Late Saturday and early Sunday, August 20, 2023, rain began to fall in the Tri-community. This was one of the first signs Hurricane Hilary was approaching. By this time, however, Hurricane Hilary had been downgraded to a Tropical Storm. Looking at early storm track predictions from the National Weather Service showed Phelan, Pinon Hills, and Wrightwood directly in the storm’s path. Though forecasts would eventually shift more east, rain totals in the Tri-Community still seemed much higher than in other places in San Bernardino County. By late Sunday morning, the area had seen a steady amount of rainfall and, at times, heavy downpours that seemed to come in waves, nothing like the typical thundershowers that dump an inch or two of rain in just minutes. Rain totals were rising, with nearly 2.5 inches in Wrightwood, 1.74 inches in Phelan, and 1.25 inches near Wilson Ranch and the aqueduct. Sheep Creek wash in Phelan (across Phelan Road) was flowing rapidly, with surges of water coming every minute or so. Sheep Creek at Amador was closed with severe undercutting (4ft or more) threatening to wash out the road, and Sheep Creek at Nielson was also flowing heavily but still passable. Wrightwood had experienced heavy rains but no closures yet. Water ran down roads or across them all over the Tri-Community.
The rain let up around noon; it seemed Hilary was taking a lunch break. However, by late afternoon, it was game on. Mudflow and debris blocked Sheep Creek Wash in Wrightwood. Lone Pine Canyon was closed, Thrush was closed, and Hwy 2 was closed at Sheep Creek Wash. Debris had blocked flow under the bridge, causing it to flow over it, eventually leaving several feet of mud on top of it. Phelan Road was closed at Sheep Creek Wash, Hwy 138 was closed between Beekley and Phelan Road, Oasis was closed, and Sheep Creek Road was closed at Amador and Neilson, where there were exposed and undercut water lines. Duncan Road was closed, and Johnson Road turned into a river. Cross-valley structures such as the aqueduct and railroad tracks were impacted and or damaged. Just about every road, whether north/south or East/west, had some damage related to the storm. When the storm finally passed, Snowline had canceled school for the day, and according to SBC rain reports, 8.35 inches of rain fell in Wrightwood, 5.68 inches in Phelan, and 4.05 inches near Wilson Ranch and the Aqueduct. Flooding, roof leaks, and mud and water damage could be seen everywhere. Caltrans crews and SBC Road Works crews were out assessing the damage. They quickly cleared and opened Lone Pine Canyon and Thrush. Highway 2 took a bit longer; however, it was back open within a few days. In Phelan, both Sheep Creek Water Company and the Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District were busy during and after the storm fixing several areas where pipes either burst or were severely undercut and needed attention, such as on Sheep Creek near Nielson Road. Sheep Creek at Amador had severe undercutting, requiring road repairs and filling 4-5 feet deep of eroded roadside. The only road to remain closed is Phelan Road from Buckwheat to just past the Sheep Creek Wash. The bridge at Phelan Road was breached at the edges of the bridge, causing the water to undercut the road on at least one side of the road. Brendon Briggs, Director of Public Works, said it may take a few months to reopen Phelan Road but may be shorter once a contractor is hired to complete the project. He also said the crews are out around the community and county doing their best to clean up the roads and get back to the status quo. The Public Works website and social media pages are an excellent resource for information on everyday road conditions and closures, etc., as well as in times of emergency.