USDA meteorologists monitoring Tropical Storm Hilary’s potential ag impacts
USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey says the storm could cause problems for several key crops grown in the Southwestern region, including parts of California and Arizona, along the storm’s path. It also carries risk for potential flash flooding and strong wind gusts as it travels north.
As Tropical Storm Hillary makes its way through Southern California, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) meteorologists say farmers across the Western U.S. should continue to monitor conditions for high winds, heavy rains and flash flooding that could cause major issues for a number of key crops grown in the region, including Pima cotton and commercial citrus.
USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey says the storm could cause problems for several key crops grown in the Southwestern region, including parts of California and Arizona, along the storm’s path.
“We do have to be concerned with Pima cotton — 94% of the U.S. Pima cotton crop comes out of California and Arizona,” Rippey said. “One-hundred percent of the nation’s commercial lemon crop comes out of that region as well as about four-fifths of the limes and a significant portion of citrus. So we will have to watch those winds as they intersect cotton and citrus production areas.”
According to Gary Crawford with the USDA, the last time a major Pacific hurricane made landfall on the U.S. West Coast was back in 1939—the same year the movie Gone With the Wind was released.
.@NOAA's #GOESWest 🛰️ watched Tropical Storm #Hilary moving over California yesterday. This morning it has weakened to a post-tropical cyclone as it moves inland. The storm has brought an historic amount of rainfall to the southwestern U.S. Meanwhile, three named storms are… pic.twitter.com/ogLU8gq0fz— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) August 21, 2023
Ongoing Rain Risk in the Central Valley
According to agriculturalists in Northern and Central California, the storm could also cause problems for crops
grown in the Central Valley and San Joaquin Valley—including grapes, almonds, pistachios, spinach, and tomatoes—important agricultural corridors that produce an estimated eight percent of the total U.S. agricultural output annually, and 40 percent of the national fruit output, according the U.S. Geological Survey’s California Water Science Center.
“I told our investors this morning it’s like standing on the side of the road watching your dog about to be hit by a car and there’s nothing you can do,” said Kevin Andrew, Senior Vice President of Bakersfield-based Illume Agriculture in an interview with the Bakersfield Californian. “We don’t get August rain—if we get an inch or more of rain it’s a worst-case scenario for the industry.”
Any amount of rain in the area can cause concern for harvesting these crops — many of which rely on zero rainfall during critical harvest times in late August.
“This will be terrible not only for grapes but every other crop — tomatoes, melons, almonds, etc.,” Andrew told the Bakersfield Californian, saying grapes and tomatoes would likely be most impacted. “I told people if they believe in the power of prayer, pray it shifts east of the Sierras.”
While the center of the storm did veer slightly right, mostly traveling over central Nevada, the excess rain threat could lead to issues ranging from stained pistachio shells to increased mold growth in soil as well as downgrading the overall quality of the crops.
Record Rainfall Replenishes Drought-Stricken Lakes
And while such a large influx of rain in typically very dry places can cause a wide range of negative impacts, it has also helped to replenish drought-stricken water sources like Lake Meade and Lake Powell.
Moderate rainfall in the region could also have a minimal impact on crops while helping to restore the Central Valley region’s groundwater supply, which, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s California Water Science Center, accounts for around 20 percent of the country’s groundwater demand and is the second most-pumped aquifer system in the U.S.
Hilary’s Uncharted Path to the Central West
Tropical Storm Hilary is now making its way into parts of the U.S. that have never recorded a tropical storm after ripping through Mexico’s Baja California region at full force over the weekend and causing flash flooding in the peninsula that washed out roads and left one person dead.
By the time Hilary rolled through the Southwestern U.S., the weather-maker was downgraded from a Cat. 4 hurricane to Cat. 2 post-tropical cyclone. However, the storm still delivered powerful flash flooding—delivering nearly a year’s worth of rain in some areas in less than 24 hours— as well as powerful wind gusts up to 70 m.p.h.
As of Monday morning, the storm was traveling over Central Nevada, making it the state’s first-recorded tropical storm.
According to the NOAA National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center on Monday, preliminary 36-hour rainfall estimates from southern Nevada show areas like Bristlecone, located west-northwest of Las Vegas, picked up six inches of rain, mostly within 24 hours, breaking the rainfall record for a tropical cyclone or remnant for NV. The estimate is also approaching the state’s 24-hour rain record of 7.78" set in 2004.
According to the NOAA, while the storm is weakening as it moves northward, traveling over parts of Nevada, Idaho and Oregon, it poses a slight risk for flooding concerns and excessive rainfall across a huge area of the western U.S., spanning northwest Montana all the way down to north-central Arizona. There are also threats of flash flooding across the high terrain of the Sierra and throughout much of Nevada, as well as the potential for wind gusts up to 70 m.p.h. across the higher terrain, passes, and summits of the Intermountain West, from the Desert Southwest to southern Idaho.
Another Storm Threatening South Texas Gulf
Heavy rain chances also exist across South Texas on Tuesday as a fast moving tropical disturbance enters the region from the Gulf of Mexico, which the National Hurricane Center happens to be monitoring for potential development.