PHOENIX – Less intense remnants of Tropical Storm Newton brought rain, powerful winds and uncharacteristically high humidity to desert cities in Arizona on Wednesday after pummeling the Mexican resort city of Cabo San Lucas and killing four people.
About 2 1/2 inches of rain fell in the border city of Nogales and nearly an inch in Tucson. In both cities, dozens of people picked up sandbags faster than they could be filled in anticipation of the storm. However, both places only experienced minor flooding thanks in part to the rainfall's moderate pace.
"We did everything we could to be ready. Thank God nothing happened," said Alejandro Barcenas, director of Nogales' Department of Public Works.
Newton also was packing less of a punch than expected in New Mexico. Western portions of the state were not getting the 3-4 inches of rain that forecasters initially feared, according to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. Officials said flash-flood warnings could be dropped by late Wednesday. However, Gov. Susana Martinez activated the state's Emergency Operations Center in case of more severe storms.
The most noticeable shift in the weather from Newton occurred in the form of muggy conditions that seemed more fitting of New Orleans or Miami than the desert. The humidity in Phoenix and Tucson was actually equal to or higher than Miami and New Orleans on Wednesday.
The desert region is more prone to getting monsoon thunderstorms at this time of the year that stir up dust storms or rain.
"It's not our typical monsoon patter at the moment, that's what makes it more unusual," said Emily French, a meteorologist in Tucson. "But it's not unheard of for southern Arizona to have gotten hit by tropical storms before."
Newton was rapidly weakening as a tropical storm after slamming the resorts of Mexico's southern Baja as a hurricane and making landfall on the country's mainland. The U.S. National Hurricane Center had warned of "life-threatening flash floods and mud slides, especially in mountainous terrain," for Arizona and New Mexico.
The hurricane's death toll rose to four Wednesday after two more bodies were found near the coast of the Baja California peninsula, according to the Los Cabos municipal civil defense council. The boat had set out from the port of Ensenada and was bound for Mazatlan. One crew member of a shrimp boat that capsized Tuesday near Cabo Pulmo, north of Los Cabos on the Gulf of California, remains missing. Two bodies had been recovered earlier near the site where the boat capsized in heavy seas caused by the passage of Netwon.
Mexico changed its earlier hurricane warning to a tropical storm warning for the coast of the country's mainland from Guaymas to Puerto Libertad.
The Mexican government also discontinued all tropical storm warnings for the Baja California Peninsula.
Newton first came ashore near the Los Cabos resorts Tuesday morning as a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 90 mph (150 kph), pelting the area with torrential rain as residents sheltered at home and tourists huddled in hotels. The storm broke windows, downed trees and knocked out power, but the area was spared the kind of extensive damage seen two years ago when it was walloped by a stronger storm.
After passing over the resort area, Newton headed northward up the peninsula's sparsely populated interior and then over the gulf during the night. Early Wednesday, its center was about 55 miles northwest of Hermosillo, Mexico, or and about 180 miles south-southwest of Tucson, and moved north at around 18 mph with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.
About 14,000 tourists were in Los Cabos during the storm, tourism officials said, and visitors began venturing out after Newton passed.
"Just trying to make it through the day, with a little help," Mark Hernandez, a visitor from California, said as he raised a can of beer at one of the few bars open in Cabo San Lucas. "We pray for the city of Cabo San Lucas. It was a rough one as you can see."
Palm trees were toppled along the town's coastal boulevard and some windows were broken. But there was calm in the city as firefighters cleaned refuse from the streets during the day.
In 2014, Los Cabos suffered heavy damage to homes, shops and hotels when it was hammered by Hurricane Odile, which hit as a Category 3 storm.
"You know, it could have been a lot worse and I think we are very fortunate that it wasn't as bad as Odile," said Darlene Savord, a tourist from California. "I think that we are very fortunate and blessed."