‘Parade of storms’ throttles California for a third straight week

The governor’s office in the US state has increased the death toll to 14, with a five-year-old still missing in the floods.

Cars swallowed up by a sinkhole in a Los Angeles suburb. Sewage overflowing onto streets in the San Francisco Bay Area. And rising floodwaters prompting new evacuation orders for parts of Monterey County.

The state of California on the United States west coast has continued to be throttled by what the National Weather Service calls an “incessant parade of storms“, with the agency predicting “another surge of moisture” on Tuesday.

(Al Jazeera)

More than 34 million residents have been threatened by the severe weather, a total that amounts to approximately 10 percent of the overall US population. Close to 90 percent of California, the most populous state in the US, remains under a flood watch on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

“Our message to Californians is simple: be hyper-vigilant,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday. “There are still several days of severe weather ahead.”

Flooding on the Los Angeles River tears past trees
The Los Angeles River swells after heavy rainfall puts much of California under a flood watch [David Swanson/Reuters]

As the state enters its third straight week of heavy rains, powerful gusts and flooding, the death toll from the storms has risen to 14, according to the governor’s office.

A five-year-old kindergartener remains missing in the central California town of San Miguel, after the truck he and his mother were riding in got trapped in a flooding creekbed on Monday as they commuted to school.

The mother, a local teacher, was pulled to safety. But the boy was last seen drifting away in the floodwaters, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune newspaper. Local police have since called off their search, citing unsafe conditions for first responders.

“The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office wants to resume operations for the search as soon as conditions allow,” Scott Jalbert, an emergency services manager from San Luis Obispo, said in a video on Tuesday.

With the nearby Salinas River cresting above the flood levels, counties like San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Barbara have issued evacuation orders for residents in low-lying areas.

Three people had to be rescued from its waters near the city of Paso Robles on Monday alone, according to the local fire and emergency services bureau.

One of the areas under a continuing evacuation is the wealthy coastal enclave of Montecito, where comedian and TV host Ellen DeGeneres took to Twitter to share the raging floodwaters near her home.

“This is crazy,” DeGeneres said in a video, as she stood near the roaring torrent of muddy brown water. “We’re having unprecedented rain. This creek next to our house never flows, ever. [It is] probably about nine feet up, and it’s going to go another two feet up.”

Municipalities across the state continue to report record rainfall, with the National Weather Service predicting widespread flooding throughout California and into the neighbouring inland state of Nevada.

In the last two days, the Cachuma Reservoir northwest of the city of Santa Barbara has surged nearly 10.7 metres (35 feet), according to county data.

And meteorologist Jan Null reported on Tuesday that the period from December 26 to January 9 was the wettest 15-day stretch on record for San Francisco since the Gold Rush, with the city receiving upwards of 30.5 centimetres (12 inches) of rain.

The website PowerOutage.us found that an estimated 220,000 California homes were without electricity on Tuesday morning, as winds of up to 64 kilometres (40 miles) per hour downed trees and power lines across the state.

Soil left brittle from California’s years-long drought has also been loosened in the sudden rainfall — and that, in turn, has led to mudslides in hilly areas like the Studio City neighbourhood of Los Angeles. The neighbourhood saw a flow of debris estimated to be 1.5 metres (five feet) tall.

“It sounded like the earth was shaking,” a resident told the news station KNBC in Los Angeles on Tuesday. “It sounded like an explosion. It sounded like the entire mountain was coming down.”

The National Weather Service said Tuesday’s storm will quickly move east towards the central Plains region of the US by Wednesday, but it warned of new systems ready to hit California in the coming days.

“An enormous cyclone forming well off the coast of the North American continent will bring yet another Atmospheric River toward the West Coast — this time impacting areas further north from northern California northward up the coast of the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday,” the agency said.

Damage from extreme weather has cost the US an estimated $165bn in 2022 alone, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued on Tuesday. That year, the administration documented 18 extreme weather events that caused more than $1bn in devastation a piece.

The administration said climate change was responsible for “supercharging” these weather disasters.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies