Sick of rain? But wait, there’s more

Back-to-back water years are wettest for L.A. since late 1800s, and a new system looms off the coast.

After a comparatively dry fall in Southern California, there was a point last December when it seemed like the fears of a strong, wet El Niño winter may have been overblown.

So much for that.

In a matter of weeks, a succession of powerful storms flipped the script, dumping a stream of record-setting, intense rainfall across California, much of it on the state’s southwestern region.

That wet pattern has continued as winter has given way to spring, with this past weekend’s storm dumping up to 4 inches of rain in some areas — pushing Los Angeles to a new two-year rain total not seen since the late 1800s and forestalling any hope for a quick end to the rainy season.

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As of Monday morning, downtown Los Angeles had received 52.46 inches of rain in the latest two water years, the second-highest amount in recorded history. The only other two-year October-through-September period — the period for the so-called water year — that saw more rain was from 1888 through 1890, according to the National Weather Service.

“When you consider the records since 1877 in downtown L.A. … the second [largest total] is hugely significant,” said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. “We’re obviously way, way, way above normal for two years in a row now. For a dry climate like the Los Angeles area, it’s huge.”

And there’s probably more on the way. A low-pressure system is brewing off the California coast, expected to move inland later this week, weather officials said, driving above-average precipitation forecasts for much of the state through April 10.

Nor do forecasters expect that storm to close out the wet season, with the long-range forecast for April favoring slightly-above-average precipitation in Southern California, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

“We don’t think it’s the end of the rainy season yet,” said Anthony Artusa, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center. He said a wetter pattern should linger through April and maybe into early May, fueled by the last vestiges of an El Niño-Southern Oscillation — the climate pattern in the tropical Pacific that tends to drive wetter weather in California.

The current El Niño is transitioning to a more neutral pattern, and a La Niña is expected to take over by the summer, bringing typically cooler and drier weather. But because the atmosphere tends to lag behind the changes to the Pacific’s surface temperatures, Artusa said, “we’re seeing an extension of these [El Niño] effects even later on into April.”

Indeed, this year’s soggy winter was in many ways a “canonical” El Niño event — particularly because most of the storms arrived in late winter and are continuing through spring, according to Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

“El Niño and La Niña signals typically kick in — when they do kick in, because it’s not always the case — in January, February, March, and that’s exactly the part of the year that was anomalously wet this year,” he said.

However, not all of the wet weather can be attributed to El Niño. Last year’s soaking storms occurred during a La Niña event, and Gershunov noted that some of the state’s wettest years this century have occurred during La Niña years, which also included 2011 and 2017.

“In all of these cases, atmospheric river activity was extremely strong,” he said. “What we are finding out is that atmospheric rivers don’t always dance to the tune of [El Niño], and they can make or break” the textbook El Niño pattern.

This latest Easter weekend storm caused some freeway flooding, brought brief hail and dropped 2 to 4 inches of rain across the region, with some mountain areas hitting totals closer to 5 inches, according to the weather service. It was far from the strongest storm this rainy season, but it still brought impressive rain totals: 2.1 inches in downtown L.A., 4.67 inches in Lytle Creek, 4.09 near Lynwood, 3.92 in Compton and 3.54 in Stunt Ranch.

The heaviest and most widespread rain fell from late Friday into early Saturday, setting several daily rainfall records for March 30, including in downtown L.A. with 1.73 inches, Long Beach with 1.86 inches and Palmdale with 1.12 inches. Snowfall totals hit 22 inches in Green Valley Lake, 14 inches in Snow Valley and 10 inches in Big Bear City, according to the National Weather Service.

Last month, though, daily rainfall totals more than doubled the March 30 records when a deadly atmospheric river stormwalloped the Southland and much of the Golden State, triggering hundreds of mudslides, significant flooding and destruction. That system dumped 4.1 inches of rain on downtown L.A. in one day, making Feb. 4 the wettest day in February history.

That system followed a string of strong storms that brought significant rains and severe flash flooding in some areas. Most notably, in late December, a month’s worth of rain fell in less than an hour and inundated Oxnard. Then in January in San Diego, historic rainfall filled one-story homes, turned roads into rivers and forced rooftop rescues.

“We’ve had a number of very heavy, high-intensity rainfall events,” Sirard said.

With more rain on the horizon for Southern California, Sirard said he wouldn’t be surprised if this two-year period ends up the wettest in City of Angels history, as the current count is less than 2 inches short of the all-time record, 54.1 inches, which fell from 1888 to 1890.

“We actually have a very decent chance of setting the all-time record,” Sirard said.

