SAN FRANCISCO – Thousands of Californians fled their homes, and the death toll from the wave of devastating storms rose to 14 as the latest “atmospheric river” slammed a wide swath of the state with gale-force winds and more than a foot of rain.
“The endless onslaught of potent systems with atmospheric rivers of moisture continue to inundate California,” the National Weather Service said in a statement. “Torrential rain, widespread flooding, rapid water rises, mudslides and landslides with possible debris flows, heavy mountain snow and gusty high winds all remain threats to the Golden State.”
Farther south, about 10,000 residents in and around the Santa Barbara County community of Montecito were ordered to evacuate. The town, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles, was the site of mudslides five years ago that killed 23.
“Due to the extreme rain and weather conditions in the area, and to prioritize community safety, classes are canceled,” the University of California, Santa Barbara, tweeted. “Please be safe and take good care during this challenging weather.”
In neighboring Ventura County, where 9 inches of rain had fallen by early Thursday, emergency responders rescued 18 people trapped in an island encampment overwhelmed by Ventura River floodwaters.
More weather was on the way Wednesday, forecasters warned.
“An enormous cyclone forming well off the coast of the North American continent will bring yet another atmospheric river toward the West Coast,” the weather service said. The primary target will be northern California northward up the coast of the Pacific Northwest.
EVACUATIONS AMID GIANT STORMS:5-year-old swept away by floodwaters; sinkhole swallows vehicles: Updates
►More than 225,000 homes and businesses were without power Tuesday, many of them in Santa Clara County south of San Francisco. Heavy winds tore the roof of some buildings, thunderstorms were forecast for the area, and tornado warnings were issued.
►Nearly all of California has seen rainfall totals 4 to 6 times above average over the past several weeks, the weather service said.
►In Montecito, Ellen DeGeneres posted video on Instagram of flooding near her home. She said she and her wife, actor Portia de Rossi, were told to shelter in place because they are on high ground. “This is crazy,” said DeGeneres, shown wearing a hoodie and raincoat.
►The National Weather Service said the storms had already dumped up to 14 inches of rain in isolated areas of central and Southern California.
►The rains are providing some relief after years of drought. Many reservoirs are now above their historical average levels, with water levels increasing rapidly, the weather service said.
►Tuesday’s storm system was forecast to quickly move through the western U.S. tonight and emerge into the central Plains on Wednesday.
ARE CALIFORNIA STORMS NORMAL?:Are California’s storms normal, or is climate change making them worse? What experts say.
California storms: Climate change or something else?
California could face a “parade of storms” over the next several weeks, on top of recent deluges that have killed at least 14 people, triggered flooding, knocked out power and forced evacuations and school closures up and down the coast. Although wet winters and dry summers are a natural part of California’s weather patterns going back millennia, the question arises: Are this year’s storms something out of the ordinary?
Weather patterns over hundreds of years show periods of severe drought and periods of extreme wetness in the state. The last few years have been severe drought. The wetness over the last two weeks has been extreme.
“We have in recent years become accustomed to quite dry conditions and a lot of winters that didn’t feel much like winter in a lot of California past decade or so,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “And that is both unusual, but also typical in the longer context.” Read more here.
– Elizabeth Weise and Dinah Voyles Pulver