SAN FRANCISCO — The spate of storms plaguing California is far from over, and it’s still too early to calculate the cost of damage to homes and businesses inundated by flooding.
But the final tally will run into the billions of dollars, says Trevor Burgess, CEO of Neptune Flood, one of the nation’s largest private flood insurance companies. Only 2% of California homeowners have flood insurance, he said, adding that standard homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage.
A recent climate assessment by the U.S. Global Change Research Program found that “atmospheric rivers,” such as those that flow through California, are more common and will become more severe as global temperatures rise.
“Unfortunately, these types of flood events are the new normal and can no longer be considered a once-in-100-year event,” Burgess said.
WHAT IS AN ATMOSPHERIC RIVER?These rivers of water vapor can stretch for thousands of miles
►Dozens of major roads in the state remain closed due to flooding and slippage, the state Department of Transportation says. Caltrans districts across the state “strongly advise the public not to travel if at all possible.”
►The Palisades Tahoe Ski Area, formerly known as Squaw Valley, reported 300 inches of snow so far this season. The Mammoth Mountain resort in the Eastern Sierra said it received 444 inches of snow at the summit.
►At least 18 people have died in the relentless wave of storms that has swept across the state since late December, state officials say. Most of the deaths were caused by falling trees and cars swept away on flooded roads.
►The 12.37 inches of rain San Francisco received from Dec. 26 through Monday represents more than half of the typical annual total and the third-highest amount ever recorded in the city over 15 days, meteorologist Jan Null said.
ATMOSPHERIC RIVER DIRECTS TO SAN FRANCISCOBay area; more flooding possible: California storm updates
Drivers urged ‘turn around, don’t drown’ when found on a flooded road
With another atmospheric river expected to hit Northern California this weekend, the National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for the San Francisco Bay Area extending from early Saturday morning to 4 p.m. Monday.
The Weather Service’s Bay Area office is also strongly discouraging motorists from driving in flooded waters, finding new and creative ways to get that message across after tragic events during the latest storms underlined the dangers.
The 18th known fatality attributed to the storms was a 43-year-old woman found Wednesday in her submerged vehicle near the Bay Area town of Forestville. Further south in San Luis Obispo County, a 5-year-old boy riding in an SUV with his mother was swept away by floodwaters and is feared dead.
Officials promote the slogan “Turn around, don’t drown”, and post videos English and Spanish featuring footage of a pickup truck floating away in floodwaters, while a singer urges motorists to make a U-turn when they encounter flooded roads.
“It’s like just living in a waterfall,” says a resident of evacuated Montecito
Even after evacuation orders were lifted in Santa Barbara County on Wednesday, some Montecito residents were still reeling as they relived the horrors of the 2018 mudslides that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes in the affluent community where celebrities like Prince Harry Live , Ellen DeGeneres and Rob Lowe.
Susanne Tobey, who was rescued in that tragedy, found the only way out was closed during Monday’s evacuation.
“It was terrifying,” Tobey said. “I don’t think I slept all night, and the rain was… you just can’t imagine it. It’s like living in a waterfall.”
She said the community has made improvements that could help prevent a repeat of the incident five years ago this week, including installing steel nets to catch falling boulders and debris basins to contain the deluge before it overtakes the hills covered in plunging into the Pacific Ocean.
“You have to be brave to live in California,” she said, adding, “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Hopes faded Thursday for rescuing Kyle Doan – a 5-year-old boy who slipped from his mother’s hands on Monday amid floods that hit devastated parts of California – while more storms were on the way.
More than 100 volunteers, first responders and members of the National Guard searched San Marcos Creek near the central coastal town of Paso Robles, where his mother Lindsy’s SUV drifted off the road and into the rushing water.
Lindsy Doan got out of the car, hugged a tree and grabbed her son’s hand. She said Kyle’s last words were reassuring: “Mom, it’s okay. Just be calm.
Her hold on him was weak and the current swept him away, she said.
“Yesterday I got to the point where I think I was out of tears,” Doan told The The Bharat Express News. “I mean, I tried a Google search: How long can a child not eat? How long can they stay in wet clothes? We are worried because I don’t know if they will be able to find him.”
Is the drought over? Not yet
The seven atmospheric rivers that have drenched California in recent weeks, along with about three more to come, will allay concerns about a drought that has entered a fourth year. But the parade of storms won’t in itself end the state’s sprawling below-average rainfall.
Figures released Thursday show the entire state remained in abnormally dry conditions and 95% were in some form of drought, although almost none are still in extreme drought or worse.
California’s water reservoirs reached extremely low levels during the drought and are only now beginning to recover, reaching 84% of the average at the end of Monday, compared to 68% a month earlier.
But an impressive first part of the rainy season hardly guarantees sustained precipitation. State residents got such a reminder last year when major storms in October and December seemed to signal that the drought was over, only for California to experience its driest January to March period in recorded history.
When the Sierra snow pack — which serves as a natural water store until spring melt — was measured at its traditional peak in early April, it recorded just 38% of the historic average.
“Just because we’ve had this rain doesn’t mean we’ve eliminated the drought,” said Cindy Palmer of the National Weather Service’s San Francisco Bay Area office.
– Elizabeth Weise and Dinah Voyles Pulver
Two more cyclones are expected to hit the west coast
A major cyclone far out in the Pacific Ocean will send the latest in a series of atmospheric rivers down the west coast in the coming days, forecasters say. The heaviest precipitation will extend from Northern California along the Pacific Northwest coast into early Saturday. Northwestern California is most likely to receive “excessive” rainfall, the National Weather Service says.
That weather system should begin to break down Friday night, allowing the next Pacific cyclone to send another wave of the Atmospheric River toward California Saturday morning.
Tornado confirmed near Stockton
A line of severe thunderstorms rolling through the Sacramento area Tuesday morning spawned a tornado near the city of Milton, the National Weather Service confirmed. The storm, with winds of 90 mph, ripped a path of mutilated and uprooted trees nearly half a mile long and 50 feet wide about 30 miles east of Stockton, the weather service said in a statement.
A few miles from Milton, near the town of Oakdale, the storm produced winds strong enough to lift a shed and throw it over a five-foot fence, the weather service said. Instead of a tornado, the culprit was a straight-line wind of about 75 mph, the statement said.
Contributions: The The Bharat Express News