As the skies begin to clear and a relentless series of atmospheric rivers begin to flow, Californians finally get a break as they assess the aftermath of weeks of downed trees, landslides and devastating flooding.
River levels are falling in some areas, top climate officials said in a briefing Monday, and the worst of the rain appears to be over.
Another storm system is predicted to roll through California on Wednesday, California State Climatologist Mike Anderson said, but it won’t pack quite as big of a punch as the previous one. The rain, which is not expected to hit any farther south than Santa Barbara, seems barely strong enough to qualify as an atmospheric river.
But officials are warning the public to remain vigilant. Landslides, sinkholes and other hazards can still strike because the ground has gotten so wet, and tree limbs – dried up by years of drought and lashed by high winds – remain a deadly hazard.
On Saturday, a woman was beaten to death by a falling branch in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, bringing the total number of storm-related deaths statewide to at least 20.
Flood warnings from the National Weather Service remain in effect for some parts of the Bay Area and Central Coast, and a number of Southern California rivers are expected to reach near-flood levels later this week as excess water works its way through the watershed.
The biennial “royal tide,” an exceptional high tide that occurs when the sun, moon, and Earth align, is also expected to bring high tides to the coast this weekend.
Across the state, some roads are so damaged it will take weeks to clear and months to repair.
As the evacuees return to their homes and businesses, the full extent of the flood damage will become apparent in the coming days.
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on Monday to bolster emergency response personnel, and President Biden is expected to visit the central coast later this week to assess what additional federal aid is needed.
“Local flood managers across the state still have some work to do as the waters recede,” said Jeremy Arrich, who manages the California Department of Water Resources’ flood division.
Arrich noted that the state’s Flood Operations Center delivered nearly 1 million sandbags in the past two weeks and deployed personnel to 50 incidents to help with broken levees, erosion and sinkholes.
“Maintenance agencies will need to inspect and patrol their levees to look for any damage that may have occurred … and then evaluate any long-term repairs that may be necessary,” he said.
As for the ongoing drought, state water officials were cautiously optimistic in a briefing on Monday.
They noted that the snowpack — a critical water bank for the state during dry summer months — is at “epic levels” and that Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir in the State Water Project, has risen 120 feet since early December and is now at 101% from the historical average for this time of year.
A few other reservoirs in the state have filled up so much in recent weeks that officials have had to drain some of the water.
That said, two of California’s most critical reservoirs — Lake Shasta, at 51% of total capacity, and Trinity Lake, at 29% — have a long way to go before returning to average conditions. officials said. Communities in the Southwest that are largely dependent on the Colorado River also continue to experience a lot of drought.
Anderson, the state’s climatologist, noted that unlike last winter, which began with some intense downpours and then dried quickly, another wet spell could potentially strike this winter as La Niña’s infamous dry climate cycle appears to be returning. to neutral conditions.
But for now, Californians can look forward to at least two weeks of clear skies. When Anderson pulled out a precipitation map for the rest of the month, there was not a storm in sight.
“First time we’ve seen that in a long time,” he said. “No precipitation forecast for anywhere in the state.”