 2022.
Tropical Storm Kay moves northwestward near the coast of the northern Baja California peninsula on Sept. 9, 2022.NOAA

Flood warnings were in effect Friday evening for the Coachella Valley desert into San Diego County's Borrego Springs. The San Diego River swelled Friday and instantly brought images of a verdant, lush waterway through a city known for its dry climate.

Kay was kicking up waves, with sets of four to six feet expected and some eight foot waves possible through Saturday, federal forecasters said. Swell direction was extreme, however, given the cyclone's position. The National Weather Service said waves would arrive from 180 degrees — dead south.

The wet weather was an ally of firefighters, who said rainfall was "slowing the spread" of the deadly Fairview Fire in Riverside County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The blaze Friday evening was measured at more than 27,000 acres with 5% surrounded, Calfire said.

A high wind warning was in effect until midnight in San Diego County and parts of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Parts of those regions could see gusts up to 65 mph. A gust of 109 mph was clocked at Cuyamaca Peak in eastern San Diego County early Friday, according to NBC San Diego.

Tropical cyclones that directly strike Southern California are rare, as they often die amid the relatively cold waters and strong onshore winds of the Pacific. But thunderstorm activity paired with humidity, sometimes described by the Spanish word chubascos, is a rite of September in San Diego and Imperial County.

In Mexico, meanwhile, continued coastal flooding, flash floods and landslides are possible across Baja California and in portions of mainland northwestern Mexico through Saturday morning. In total, the peninsula could see up to 10 inches of rain by the time the storm is over, with isolated areas getting up to 15.

Tropical storm warnings are still in effect along the both coasts of the Baja peninsula. On the west side, the warning area extends from Punta Eugenia north to the U.S.-Mexico border. In the Gulf of California, the warning affects the coast between Bahia de Los Angeles on the peninsula and Puerto Libertad in mainland Mexico.