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Cal Poly Pomona experts reflect on Hurricane Hilary and what it really means for California’s future

By Emely Bonilla, September 5, 2023

Hurricane Hilary traveled through the West Coast and reached Southern California as a tropical storm, bringing in dangerous winds and record-breaking rain Sunday, Aug. 20 through Monday, Aug. 21. 

This natural disaster was one that took the people of Southern California by surprise. This was the first tropical storm seen in this region for nearly a century. Many universities including Cal Poly Pomona took necessary preventative measures and closed campus for the days Aug 20-21. Though many felt the massive amounts of coverage surrounding this storm left communities underwhelmed, others did not realize this tropical storm reflects the state of our climate crisis. 

Donald R. Prothero, geology adjunct professor at CPP shared how this tropical storm should raise concerns for Californians because the state should not have temperatures high enough to sustain this type of natural disaster. 

 “It’s different now because we have record temperatures in the ocean right now, offshore here in California and Florida that have ever been measured,” said Prothero. “The thing that keeps hurricanes coming north of the border much is that the ocean water normally off the shore of California is really cold. We tend to have much colder water offshore most of the time, or at least historically we did. What’s happened now is because the ocean is so much warmer than it’s ever been this year, and it’s probably going to continue to get warmer, it’s not the barrier that it used to be. Cold water makes hurricanes stop.” 

 Two days before the storm arrived, the governor’s office updated its newsroom revealing an expected Category 4 storm over the weekend. The governor’s office warned California residents to be weary of rain, wind, floodings and power outages.  

Within 24 hours, the National Hurricane Center reported the storm was weakening, but impacted regions should still be concerned for major flooding. Following these new updates, Gov. Gavin Newsom placed California under a state of emergency to provide protection to endangered residents.  

After enacting a state of emergency, the topic of Hurricane Hilary became a sensation. According to Google Trends, within 48 hours, the term “Hurricane Hilary” reached peak popularity throughout the United States and became a trending topic on various social media platforms. 

In an email sent to students from Associated Students Incorporated, the University stated, due to the imminent threat posed by Hurricane Hilary and the precautions being taken by the university, they closed the Bronco Student Center, BRIC and all dining locations. They reopened the facilities Aug 22.   

Immediately following the heaviest winds and rains from the hurricane, the Office of the President sent an email explaining its preventative efforts resulted in very little damage and disruption to campus. Due to the preparation and response of the campus personnel, students were able to return Aug. 22.  

Data provided by the National Center for Environmental Information shows tracking of marine heatwaves and found the global ocean surface temperatures have consistently been two degrees higher this year. The data also shows prior to the tropical storm, temperatures in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California were five degrees higher than normal. 

 Though scientists hope the developing El Niño may be the cause of this persistent heating, there are a few who believe this is due to the damage done to our ecosystems. 

Pablo La Roche, professor of environmental design at CPP, shared how buildings even play a huge role in global warming and how designing spaces that are environmentally aware can be an important aspect to consider in order to reverse damage caused by humans. 

 “Now, what many people don’t realize is that buildings are a big chunk of these emissions,” said La Roche. “And this is, depending on the source, it’s between say 36% to 39% of all emissions that we create are from the buildings that we live in, the buildings that we use. Imagine if all our buildings were zero carbon, all the buildings that we live in. We could be reducing our emissions by almost 40% right away.” 

 To stay up to date on environmental safety tips visit CPP’s Environmental Health and Safety website. 

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