Response crews are busy clearing flooded neighborhoods and crumbled roadways after a powerful storm walloped California with heavy downpours and strong winds, forcing thousands of evacuations – and another round of rain is on the way.
Already, storms that battered California in recent weeks have left at least 17 people dead as much of the state received rainfall totals 400% to 600% above average.
The rain tapered of in Southern California by Tuesday night, but across the state, more than 6 million people were still under flood alerts as the next in a barrage of atmospheric rivers was forecast to bring heavy rain and potentially more flooding to Northern California beginning Wednesday.
It’s the first of four more atmospheric river events – long, narrow regions in the atmosphere that can transport moisture thousands of miles – that are expected to hit California in the next 10 days.
The next round of rain is moving in ahead of a large cyclone in the eastern Pacific that is expected to also bring precipitation to the Pacific Northwest by Wednesday night.
“We’re anticipating some very intense weather coming in,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Twitter Tuesday.
The heaviest rain over the next seven days is expected in northern portions of the state where the National Weather Service is forecasting an additional 5 to 10 inches, with localized higher amounts.
Though none of the coming storms are expected to individually be as impactful as the most recent ones, the cumulative effect could be significant in a state where much of the soil is already too saturated to absorb any more rain and streets are still flooded from previous storms.
“We have had five atmospheric rivers come into California over two weeks,” Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis told CNN. “Everything is wet. Everything is saturated. Everything is at a breaking point and there is more rain coming.”
As another storm looms, many communities are still picking up the pieces.
Parts of Central and Southern California saw intense damage. There were about 150-200 reports of flooding and mudslides across the southern region in 28 hours, National Weather Service Meteorologist Todd Hall said Tuesday.
In the Los Angeles neighborhood of Chatsworth, several people had to be rescued after a sinkhole swallowed two vehicles Tuesday. In Malibu, a massive boulder came crashing down, shutting down a key roadway.
Farther north, another sinkhole was reported Monday in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria, where 20 homes were evacuated, CNN affiliate KEYT reported.
Flooding in Santa Barbara County damaged 10 to 15 homes Monday, according to officials. On the central coast, Santa Cruz County officials reported widespread damage, including a collapsed bridge.
As the storm wrought havoc, around 34,000 residents were ordered to flee their homes, including the entire community of Montecito in Santa Barbara County and 18,600 people in Santa Cruz County, according to state officials.
“The storms hit us like a water balloon exploding and just dropped water down through our rivers and creeks. So it’s been this excessive amount of flooding – it’s been the cycles over and over again,” Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin told CNN. “It’s really kind of wearing on the community.”
Hoppin said 131 homes in the county received significant damage, but could be salvaged, while five others are not salvageable.
As evacuation orders were lifted, some residents returned to flooded homes and mud-covered neighborhoods.
In the Felton Grove neighborhood of Santa Cruz County, residents have had to evacuate twice due to major flooding as the San Lorenzo River swelled, CNN affiliate KGO reported. Residents were busy Tuesday shoveling mud out of their garages and driveways.
“It’s great living on the river. It’s not so great living in the river – there’s a big difference,” one resident told the station. “We were expecting a flood, but not like this”
As trees came crashing down into homes and cars, rocks and mud barreled down from hillsides, rivers swelled and water inundated streets, the storm turned deadly.
Rebekah Rohde, 40, and Steven Sorensen, 61, were both found “with trees on top of their tents” over the weekend, according to a news release from the Sacramento County Coroner. Both were unhoused, according to the release.
In the San Joaquin Valley, a tree fell on a pickup truck on State Route 99 in Visalia early Tuesday, killing the driver and leading to the death of a motorcyclist who crashed into the tree, the California Highway Patrol said.
One driver died after entering a flooded roadway in Avila Beach Monday, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.
“It only takes six inches of water to lose control of a car to be knocked over. In 12 inches, cars start floating away,” Kounalakis said. “You’ve heard that creeks that have risen 14 feet just in the last day and in certain areas we’ve had over a foot of rain – just in the last 48 hours. So it is unbelievable.”
Crews carried out numerous rescues over the past two days, sometimes responding by boat or helicopter.
A 5-year-old boy was swept away from a truck by floodwaters Monday morning near the Salinas River in San Miguel, about a 215-mile drive northwest of Los Angeles, authorities said. An hourslong search for the child resumed Tuesday morning after it was suspended due to poor weather conditions Monday afternoon.
“The mother in the vehicle was fortunately rescued shortly after the vehicle did become stranded,” CAL FIRE San Luis Obispo Assistant Chief Tom Swanson told CNN Tuesday afternoon. “We currently have search teams out there combing the shorelines and in the water with a dive team on standby.”
As water levels rose, resources were spread thin on Monday, Swanson said, describing bridges becoming compromised, trees blocking homes and stranded vehicles.
In Santa Barbara County, 265 firefighters had responded to more than 400 storm-related calls scattered throughout the county’s approximately 3,000 square miles by Tuesday afternoon, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Anthony Stornetta said.
In the city of Santa Barbara, there were 110 calls for help ranging from gas leaks to people stuck in cars, homes and elevators, according to Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Chris Mailes.
While heavy rain, flooding and mudslides from the most recent storm were easing Tuesday night, the next round of moisture is set to impact the Bay Area beginning Wednesday morning, when more watches will likely be issued.
Northern California’s respite from the rain will be much shorter than the Southland’s as the new atmospheric river impacts areas from San Francisco northward Wednesday and Thursday.
It is expected to be followed by a storm this weekend, another event early next week and yet another by the middle of the week. The final three are expected to have more widespread impacts across the entire state.
As the most recent round of moisture moves inland, winter weather alerts were issued for six western states, including Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The lower elevation areas could see 4-12 inches of snowfall with higher elevations potentially seeing 1-2 feet.
Winter storm warnings also remain in place for the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, where 2-7 inches of snowfall are possible.
Though the series of atmospheric rivers have plagued California with flooding, mudslides and power outages, they have also brought beneficial snow to the Sierra Mountains.
The eastern Sierra is now at a record value for snow water equivalent for this date and is higher than the median peak usually seen in March, according to the weather service.
Areas across the mountains have seen widespread amounts of one to three feet of snow in recent days, with Mammoth Mountain, California, picking up 54 inches.