As another storm rages across California, five areas of the state to watch


SAN MATEO, Calif. — More than two weeks of storms have already battered California, and another arrived Sunday night. The relentless downpours and their impact — flooded homes, flattened cars, broken power lines and more — have killed at least 19 people and disrupted the lives of millions more since late December.

Experts have said almost none of the storms would have been considered catastrophic on their own, but the constant pounding has taken its toll on California’s landscape. The soil that now struggles to retain water is more vulnerable to mudslides. Days of high winds have sent trees tumbling. And the relentless precipitation has turned babbling creeks into raging waterways.

Forecasters said the latest storm should be the latest in a string of atmospheric rivers that have ravaged the state since late December, and that once it blows through, California will experience mostly dry weather for the next week, except for some light rain on Wednesday.

Northern California got a much-needed break from the storms Monday morning, as residents joined marches in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Further south, the showers continued in central and southern California, with some areas still experiencing flooding even after the heaviest rain had passed.

Here’s a rundown of areas officials are watching closely.

Monterey Peninsula

Monterey County’s landmark coastal town, the peninsula about 100 miles south of San Francisco with a population of 50,000, is a world-renowned tourist destination that includes the cities of Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove, and the golf destination of Pebble Beach.

With storms raging along the central coast, the peninsula and the roads that access it are under close scrutiny. After a stormy Sunday, the rain continued on Monday.

Disaster responders have seen widespread flooding in the Salinas Valley, inland from the peninsula, and the province still has active evacuation orders for some areas along the Salinas River. More than 100 people were in evacuation shelters Saturday, according to Maia Carroll, the communications coordinator for Monterey County. Some residents have been evacuated from their homes since the floods began a week ago.

There were no evacuation orders on the Monterey Peninsula on Monday, but officials across the county remained on high alert for more flooding along major rivers.

The concerns brought back memories of 1995, when the roads to the peninsula were flooded, completely cutting off the region from the rest of the county. The main routes into the region are Highways 1 and 68, which are at risk of flooding if the Salinas River overflows.

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Santa Cruz Mountains

Concerns in hard-hit Santa Cruz County, a coastal area south of San Jose, include flooding in the lowlands, a rising coastal tide and falling trees, but the county’s mountains were particularly vulnerable to the effects of more rainfall said Dave Reid, the director of the Santa Cruz County Office of Response, Recovery & Resilience.

“The challenge for us right now in mountain areas is that any amount of rain, even light rain, can cause road disruptions and landslides,” he said. The ground has been saturated with rain for weeks and can’t absorb much more, adding to the potential for mudslides and damaged roads.

The rain continued in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Monday and continued into the afternoon.

Falling trees and mudslides are Daniel DeLong’s main concerns. Mr. DeLong, 56, a retired firefighter who lives in Ben Lomond, California, a rural community in the Santa Cruz Mountains, describes the recent storms as “much more extreme” than anything he’s experienced in the three decades he’s lived there . His family lives on acres of land filled with towering redwoods and Douglas firs.

“They can just come down and cut your house in half,” Mr. DeLong said. A few smaller trees have fallen on his property in the past two weeks, but they have not done much damage.

His property is less vulnerable to falling rocks and mud, but the area has experienced road closures from mudslides. Mr DeLong said it is possible his family could become trapped on their property if more roads are cut.

Lake Tahoe Region / Sierra Nevada

More than eight feet of snow fell in the Sierra Nevada last week. Mountain communities in the Lake Tahoe region, with a fleet of snow groomers and avalanche professionals, are built to withstand major winter storms. However, problems pile up on a holiday weekend when so much snow coincides with the arrival of thousands of people looking for a winter vacation in the Tahoe area, one of the most popular places for downhill skiing in the country.

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On Sunday morning, bumper-to-bumper traffic moved slowly on two-lane roads toward the ski resorts north of Lake Tahoe. The National Weather Service expected another 8 to 18 inches of snow to fall by Tuesday, with gusts of up to 50 miles per hour on exposed ridges in the Sierra.

California Department of Transportation officials asked travelers for patience on Monday, when continued snowfall was expected to affect road conditions as tourists return home via high mountain passes. The two major highways, Interstate 80 and Highway 50, remained open Monday, though travelers were required to put chains on the tires of most vehicles.

When Interstate 80 and Highway 50 experienced delays and occasional shutdowns during heavy snow on Saturday, the roads were “wild” with multiple spinouts and accidents, said Gilbert Mohtes-Chan, an information officer for Caltrans District 3. While stuck in traffic, people jumped out of their cars to play in the snow, forgetting that they were on a major thoroughfare where large snowplows and heavy equipment require access. “People need to slow down and be patient, and they will reach their destination,” Mr Mohtes-Chan said.

On the bright side, the amount of water now in the snow pack is comparable to that experienced during some of the biggest winters in decades. The Sierra is essentially a large reservoir for all of California—on average, about 30 percent of the state’s water supply comes from the Sierra snow pack—and spring melting snow causes the water to flow downstream when the weather turns dry.

Southern California

Weeks of stormy weather have caused what Mark Pestrella, director of Los Angeles County Public Works, called “10,000 small cuts across the county.” But they all add up. The road network, he said, with the sinkholes and damaged pavement, will cost nearly $200 million to repair.

When downtown Los Angeles received 1.8 inches of rain on Saturday, breaking a record for the date, the storm caused only limited damage: A tree crushed several cars; a boulder and other debris from a mudslide closed off traffic. Near the ocean, rising tides caused up to six inches of water to form ponds in streets, including in Long Beach. And a sinkhole that swallowed two vehicles last week in the Chatsworth neighborhood of north Los Angeles continued to grow to nearly the entire width of the road.

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Still, Los Angeles has fared much better than other parts of the state, according to Captain Sheila Kelliher-Berkoh of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “We certainly have our fair share of things, but it could be worse,” she said.

Ms. Kelliher-Berkoh said one of the biggest priorities for the department was the Los Angeles River. Often the river was just a dry concrete channel that cut south through the heart of the city, but during the storms, the river became a 10-foot-deep torrent, she said. That current can be particularly dangerous for people who underestimate the strength of the current, especially children and the homeless who camp near the banks.

The county fire department is also closely monitoring areas recently hit by wildfires, where burn areas have left loose soil, perfect conditions for mudslides.

On Monday, storms caused some problems further south in San Diego County, where the San Diego River swelled and forced road closures.

Merced County

Located about 130 miles east of San Jose in the San Joaquin Valley and home to nearly 300,000 people, the county has endured some of California’s harshest weather. Last week’s floods forced hundreds of people to leave their homes. One of the hardest hit areas was Planada, a small farming community 90 minutes’ drive from Yosemite National Park.

The province has already had more than 200 times as much rain this month as last January. Storm conditions in the area eased on Sunday and another heavy downpour moved through the Central Valley on Monday.

During a brief hiatus over the weekend, the California National Guard worked with the county’s Office of Emergency Services to repair and strengthen key waterways in the region, including Bear Creek, which flooded last week.

Emergency workers also rushed to pump out the floodwaters before conditions deteriorated again, clear storm drains and repair levees.

Merced County evacuation orders were lifted and roads began to reopen over the weekend, giving Red Cross employees, local volunteers and members of the Merced County Sheriff’s Office a chance to distribute food and water to weary neighbors.

The post As One More Storm Hits California, Five Areas of the State to Watch appeared first on New York Times.