Rain swamps Southern California, and more storms are expected
More than a foot of rain has fallen in parts of the state over the past 48 hours, flooding streets and prompting evacuations.
By DERRICK BRYSON TAYLOR
As rain lashed Southern California overnight, parts of the Los Angeles area experienced flooding — an unusual twist for a typically dry, sunny place where people tend to worry about droughts. Forecasters warned that little relief was expected Tuesday.
Rainfall in many parts of the state has exceeded a foot since Sunday, when the latest wave of moisture, known as an atmospheric river, swept across Northern California and spread to Central and Southern California. Parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, just west of Los Angeles, had received more than 16 inches of rain as of early Tuesday, leading to evacuations and flood alerts.
Additional rain, including thunderstorms, was forecast for Tuesday, worsening the ongoing flooding and raising the risk of flash flooding and mudslides, particularly in areas scarred by wildfires, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.
More than 34 million people, mostly in Southern and Central California, were under a flood watch early Tuesday, the weather service said. And nearly 200,000 customers, mostly in Santa Clara County, were without power, according to PowerOutage.us.
Forecasters in Los Angeles warned that the next round of heavy precipitation would tear across the region through much of Tuesday and that some of the passing storms could bring wind gusts up to 60 mph. There were concerns that storms could also bring hail and spawn tornadoes.
In the Bay Area, meteorologists were carefully watching the storms for Tuesday and advised locals to remain weather aware and have multiple ways to receive weather alerts. A similar forecast was issued farther inland for the Sacramento region, with meteorologists adding, “When thunder roars, head indoors.”
A large swath of Southern California was walloped with dangerous weather Monday night. In Los Angeles, where more than an inch of rain fell in an hour and where cars were partially submerged, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for Los Angeles International Airport after 8 p.m., effectively slowing down takeoffs and landings for about an hour.
Concerns over flooding followed a chaotic day in Santa Barbara County, where officials ordered thousands of residents to quickly evacuate coastal communities over worries of mudslides in the area where wildfires have made the ground less stable.
The orders were issued five years to the day that a torrent of mud and boulders rushed through neighborhoods in Montecito, killing 23 people.
“We’re in the midst of a series of significant and powerful storms,” Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County said in a briefing Monday. “Currently, we’re experiencing a storm that is causing many problems and has the potential to cause major problems across our county, especially in the burn scar areas.”
The death toll related to the weather continued to climb. One person was killed Monday by floodwater while trying to navigate a submerged road in San Luis Obispo County, north of Santa Barbara. And a 5-year-old boy was missing in the county after his mother escaped from a car that was being swept away by floodwaters. At least seven other deaths in California have been attributed to the storms, which have been bashing the state since last month.
Scott Jalbert, San Luis Obispo County’s emergency services manager, said that the rivers and creeks in the area were gushing like they hadn’t in decades. “They’re pretty monstrous,” he said.
Terrible conditions were also reported in Santa Cruz County, about 70 miles south of San Francisco. More than 30,000 residents were evacuated as creeks and rivers topped their banks, threatened homes and washed away at least one bridge. Mudslides also blocked at least two highways that connect the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Bay Area.
Most of California has seen rainfall totals over the past several weeks that have been up to 600% above average values, forecasters said. The rain, although damaging and deadly, has brought some relief from the drought that has persisted across large portions of the West.
By time the rain was to begin winding down Tuesday evening, yet another “enormous cyclone” forming off the coast was on track to slam areas from Northern California north along the coast of the Pacific Northwest today, the weather service said. Rainfall totals over the next several days in many parts of California could reach 7 additional inches.