Residents of Southern California, weary of a storm-soaked winter, were hit hard Wednesday by the 11th storm surge of the season, flooding roads, causing landslides and downing trees across the state.
California has had a series of events atmospheric rivers, These weather events can cause extreme flooding when they make landfall and release accumulated water vapor. Flooding closed several miles of the Pacific Coast Highway through Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles, on the Orange County coast. A mudslide buried two vehicles on a road in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles County overnight, KNBC-TV reports. Another nearby hillside also gave way, threatening the foundation of the house on the hill.
More than 135,000 utility customers were without power nationwide Wednesday, according to poweroutage.us, a website that tracks power outages. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for three more counties on Tuesday, bringing the total to 43 of the state’s 58 counties. About 27,000 people statewide are under evacuation orders and more than 61,000 people are under warnings to prepare to evacuate due to the effects of the weather, according to the California Office of Emergency Services. As of Tuesday night, 676 people were staying in emergency shelters.
The rains meant the end of water restrictions for nearly 7 million people amid the state’s historic drought. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California decided to lift the restrictions, including limiting outdoor watering to one day a week in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.
California was in a drought from late December to mid-January until an unexpected series of atmospheric rivers poured into the state, causing flooding while building a spectacular snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. Although only 17% of West Coast storms are caused by atmospheric rivers, they account for 30% to 50% of California’s rainfall, according to a NASA study. They also contribute to 40% of the Sierra’s snowpack and more than 80% of the state’s major floods, according to a NASA study.
Last week, a strong atmospheric river burst its banks in the Pajaro River, prompting the evacuation of farmland and agricultural communities due to flooding. About half of the people ordered to evacuate were in Monterey County. As of Tuesday afternoon, the first phase of the 400-foot road repair was complete and crews were working to raise the section to full elevation, county officials said.
Flood warnings remain in effect for the central banks of the Salinas and Pajaro rivers, despite the rains holding off across California. Monterey County and other rivers in the Central Valley as they drain the land, which has been saturated by storms since late December.
Reporting contributed by Caitlin O’Kane