California suffered heavy rain on Wednesday, caused by a cyclone which risks aggravating the floods and landslides caused by a series of deluges which have already killed 18 people in this western American state.
The torrential rains of the previous days on soils already saturated with water generated vast power cuts, numerous floods, uprooted many trees and cut off major roads, the floods sometimes carrying motorists.
Some regions have recorded levels of precipitation not reached for 150 years.
“A massive spinning cyclone off the west coast will again bring heavy rainfall and gusty winds (Wednesday), this time targeting Northern California,” the US Weather Service (NWS) explained. The region could receive up to 18cm of precipitation in places.
Wednesday afternoon, more than 55,000 homes were without electricity.
In Aptos, a small town just over an hour’s drive south of San Francisco, residents were trying to recover from the floods of the past few days.
The city’s stream “flowed so violently, (…) there were tree trunks that broke into the river, almost one every thirty seconds”, said this resident. “It was incredible to see the amount of debris and wood carried by the torrent.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom visited this region of Santa Cruz County on Tuesday, one of the most affected by the serial storms. On the spot, he warned against those to come, less powerful but just as dangerous.
“This place is soaked. And now a more modest amount of precipitation can have a bigger impact in terms of conditions on the pitch,” he warned the press.
– Child still missing –
“We are not at the end of our troubles. We expect the storms to continue at least until January 18,” he added.
According to its services, the storms of the past few weeks have caused at least 18 deaths, “more than the forest fires of the past two years”.
In Paso Robles, in the center of the state, a five-year-old child was swept away by the waves on Monday while his mother was driving him to school. He was still missing on Wednesday.
“My wife is completely devastated to have survived without him,” her father, Brian Doan, told the Los Angeles Times. “She did her best.”
According to him, mother and son were trapped by water in their car. When she tried to pull the child out, they were separated by the current and she was rescued by neighbours, who failed to retrieve the boy.
A search is still ongoing and “we will continue (…) until we find him”, assured the services of the sheriff of the county of San Luis Obispo to the local media.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the deadly toll of recent storms includes motorists trapped by flooding in their cars, residents crushed by falling trees, a couple killed by a landslide and bodies washed away by the waves.
On Monday, the town of Montecito, a celebrity haunt where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle live, was targeted by an evacuation order, lifted the next day.
California is currently undergoing “an endless onslaught of atmospheric rivers”, unseen since 2005, according to the weather services. These “rivers of the sky”, which form thanks to the water vapor of the tropics and travel to then pour down waterspouts on the west coast of the United States, are rarely so frequent.
While it is difficult to establish a direct link between these series of storms and climate change, scientists regularly explain that warming increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.
Last week’s storm had already knocked out power to tens of thousands of people, caused heavy flooding and triggered landslides. It had come just days after another deluge of rain on New Year’s Eve.
However, they will not be enough to replenish the water reserves in California. Several winters of above-normal rainfall would be needed to compensate for the drought of recent years, experts say.