Californians Dealing With Historic Rainfall, Brace For More


This GOES-West GeoColor satellite image made available by NOAA shows a storm system approaching the U.S. West coast at 4:25 p.m. EST, on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. California is expected to get more rain in the week from Los Angeles to San Francisco. NOAA/ACCUWEATHER

The start of the new year has brought historic rainfall to parts of drought-plagued California, and according to AccuWeather forecasters, the stormy pattern is expected to continue through the end of the month. As the cleanup continues from the first round of storms, Californians are already bracing for more unsettled weather.

Over New Year’s weekend, an atmospheric river brought a plume of moisture to California, resulting in major flooding, mudslides and over 4 feet of snow atop the highest mountains. At least two people died and thousands were left without power from the storms, which washed out roadways and flooded homes and businesses.

On Saturday, San Francisco experienced its wettest day since Nov. 5, 1994, due to the storm system. The city also recorded its second-wettest day in 174 years of record-keeping. The downtown area picked up a whopping 5.46 inches of rain which was just 0.08 of an inch shy of tying the current record. The single-day rainfall accounted for nearly 50% of the rain that fell in December. Typically, the Bay Area measures around 4.14 inches of rain in December.

AccuWeather forecasters warn that more rain is on the way for the soggy Golden State, and the saturated ground will leave many areas more vulnerable to dangers such as flooding and mudslides. A bomb cyclone off the coast of California is expected to bring heavy rainfall to California through Thursday.

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This GOES-West GeoColor satellite image made available by NOAA shows a storm system approaching the U.S. West coast at 4:25 p.m. EST, on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. California is expected to get more rain in the week from Los Angeles to San Francisco. NOAA/ACCUWEATHER


“Not only will this storm be intense tapping into a substantial atmospheric river, but it is also arriving just days after the previous storm brought heavy rainfall and created significant flooding, increasing the impacts and risks that can occur,” AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter said.

Rainfall of this magnitude could result in dangerous flash floods and mudslides across the state, and residents are taking no chances with this storm.

“[California Office of Emergency Services] is working closely with [California Department of Transportation] and the California Highway Patrol on road closures and public safety,” Alicia de la Garza, public information officer for the California Office of Emergency Services (CAL-OES) said in an update. “And we’re coordinating with flood experts at the Department of Water Resources to evaluate levees and other flood impacts.”

The California Department of Water Resources is actively monitoring the flood situation and has prepositioned flood fight materials and equipment in at least 38 locations statewide, according to a tweet from the state department.

California’s state operations center is at its highest emergency level, and the flood operations center is coordinating efforts, such as sandbag distribution.

As early as Monday, San Francisco officials started distributing sandbags to residents. AccuWeather National Reporter Emmy Victor reported long lines formed on Monday and Tuesday at multiple distribution sites across the city.

In Sacramento County, officials are working to ensure the levees on the Cosumnes River are working ahead of the storm. They are also urging the public to report any flooding, downed trees or power lines to the city as soon as possible.

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t’s all happening against the backdrop of a yearslong, climate change-fueled megadrought that has drained the state’s reservoirs and triggered water shortages. These storms usher in much-needed rainfall and snow to the state. But Daniel Swain, climate scientist at the University of California in Los Angeles, said it is not enough to erase the decadeslong deficit that the unrelenting drought has built up.

“This is really going to help a lot with the short-term drought in Northern California, perhaps even erase short-term drought conditions, but it’s going to take a lot more to completely obviate the longer term, multi-year drought impacts,” Swain said, emphasizing that Wednesday’s atmospheric event will be a “high-impact storm.”

People fill sandbags in preparation for the next storms outside a public works station in South San Francisco, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. Northern California residents are bracing for another round of powerful storms this week after flooding from a New Year’s Eve deluge killed one person, prompted the evacuation of more than 1,000 inmates in a county jail and washed away a section of a levee system that protects mostly rural farmland. HAVEN DALEY/ACCUWEATHER

“We are in a mode of making sure our levees are strong,” Matt Robinson, the public information officer (PIO) for Sacramento County, California, told AccuWeather in an interview. “It’s very important that the public works with us, so we know what they see and we can get to it as fast as possible.”

In the city of Watsonville, located roughly 70 miles south of San Francisco, a mandatory evacuation order has been issued for communities with a high risk of flooding during Wednesday’s storm. According to the city’s website, an overnight shelter will be open for those who need to evacuate.

People in Northern California are scrambling to finish cleaning up after a storm on New Year’s Eve flooded out homes and businesses over the weekend.

“If the floodwaters have come an inch or two higher, our whole house would have been flooded,” California resident Brent Reynolds told AccuWeather National Reporter Emmy Victor on Tuesday.

In Sacramento County, three levees broke along the Cosumnes River on Saturday, leading to significant flooding for those near the river. Eventually, a section of State Route 99 was closed due to floodwaters.

“We’ve been hit hard with this recent storm,” Robinson said. “It’s been really tough for a lot of residents as they’ve seen the rivers and the creeks rise into their homes.”

Although the rain was a welcomed sight for the state that has been in a drought since 2017, the amount of rain that fell over a short period was too much. Wastewater systems and the parched ground were overwhelmed and couldn’t absorb the water fast enough.

In this photo provided by the California Department of Water Resources, forecasting chief Sean de Guzman, second from right, and engineers work the measurement phase of the first media snow survey of the season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. KENNETH JAMES/ACCUWEATHER

“We love to see the water, we just don’t love to see the amount of water coming at us this quickly,” Robinson said. “You know the state has been in a drought since about 2017, and we want to get out of the drought but not like this.”

However, the unsettled weather pattern seemingly dominating the West isn’t all bad news. This past weekend’s storm delivered a blockbuster start of the season to the mountains of California.

A staggering hourly snowfall rate of 7.5 inches per hour was recorded Saturday afternoon at the Central Sierra Snow Lab, and officials measured more than 55 inches of snow during the first official snow survey of the season.

Since the Sierra snow pack provides at least 30% of California’s annual water demand, the barrage of storms will help tremendously with the long-term drought in the Golden State. AccuWeather forecasters say some reservoir levels may surge to full capacity before the storm train eases down later in the month.

While the prolonged wet conditions will provide some relief to the drought conditions, the rain has proved too much too fast.

According to the National Weather Service, the storm could trigger more widespread flooding, roads washing out, hillside collapsing, fallen trees, major power outages, “immediate disruption to commerce, and the worst of all, likely loss of human life.”

“This is truly a brutal system that we are looking at and needs to be taken seriously,” the NWS Bay Area office added.


Produced in association with AccuWeather.

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