Atmospheric river brings flooding, power outages and landslides to Southern California

Atmospheric river brings flooding, power outages and landslides to Southern California

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Southern California residents weary of a storm-soaked winter were hit Wednesday by parting shots from the season’s 11th atmospheric river, which flooded roadways, caused landslides and toppled trees throughout the state.  

California has been hit by a series of atmospheric rivers, which can cause extreme flooding when these weather phenomena make landfall and release stored water vapor. Flooding closed several miles of Pacific Coast Highway through Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles on the Orange County coast. An overnight mudslide onto a road in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles County trapped two cars, KNBC-TV reported. Another hillside in the neighborhood also gave way, threatening the foundation of a hilltop home.

California Storms
Crews assess storm damage, which washed out North Main Street in Soquel, Calif., Friday, March 10, 2023.

Nic Coury / AP


Statewide, more than 135,000 utility customers remained without power early Wednesday, according to the power outage tracking website poweroutage.us.  Gov. Gavin Newsom issued emergency declarations for three more counties on Tuesday, raising the total to 43 of the state’s 58 counties. Statewide, about 27,000 people remained under evacuation orders and more than 61,000 were under warnings to be ready to evacuate due to weather impacts, according to the California Office of Emergency Services. Emergency shelters housed 676 people Tuesday night.

The rainfall did mean an end of water restrictions for nearly 7 million people amid the state’s historic drought, however. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California decided to lift the restrictions, which included limiting outdoor watering to one day a week in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.

California was deep in a drought before an unexpected series of atmospheric rivers barreled into the state from late December through mid-January, causing flooding while building a staggering snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. While just 17% of storms on the West Coast are caused by atmospheric rivers, they contribute to 30% to 50% of California’s precipitation, according to a study by NASA. They also contribute to 40% of Sierra snowpack, and more than 80% of the state’s major floods, the NASA study found. 

Runoff from a powerful atmospheric river last week burst a levee on the Pajaro River, triggering evacuations as water flooded farmland and agricultural communities. Nearly half of the people under evacuation orders were in Monterey County. The first phase of repairs on the 400-foot levee breach was completed Tuesday afternoon and crews were working to raise the section to full height, county officials said. 

Despite California’s rains winding down, flood warnings remain in effect on the central coast for the Salinas and Pajaro rivers in Monterey County and other rivers in the Central Valley as water runs off land that has been saturated by storms since late December. 

Reporting contributed by Caitlin O’Kane



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