Last year became the seventh-wettest water year in L.A.’s history with 31.07 inches falling from Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023. National Weather Service meteorologists consider 14.25 inches the area’s normal annual rainfall, making last year’s total more than 200% of average. With six months left to go, this water year has recorded 21.39 inches, currently the 22nd wettest in recorded history.

This year’s wet winter may also have broader climate impacts, Gershunov said, including potential effects on the coming wildfire season. Mountain and forest ecosystems will probably see less fire activity because late winter and spring snowpack tends to melt gradually, promoting wetter soils and less combustible vegetation in the summertime.

On the other hand, anomalous precipitation in coastal ecosystems — such as the strong storms that fell this winter and spring in Los Angeles and San Diego — are promoting the growth of new grasses and other light plants that could potentially feed flames.

“All of that is going to be dry when the coastal fall wildfire season rolls around with the onset of Santa Ana winds next October,” Gershunov said.

And while this year seemed to follow the El Niño playbook, he noted that the climate pattern doesn’t always live up to the hype, such as the El Niño of 2015-16, which was billed as a monster event that ultimately produced average precipitation in California. In fact, when measured on a statewide basis, precipitation is hovering just around average this year, with 20.9 inches since the start of the water year on Oct. 1, or about 107% of average for the date, state data show.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Powerful winter storm pummels the Golden State

Millions of Southern Californians are waking up to a powerful storm that’s expected to linger over the region through Monday, bringing risks of dangerous flooding, road closures, power outages and other hazards.

The slow-moving atmospheric river made its way into Southern California on Sunday afternoon after dousing the Bay Area and Central Coast earlier in the weekend. National Weather Service officials issued flash flood warnings for large swaths of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The warnings were set to expire at 12 a.m. Monday but could be extended.

Noah Berger / Associated Press

“Forecasters said much of the brunt of the storm appeared to be focused on the Los Angeles area, where the system could park itself for an extended period of time over the next few days,” Times reporters Hayley Smith, Grace Toohey, Emily Alpert Reyes and Roger Vincent noted in their coverage Sunday.

But surrounding regions are also bracing for considerable impacts. NWS officials in San Diego warned that they expect “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” in Orange County, western parts of the Inland Empire, and in parts of the San Bernardino Mountains.

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As of Sunday evening, the system — which officials say is the most powerful one we’ve seen this winter — was slated to drop up to 8 inches of rain on coasts and valleys, and up to 14 inches in the foothills and mountains. Snowfall totals of 2 to 5 feet are likely at elevations above 7,000 feet.

So what should Monday morning commuters expect? According to NWS meteorologist Ryan Kittell, it’s best to work from home if you can and “stay off the freeways.”

“Even if the rain does start to let up on Monday morning, just the sheer amount of rain overnight will cause lingering flooding issues into the morning hours,” Kittell said in a media briefing Sunday.

Several college campuses canceled in-person classes for Monday, including Cal State Northridge, Cal State L.A. and Cal Poly Pomona.

A hazard-filled Sunday

It wasn’t just SoCal; the atmospheric river brought heavy rain and strong winds across the Bay Area and Central Coast earlier Sunday. Thousands of residents lost power as officials worked to clear downed trees and repair power lines. Statewide, more than 800,000 people were without power as of Sunday evening.

The storm that doused SoCal last week was far less powerful than this one but was still strong enough to cause serious street flooding, notably in Long Beach. Officials were expecting this storm to be even worse.

Flooding remains a major concern for several rivers across the state, including the Ventura River, Guadalupe River and Carmel River.

On Sunday, NWS officials warned that debris flows were “imminent or occurring” and advised residents to avoid traveling and take precautions to safeguard their homes and themselves.

Evacuation warnings and notices were issued in portions of Ventura, Santa Barbara, Monterey and L.A. counties — focused near burn scars from a few recent wildfires.

Newsom’s response

In response to the powerful storm, Gov. Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

He also mobilized a record 8,500 emergency response personnel to help communities impacted by the storm.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California braces for inundation as atmospheric rivers barrel in from Pacific Ocean

Still reeling from last year’s onslaught of winter wind and rain, communities along the California coast are bracing for a one-two punch of hefty storms that began to move onshore Wednesday and are expected to last through early next week.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Federalcounty and municipal officials are preparing for potential flooding and power outages from strong atmospheric river systems, followingGov. Gavin Newsom’s move Tuesday to activateCalifornia’s Emergency Operations Center. State officials warned that the back-to-back storms may be only the beginning of a strong, wet weather pattern that could linger for up to two weeks.

