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CSUF Marine Geologist: Tropical Storms Like Hurricane Hilary Could Significantly Change Southern California’s Coast

Newswise — Experts anticipate that more than a year’s worth of rain could fall within a couple of days in some areas of Southern California this weekend. The National Hurricane Center on Friday issued the first-ever Tropical Storm Watch for Southern California. The region hasn’t experienced a tropical storm since 1939.

Joe Carlin, associate professor of geological sciences, notes that it is important to think of Hurricane Hilary as an isolated random event or possibly the start of a new trend. However, researchers won’t know the answer to that for many years.

What researchers do know is that these types of storms can create significant changes along the coast, which can be problematic for areas that have coastal development.

Carlin said: “In the case of Hilary, this could cause large waves that will move sand around — erode sand from one area and deposit sand somewhere else — erode cliffs and damage coastal structures. These storms may also cause a storm surge, which is flooding from the ocean that can inundate coastal areas inland from the beaches.

“The storm could bring heavy rains to the area which, in addition to flooding inland areas, could transport significant amounts of sand to the coast where it will be deposited, changing the coastline.

“In terms of episodic events, these create abrupt and significant changes to coastal areas and coastal processes. The stronger the event, like a tropical storm or hurricane, the faster and greater coastal change occurs.

“We cannot say that the storm Hilary on its own is related to climate change as this is a singular weather event and climate is the long-term average of weather. However, if we were to see multiple tropical storms or hurricanes over the next several years and decades, that may be related to climate change.”

About Cal State Fullerton: The largest university in the CSU and the only campus in Orange County, Cal State Fullerton offers 110 degree programs and Division 1 athletics. Recognized as a national model for supporting student success, CSUF excels with innovative, high-impact educational practices, including faculty-student collaborative research, study abroad and competitive internships. Our vibrant and diverse campus is a primary driver of workforce and economic development in the region. CSUF is a top public university known for its success in supporting first-generation and underrepresented students, and preparing all students to become leaders in the global marketplace. Our It Takes a Titan campaign, a five-year $250 million comprehensive fundraising initiative, prioritizes investments in academic innovation, student empowerment, campus transformation and community enrichment. Visit

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