Deadly storms in California are about to intensify: “A significant emergency”

(CNN) — Historic storms ravaging California have turned entire neighborhoods into lakes, overflowing sewage and killing at least 17 people.

And they’re not over yet. About 5 million people are under flood watch Wednesday as another atmospheric river brings more rain to California.

“The state has been in a drought for four years, and now we have storm after storm,” California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis said Wednesday.

“We’ve had six storms in the last two weeks. This is the kind of bad weather you’d have in a year and it built up in just two weeks.”

The flood watches for this Wednesday mainly cover northern and central California, including Sacramento, North Bay and Redding. That barely leaves enough time for residents of flood-ravaged neighborhoods to assess the destruction before the next storm.

“There’s brown water everywhere. It was just rolling down the drain,” said Caitlin Clancy, a Fenton Grove resident.

“We had a canoe tied up, and we thought we could canoe out if necessary. But it was going too fast.”

california floods

A man kayaks through a neighborhood Tuesday in Santa Barbara, California. Credit: KEYT

The onslaught of recent storms came from a parade of atmospheric rivers, long, narrow regions in the atmosphere that can carry moisture thousands of kilometers.

“We’ve had five atmospheric rivers in California in two weeks,” Kounalakis said.

“Everything is wet. Everything is saturated. Everything is at breaking point, and more rain is coming.”

In fact, four more atmospheric rivers are expected to reach California in the next 10 days.

What are atmospheric rivers 0:54

What to expect from this next wave

california floods january 2023

Residents scramble to collect their belongings Wednesday before floodwaters rise in Merced, California. Credit: Josh Edleson/AFP/Getty images

This is what awaits us with the arrival of a new wave of bad weather on the west coast:

  • Parts of the central and northern coast of California will flood again with heavy rain this Wednesday. The downpours are expected to intensify and exceed 12mm of rain per hour by afternoon, according to the Weather Prediction Center.
  • Rain totals through Wednesday afternoon could range from 1-3 inches. The largest accumulations are expected in the North Bay and Santa Cruz Mountains, and more flooding could occur.
  • The rain will move north to the Oregon and Washington coast beginning Wednesday afternoon, giving Central California a brief break from rainfall.
  • Precipitation will also push into the Sierra Nevada this Wednesday afternoon, dropping up to 10 inches of snow.
  • The heaviest precipitation is expected in Northern California, where the National Weather Service forecasts an additional 5 to 10 inches of fall.

A 5-year-old boy swept away by the current is still missing

Rescue teams in San Luis Obispo County are struggling to find 5-year-old Kyle Doan, who was dragged from a truck near the Salinas River Monday morning.

missing child california floods

Kyle Doan, 5, was last seen Monday in San Miguel, San Luis Obispo County. Credit: SLO County Sheriff

Search efforts resumed Tuesday after being suspended Monday because weather conditions were too dangerous for emergency services, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said.

“Conditions, however, remain extremely dangerous,” the sheriff’s office said Tuesday. “The water level is high and continues to move rapidly.”

The sheriff’s office urged the public to leave the search operation to professionals to avoid the risk of volunteers having to be rescued.

“It’s exhausting work”

As another storm looms, many residents continue to deal with the devastation to their communities.

Rachel Oliviera used a shovel to try to push out some of the floodwater and thick mud that surrounded her Felton Grove home.

“It’s exhausting work,” said Oliviera, visibly shaken.

But she was more worried about her neighbors, whose houses were also covered in thick mud.

“Many of us who live here in the neighborhood are elderly and cannot physically do the cleaning.”

Vandalized vehicles, destroyed houses and gushing sewage

In the Chatsworth neighborhood of Los Angeles, several people had to be rescued after a sinkhole engulfed two vehicles on Tuesday. In Malibu, a massive rock collapsed, cutting off a key highway.

In parts of Santa Barbara County, “the storm caused flows through the sewer system to exceed capacity, resulting in the release of wastewater from the system onto the street,” the supervising specialist said Monday night. of County Environmental Health, Jason Johnston.

The local health department warned that the water could increase the risk of disease.

Another sinkhole was reported Monday in Santa Maria, in Santa Barbara County, where 20 homes were evacuated, CNN affiliate KEYT reported.

“The storms hit us like a bursting water balloon and just dropped water through our rivers and streams. So it’s been this excessive amount of flooding, it’s been the cycles over and over again,” the county spokesman said. Santa Cruz Jason Hoppin to CNN.

Hoppin said 131 homes in the county sustained significant damage but could be salvageable, while five others are not salvageable.

Storms have claimed 17 lives

The recent storms turned deadly after trees smashed into homes and vehicles, rocks and mud cascaded down hillsides and floodwaters rose rapidly.

At least 17 people have been killed in California storms in the past two weeks alone.

“It’s more than we’ve lost in the last two years from wildfires,” the lieutenant governor said. “So this is a very significant emergency.”

Rebekah Rohde, 40, and Steven Sorensen, 61, were found “with trees on top of their tents” over the weekend, according to the Sacramento County coroner. Both were homeless, according to the statement.

In the San Joaquin Valley, a tree fell on a pickup truck on State Route 99 in Visalia Tuesday, killing the driver. A motorcyclist also died after hitting the tree, the California Highway Patrol said.

Another driver died after entering a flooded road in Avila Beach on Monday, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said.

“It only takes 15 centimeters of water to lose control of a car and flip over. Within 30 centimeters, cars start to float,” Kounalakis said this week.

“We have heard that the streams have risen 4 meters in the last day alone and in certain areas we have had more than 30 centimeters of rain, just in the last 48 hours. It is inconceivable.”

Extreme weather and the climate crisis

California floods January 2023

Rescue crews help stranded residents Tuesday in Merced, California. Credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

While none of the upcoming storms are expected to be as devastating as the most recent ones, the cumulative effect could be significant in a state where much of the ground is already too saturated to absorb more rain.

In addition, the state’s ongoing drought has parched the landscape so much that the ground has difficulty absorbing incoming rain, which can lead to dangerous flash flooding.

Scientists have warned that the climate crisis is having a significant effect on California’s weather, increasing swings between extreme dryness and extreme rain.

— Camila Bernal, Stella Chan, Joe Sutton, Angela Fritz, Derrick Hinds, Taylor Ward and Robert Shackelford contributed reporting.

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