“This is a longer-duration event,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Emergency Services, said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “It’s not just the localized impacts, but the duration of the impacts and the wide geographic distribution of the challenges. … We want to be early and proactive on our emergency response efforts.”

Fire crews, swift water rescue teams and other first responders have been moving into place throughout the state in preparation of the storms, and supplies such as sandbags and snowplows are being distributed, Ferguson said.

“The state is working around the clock with our local partners to deploy life-saving equipment and resources statewide,” Newsom said. “With more storms on the horizon, we’ll continue to mobilize every available resource to protect Californians.”

The first storm was expected to wallop the northern part of the state beginning Wednesday, with the National Weather Service issuing multiple flood advisories, winter storm and high wind warnings across the state through at least Friday. The second one, forecast to arrive late Sunday, is anticipated to hit harder in the south, potentially wreaking havoc in Southern California.

Along the North Coast from Klamath to Fort Bragg early Wednesday, officials reported widespread urban and small stream flooding, with an additional inch or 2 of rain expectedto fall. In the Bay Area, wind gusts had been recorded above 60 mph, reaching as high as 70 mph at one location in Marin, according to the weather service.

Officials continue to predict possible power outages. Ferguson said state officials are already working with utilities to get crews dispatched quickly when power goes down.

“Much if not the entire portion of the state is expecting measurable rainfall as we head through today and tomorrow,” said Robert Hart, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Northern and Central California can generally expect 2 to 5 inches, with up to 6 inches locally, he said.

As the storm moves south Thursday, Southern California can expect on average 1 to 3 inches of rain, but up to 5 inches locally, Hart said.

The second storm system, aimed with a particular ferocity toward Southern California, is “the one we’re more concerned about,” Ferguson said. It is warmer — allowing it to pack more water — and is expected to move slower, which can leave some regions inundated. Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego could be in for massive amounts of rain. The mountains east of Los Angeles could face heavy snow.

“Storm No. 1 will be significant and is notable, but won’t bring extreme impacts anywhere,” said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain in a Tuesday briefing. But he said his eyes are on that still-developing second storm, which “has a higher potential to produce some major and significant either wind- and/or flood-related impacts,” with flooding concentrated in Southern California.

Ferguson added that the dangerous flooding that devastated communities such as Pajaro and Planada in last winter’s atmospheric rivers — and killed dozens across the state — was less of a concern this time around. But many of the levees that crisscross the state are aging, privately maintained and something of an unknown to officials.

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“That is always a challenge,” he said. “We don’t know which levees have ground squirrels in them, which farmer put a pipe [in somewhere]. Unknowns are the things that are hardest to solve for.”

He added that officials are also confronting “tons of misinformation and bad information” about the weather on social media. Contrary to one rumor flying around cyberspace, this is not a megaflood or “ARkStorm” scenario, he said, though he still urged residents to take it seriously and prepare.

Jim Shivers, a spokesman for Caltrans District 5 — which covers the Central Coast — said they’re keeping an eye on Paul’s Slide, a two-mile stretch of Highway 1 south of Big Sur that was knocked out by a landslide last year. It’s been closed ever since and remains under repair.

Worker safety is the biggest concern, he said, and the agency will pull all construction workers from the site until the storm has passed. They’ll then wait a couple of days until they have drier conditions, and only then bring them back.

In Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, officials said there are no signs these storms will cause flooding in the Pajaro River — where a levee breached last year, flooding the community of Pajaro — but said those areas will be monitored closely.

Mark Strudley, executive director at Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency, said the 400-foot area that breached last year “and caused all the grief … was repaired using modern engineering standards [and] is actually better built than the older levees to either side of it.”

Because of that and “a bunch of other work that the counties did in preparation for this winter, we are going into this winter in a better position than we went in last year,” he said. However, despite those efforts, “it is still an old, decrepit levee system. So you can make your best efforts, but if Mother Nature gets too angry at us, you know … they’re still vulnerable.”

Along the North Coast, though, the Navarro and Hopland rivers will probablay come close to or reach flood stage Wednesday, according to the California Nevada River Forecast Center, and waters at many points along the Sacramento Valley rivershed could also rise dangerously high. On Thursday, the San Diego River at Fashion Valley is forecast to again overflow its banks, as occurred last week during historic rains that caused widespread urban flooding and some devastating flash floods.

“We don’t expect a repeat of Jan. 22 [flash flooding] on Thursday,” Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the weather service in San Diego, said Wednesday, adding, “That said, new and additional flooding is possible.”

Much of San Diego and Orange counties, as well as parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, already have a flood advisory out for Thursday, when the first storm will have moved south and east. But Tardy pointed out that besides San Diego, much of Southern California has received below average rainfall this year.

