At least 2 dead following latest California storm
The parade of storms through California continued on Friday as the state's 10th atmospheric river of the winter prompted evacuation orders for hundreds and inundated areas once wrought with drought.
Evacuations were ordered in areas throughout California following excessive rainfall, leading to flooding on March 10.
The latest wave in the parade of storms to slam the West Coast brought additional flooding hazards across California on Friday, killing at least two people and isolating several communities amid the first flash flood emergencies of the year.
One of the two deaths associated with the storm occurred in Placer County, located in Northern California, and the second in San Bernardino County, located in the southern portion of the state, spokesperson Shawn Boyd told AccuWeather.
A third person died on Friday in Oakland, California, when the roof at a commercial warehouse and distribution facility for Peet's Coffee partially collapsed. The cause of the collapse is currently being investigated to determine whether the heavy rain played a direct role, according to Michael Hunt, spokesperson for the Oakland Fire Department. State and OSHA officials were on the scene Friday as a part of the investigation.
The man who was killed was a longtime employee of Peet's Coffee, and he had been in the building with a woman who was taken to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries. They were the only people in the building at the time, according to officials.
On Saturday night, a boat capsizing in San Diego County left at least 8 dead, with the search ongoing for possible victims. As of Sunday morning, these deaths have not been confirmed as weather-related.
President Biden approved an emergency declaration for California due to the ongoing storms, meaning that the state will be able to access federal resources to deal with the flooding, landslides and severe weather from what will be the state's 10th atmospheric river of the winter.
The flooding rainfall prompted flash flood emergencies in the Central California counties of Tulare and Kern -- the first alerts of that kind in 2023. Flash flood emergencies are rare alerts issued by the NWS to highlight a major threat to life or potential for catastrophic damage.
In the case of those issued on Friday, the first alert included the town of Springville, which sits about 67 miles southeast of Fresno, where rainfall combined with snowmelt.
"Between 1.5 and 3 inches of rain have fallen. Rapid snowmelt is also occurring and will add to the flooding," the NWS warned. "This is a particularly dangerous situation. Seek higher ground now."
In San Benito County, flooding prompted the county sheriff's office to jump into action, rescuing 14 people during the storm, including some who were stranded after their vehicle became submerged. In the Bay Area city of Fremont, flooding closed several lanes of Interstate 880 on Sunday.
An incredible amount of snow has fallen over the Sierra Nevada this season. As of Thursday, Mammoth Mountain, a popular ski resort, had measured 556 inches (46.3 feet) of snow for the season, significantly higher than the historical average of 300 inches.
"When we get large amounts of snow to build up in the Sierras like we have seen during the past week, the potential for flooding during warmer temperature swings dramatically increases. This is a huge concern when atmospheric rivers come onshore and bring a surge of warm, moist air and heavy rain to the Sierras," AccuWeather Meteorologist Aaron Druckmiller said. "These effects cause a rapid increase in otherwise normal snowmelt runoff, leading to the general overwhelming of creeks, rivers and other forms of water management infrastructure."
Evacuations were ordered for areas of Kernville and Riverkern, California, both in Kern County, late Friday morning as water levels of the Kern River began to rise. Over 5,200 people reside in the covered area, and they were among the more than 9,400 residents who have been ordered to evacuate their homes due to flooding across the state, according to Ward.
Drone footage over Kernville provided by Storm Chaser Brandon Clement showed homes turned into islands across a flooded landscape. At one bridge, the river lapped just beneath the structure as people gathered at the railing to see just how far the water had risen.
"I've seen it up to the mobile homes but never seen [this] in 30, 35 years. I've never seen [the water level] higher," Kernville resident John Kelly told Clement. "[It's] historic."
Farther north in Santa Cruz County, a creek fed by the excessive rainfall destroyed a portion of Main Street in the town of Soquel, which has a population of 10,000 people. The damage to the vital infrastructure resulted in the isolation of several neighborhoods, according to The Associated Press.
In an aerial view, workers make emergency repairs to a road that was washed out by heavy rain on March 10, 2023, in Soquel, California. An atmospheric river event brought high winds and heavy rain to Northern California that caused localized flooding and toppled trees. A second atmospheric event will hit Northern California by Monday or Tuesday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Since residents north of the road closure are trapped, officials ordered a shelter-in-place for Soquel Hills.
"It's horrible," Heather Wingfield, a teacher who runs a small urban farm with her husband in Soquel, told the AP. "Hopefully, no one has a medical emergency."
Wingfield knew flooding was a concern, especially for someone who lives close to Soquel Creek, but she didn't think it would be as bad as it currently is.
"The weather in California is almost like your spigot outdoors," AccuWeather Chief Video Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said. "When it's on, the water flows out and floods. But when it's off, there will be barely a drop."
Heavy rainfall has accumulated throughout California due to an atmospheric river, dropping nearly 10 inches in one Southern California location. Through Friday night, a total of 9.42 inches of rain was reported in Rocky Butte, located in San Luis Obispo County.
The city of San Luis Obispo itself received 7.99 inches of rain. The Bay Area also took in a hefty accumulation as of Friday night, including 7.71 inches of rain in Cazadero, about 90 miles northwest of San Francisco.
The powerful winter storms this season have completely erased the ongoing drought in large chunks of California, and additional improvement is expected in the weeks and months ahead. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report that was released on Thursday, more than 26% of California is now drought-free, up from a little over 16% at this time last week.
Three months ago, the entire state was either in some form of drought or experiencing abnormally dry conditions. As of Thursday, more than 5 million Californias were living in areas dealing with drought. This is down from more than 9 million just one week ago.
This winter has been quite active for California and according to some experts, busier than expected. Typically the state has stormier winters during El Niño patterns, but up until last week, La Niña was in place.
"We have seen a tremendous [drought] improvement ... this was not expected for this winter, it was not expected to be this kind of winter, but we've been given a gift in California," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark, who resides in Southern California and has forecast the weather in the West for decades.
The ample amount of water the recent string of winter storms has delivered to the Golden State has filled up many reservoirs and lakes. The level of the Oroville Dam, located north of Sacramento, has risen 180 feet since Dec. 1. As of Friday, water levels at the dam were only 60 feet shy of its maximum, State Water Project Deputy Director Ted Craddock told The Sacramento Bee.
This prompted California water officials to open the dam's main spillway for the first time since April 2019. This was to make room for more water and hopes to prevent more flooding. While the spillway is currently only releasing 15,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), it is capable of handling higher releases if needed, water officials said.
Previously, torrential rainfall damaged the dam in 2017, leading to the evacuations of portions of Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties in Northern California. Repairs were finished by April 2, 2019.
AccuWeather forecasters warn the end of the unsettled weather is far from over, with another atmospheric river imminent across California.
"A potent wave of energy will push into California late Monday night into Wednesday and bring rounds of heavy rainfall, heavy mountain snow above 7,500 feet, and gusty winds," AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyssa Smithmyer said. "Although, days leading up to this event will be anything but dry across parts of California. Frequent showers will track into Northern and Central California from Saturday to Monday."
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