A deluge of water was to continue Thursday to fall on California, hit the day before by a “cyclonic bomb”, carrying violent winds and torrential rains which deprived tens of thousands of homes of electricity and caused the closure of several roads, in a region already weakened by a series of winter storms.
Northern California, especially around San Francisco and Sacramento, is the region most at risk. Authorities warned of landslides and flooding, warning that this storm was capable of killing people.
Its first effects were felt Wednesday afternoon: more than 60,000 homes suffered power outages, according to the PowerOutage site, while more than 80 flights to or from San Francisco airport were canceled, according to the Flightaware site.
In some counties in the region (Mendocino, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara), several roads were cut due to flooding, falling trees or landslides.
The United States Weather Service (NWS) has predicted winds likely to reach 110 km/h and very intense rain with up to 10 centimeters of precipitation expected in San Francisco Bay, as well as more than a meter of snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Wednesday morning to facilitate the emergency response and streamline the reaction of authorities in the event of an incident.
San Francisco has set up an emergency operations center and interrupted the circulation of its famous cable cars.
“If you don’t have an obligation to be outdoors in San Francisco, avoid going out on the road,” warned Rachel Gordon, an official with the city’s public works department.
Bars and restaurants there remained closed on Wednesday and some residents were asked to work from home. City firefighters reported several falling trees Wednesday morning and some minor flooding, before the heart of the storm arrived.
Thousands of sandbags have been distributed to residents of areas at risk of flooding.
“We are very worried,” San Francisco resident Deepak Srivastava told CBS. “I spent the day piling sandbags in front of all the entrances to the garage, and we’re crossing our fingers that we don’t have more damage.”
– Series of storms –
“We had a similar flood in October,” sighed his wife Denise Srivastava. “They call it the storm of the century, but it looks like we’re going to have two of these in a week.”
Northern California is still suffering the effects of a series of storms.
The latest swept through on New Year’s Eve and caused landslides and power cuts. At least one person has died after being trapped in their car by flooding, authorities said.
On December 31, San Francisco recorded the second rainiest day in its history since the measurement was launched, with 14 centimeters of precipitation.
Under these conditions, the soils of the region, drained by the drought that has hit the American West for two decades, will have difficulty absorbing a new deluge, which increases the risk of flash floods.
“On its own, this storm could cause localized flooding and landslides,” said meteorologist Matt Solum for AFP. “But with the recent wet conditions… any additional rain will run down instead of soaking up the ground.”
Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. The rain expected on Wednesday comes from an “atmospheric river,” a narrow, river-like band in the atmosphere that carries huge amounts of moisture from the tropics.
Far from being exceptional in winter, this current phenomenon is accompanied by a “cyclonic bomb”, a system capable of causing the pressure to drop suddenly, thus generating very violent winds.
According to meteorologists, the series of storms currently battering California is not about to stop.
“We are expecting another over the weekend,” says Solum. “And then potentially several storms for next week. And possibly the following week as well.”