Storms Pound California With Record Rainfall, Disastrous Flooding That Wrangles Roads, Forces Evacuations

The latest “atmospheric river” storm system is continuing to wallop the state of California with catastrophic flooding and dangerous conditions.

Nearly 34 million California residents, nearly 90% of the state’s population, are under a flood watch, according to maps from the National Weather Service. The deluge has delivered rainfall totals way above average, and multiple cities have set rainfall records in recent days. The storm system is also threatening infrastructure — closing some roads, collapsing others, knocking out power, and causing at least one mudslide already.

Nearly 100,000 residents were under evacuation orders or warnings Tuesday morning. Some 49,000 were under evacuation orders; the orders were in effect for Santa Cruz County in the north and parts of Santa Barbara County, including the city of Montecito, in the south.

“Nearly all of California has seen much above average rainfall totals over the past several weeks, with totals 400-600% above average values,” the NWS Weather Prediction Center said early Tuesday morning.

Several cities across the state had historic rainfall totals. According to CNN, the downtown area of Santa Barbara received 6.37 inches of rain on Monday, the highest total on record for the city. The nearby city of Moorpark was drenched with more than 4 inches of rain, the second-highest total in its history. San Luis Obispo McChesney Field Regional Airport got 4.1 inches of rain, beating the previous record rainfall by nearly half an inch. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that San Francisco received 12.37 inches in a 15-day period between December 26 and January 9, the third-largest rainfall total in a fortnight since 1862.

The storm has dramatically impacted travel across the state as well. Dozens of roads across the state were closed or damaged by the storm. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, State Route 9 in Santa Cruz County was closed in 4 separate locations as of Tuesday morning; state route 35 and 236 were also closed. Later in the morning, Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada was closed due to high winds and whiteout conditions.

A press release from the California Department of Transportation Tuesday morning showed that 9 different highways were closed in the Central Coast region, including multiple sections of U.S. Route 101.

Rockslides and downed trees closed multiple roads in the state. Video from local power company PG&E, shared by The Weather Channel showed a large tree sliding down a hillside and falling onto the road. The Fresno area office of the California Highway Patrol shared video Monday afternoon of a rockslide that closed state route 168 on Monday. Another rock slide blocked Malibu Canyon Road in Southern California, according to a tweet from the Los Angeles County Public Works Department.

A sinkhole opened in Chatsworth, a suburb of Los Angeles, Monday night. Four people were initially trapped in the sinkhole in two vehicles; two individuals escaped their vehicle before first responders arrived. The road was flooded and water began to fill the hole, but firefighters were able to rescue a mother and daughter from the second vehicle.

The floods have caused at least one mudslide already. Fox 11 Los Angeles reporter Mario Ramirez shared photos on Twitter of a mudslide in Studio City that covered roadways in the neighborhood.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said that as of Tuesday, the death toll across the state increased to 15, the Chronicle reported.

The NWS Prediction Center said that heavy rains would continue for much of the state through tonight. “[S]cattered to widespread instances of flash flooding will be possible, especially near steep terrain and burn scars,” the NWS said. “There will be a brief break in the rainfall in the West late tonight before the next atmospheric river arrives Wednesday… As the system slowly approaches the West Coast, precipitation will spread north into the Pacific Northwest Wednesday night and continue through the end of the work week.”

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