California has been hit hard by heavy rains from an atmospheric river, causing evacuations, power outages, and road closures. Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in 43 out of 58 California counties as over 130,000 homes and businesses remained without power on Wednesday due to the severe weather.
The atmospheric river has triggered warnings of potential flooding and mudslides, with the West Coast experiencing an unusually wet season following two decades of drought. The heavy rains are also endangering homes along the coast in Southern California’s Orange County.
In the meantime, the Northeast was hit by a powerful Nor’easter blizzard, resulting in upstate New York and New England being buried under snow. Massachusetts saw accumulations of up to 3 feet of snow in some areas.
The atmospheric river refers to airborne currents of dense, tropical moisture from the Pacific that have been lashing California in rapid succession since late December, killing at least 20 people. This recent storm has caused four deaths, according to Newsom, who was touring flood damage in Pajaro on the state’s central coast where a levee broke last Saturday, forcing many of the town’s 2,000 people, most of them Latino farm workers, to evacuate.
“We’re tired. Everybody’s tired,” Monterey County Sheriff Tina Nieto said at the same news conference where Newsom spoke. “It’s hard for some of our most economically impoverished neighbors.”
Monterey County has reissued an evacuation order for a 25-mile (40-kilometer) stretch along the Salinas River and Highway 101, most of it low-lying farmland. Numerous coastal and inland roads have been closed. The Sacramento River, the longest in the state, is also reaching flood stage just below Shasta Dam, the state’s largest reservoir, with the National Weather Service issuing flood warnings to several towns along the river.
The Success Lake reservoir in Tulare County, a farm region in the San Joaquin Valley, has reached its capacity, forcing officials to release water through the Schafer Dam spillway and ordering evacuations downstream.
While agricultural communities have been hit hard in the north, wealthy coastal communities have taken the brunt of the storm in Southern California. In Newport Beach, an upscale Orange County enclave, a home with spectacular ocean views hung in the balance as the blufftop beneath it collapsed. In nearby San Clemente, blufftop properties were evacuated due to landslides, including one where a backyard swimming pool was left dangling over the precipice.
“It sounded kind of like an earthquake,” said C.J. Smith, 41, whose home was affected. He acknowledged the dangers that come with living on a bluff above the beach. “The views are beautiful. To us it’s kind of worth the risk.”
Pacific Coast Highway was closed at several points along the Orange County coast due to the severe weather conditions.
The West Coast’s unusually wet season has been creating havoc on roads and endangering homes along the coast in Southern California’s Orange County, which has been hit particularly hard. According to Governor Newsom, “It’s been fire to ice and no warm bath in between,” referring to the state’s pivot from wildfires just a few months ago to one of the snowiest winters on record.
Forecasters have warned of a possible 12th atmospheric river next week, adding to the challenges already faced by California and other states affected by the recent severe weather conditions.