A series of severe storms have pummeled parts of California since shortly after Christmas, causing record-breaking flooding, mudslides and whiteout conditions across the state.
Storms continued to batter parts of California over the weekend, bringing historic levels of rain to some regions, as well as short-term relief to a state often plagued by droughts.
The severe wet weather has also brought California’s storm relief response into question, with some policymakers and experts urging California to try a new approach to keep flooding at bay.
A string of atmospheric rivers, which are bands of water vapor from the tropics that dumps rain or snow when it makes landfall, is responsible for the severe weather. These rivers can dump precipitation on a region for days at a time.
Here are five takeaways from the California storms as more storms are expected Sunday night.
Relief from storms in sight
Heavy storms are expected to continue into Monday morning with heavy snow falling in the mountain regions, according to the National Weather Service. A flood watch has also been issued for the San Francisco Bay Area and the state’s central coast until Monday afternoon.
But relief may be in sight. By Tuesday, dry weather will return to most portions of the state, said Accuweather meteorologist Brandon Buckingham. He said areas including Sacramento and Fresno will see dry conditions for 24 to 36 hours starting Tuesday, and southern areas like Los Angeles and San Diego could see dry conditions until the end of the month.
By mid-week, Central and Northern California will likely see another onslaught of storms that could bring more flooding to the area, according to the Accuweather forecast.
As of Thursday, most of California was still in a severe or moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
At least 19 people have died due to the storms
Since late December, at least 19 people have died as a result of the weather and hazardous conditions caused by it, more than double the nine people killed in wildfires in 2022.
Half of these deaths involved motorists. Some of those deaths could have been avoided if they had listened to road closure signs, said Sean Duryee, acting commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, according to the Associated Press.
A five-year-old boy was swept away from his mother’s arms when floodwaters filled up their SUV on the way to school last Monday. Officials temporarily paused the search for Kyle Donan Saturday due to rising water levels in the area, but resumed the search Sunday, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Other causes of death include falling trees and lightning.
“We haven’t had a flood in a long time,” said a spokesperson for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, per NBC News. “People have a lot of experience with fires. We’re coming out of years of drought. The public is having to learn a new skill.”
Record rainfall fell in some regions
Los Angeles saw record-breaking rainfall over the weekend, with downtown L.A. receiving 1.82 inches Saturday, breaking the 1978 record of 1.56 inches, according to CBS Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Airport saw 1.53 inches fall Saturday, breaking the previous record 1.51 inches also set in 1978.
Northern California also experienced record-breaking rainfall over the last few weeks, with Downtown San Francisco recording 13.6 inches of rain from Dec. 26 to Jan. 11, according to Reuters. San Francisco International Airport, Oakland and Stockton also all recorded 16-day records during the same period, according to Reuters.
The National Weather Service warned that more flooding will occur Sunday into Monday and issued flood watches and warnings. On Saturday, nearly 26 million people in California were under a flood watch.
Biden declares major disaster
President Biden declared a major disaster in California Saturday to direct federal aid to the storm-battered state.
The declaration will send federal aid to assist state, tribal and local recovery efforts and to support individuals in affected areas, including Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Merced. The aid can include funding for temporary housing and property losses due to the storm.
“Thank you, @POTUS for having the back of Californians as we continue to be impacted by intense winter storms,” California Governor Gavin Newsroom (D) said on Twitter.
Biden also declared a major disaster in Alabama Sunday, after the state was hammered by tornadoes Thursday.
Mudslides, whiteout conditions close roads
Hazardous road conditions resulted in the closure of highways in the mountain region over the last few weeks.
Icy road conditions pushed officials to close the I-80 westbound at the Nevada Stateline and eastbound at Colfax Saturday night. Officials posted a video of the snowy conditions, and reopened the highway Sunday with chain control.
The California Department of Transportation said to expect traffic delays Saturday as the department conducted avalanche control on parts of the highway in the Sierras. The state also closed parts of Route 50 for avalanche control.
“Pack your patience & have snacks & a full tank of gas because of heavy traffic & temporary closures at various locations for vehicle spinouts and avalanche control,” the statement said. “Expect extended travel delays.”
The California Highway Patrol in Santa Cruz warned people Saturday not to drive unless it was “necessary,” due to potential flooding, sinkholes, and downed trees.
“This new wave of storms is bringing new road closures and more hazards,” the warning said. “Please do not drive unless it’s NECESSARY. Be safe and cautious of your surroundings.”