“In general, this is a beneficial rain,” he said. “We need this rain, we need the snow too.”

In Los Angeles, officials are less concerned about the first storm — though some minor flooding is likely — but concern is growing about the second system. County and city officials opened additional shelter options through at least Tuesday, offering motel vouchers during the coming storms for anyone living on the street.

“The Los Angeles region has been cold recently, but the addition of rain this week could make conditions especially dangerous for anyone living on the streets,” said Va Lecia Adams Kellum, chief executive of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Click here to read that the full article in the Los Angeles Times

Southern California Braces for Heavy Rain as 2023 Continues Its Showery Start

After a New Year’s Eve storm, Southern California will continue its rainy start to 2023 with a storm beginning Thursday, Jan. 5, the National Weather Service said.

Related: Southern California storm map lets you track where the rain is now

After drizzling and light showers were seen Wednesday, NWS meteorologist Brian Adams said Orange County and the Inland Empire will see the heaviest rains starting from about 6 a.m. Thursday and continuing until around 4 p.m. that afternoon. A total of 1-2 inches of rain will be falling uniformly across the populated parts of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, Adams said. Los Angeles County will see heavy rainfall in a similar window starting at 4 a.m., according to NWS meteorologist Carol Smith.

The storm comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency across California and as the Bay Area braced for a potentially deadly storm that touched down Wednesday. Also Wednesday, evacuations were ordered for those living in the burn scar areas of three recent wildfires in Santa Barbara County, where heavy rain was expected overnight, and could cause widespread flooding and unleash debris flows in several areas.

Higher elevations in Orange County, such as communities in the mountain foothills like Portola Hills and Silverado, may have around 3 inches of total rain, Adams added.

Heavy rain is possible in Inland Empire mountain communities, with snow also expected in the San Bernardino County Mountains above 7,000 feet.

In the Los Angeles metro area, Smith said a total of 1-3 inches were expected. She forecasted that San Fernando Valley would see a total of about 2.5-4 inches of rain Thursday, with heavier showers in the valley’s foothill communities. Long Beach and the South Bay would likely see up to 2 inches of rain, Smith added.

Adams said the Dec. 31 storm has heavily saturated the ground, meaning Southern California’s terrain will likely be less equipped to absorb the incoming rainfall, Adams said.

“The area will be steadily accumulating a large amount of rainfall rather than it falling all at once,” Adams said.

Another NWS meteorologist, Dan Gregoria, said Orange County and the Inland Empire were both issued flood watches due to a risk of flash flooding during the “moderate impact” storm.

Geographically, all of Orange County was at “higher risk” for flash flooding, Gregoria explained. In the Inland Empire, Chino and Ontario were also at risk, he said.

“We do have some concern for (flash flooding),” Gregoria said, noting that drivers should exercise caution during the storm. “We advise to not drive through flooded roadways … it can be really life-threatening and dangerous.”

Los Angeles county could also face flash-flooding, NWS meteorologist Joe Sirard said, adding that burn scar areas were of “most concern.” Free sandbags were available for pick-up in locations across Los Angeles County.

Minimal to no vegetation in the burn scars add to the potential for mud and debris flows, Sirard explained. These flows can even be deadly.

Los Angeles County issued an evacuation warning for the Lake Hughes and King Canyon area, north of Santa Clarita, for this reason. The city of Duarte also put out an advisory for the Fish fire burn scar area, from a 2016 blaze, until Friday morning.

In the Inland Empire, at-risk burn scars include the Fairview fire burn scar that was left behind from a September blaze and the Apple-El Dorado burn scar.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Rain, snow making a dent in California’s historic drought

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

The rain and snow falling across Northern California in recent days is by no means extraordinary. In the Sacramento region, precipitation remains below normal for the season. But inch by inch, forecasters say, it’s doing the work necessary if California is to reverse years of epic drought.

Since Friday, a series of storms have dropped close to 2.5 inches of rain in Sacramento, helping replenish reservoirs drained to historic lows last summer. More importantly, the storms have added to the snowpack blanketing the Sierra, a stark contrast to last year, which dawned with the state’s driest January in more than 100 years.

The last few days have brought more than 2 feet of snow to the high Sierra, even as warmer-than-average temperatures are resulting in rainfall at lower elevations. …

Click here to read the full story

Tahoe Gets 6.4 billion Gallons of Water in 24 hrs.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

More than 6 billion gallons of water have poured into Lake Tahoe in less than two days, helping the lake begin to recover from four years of crushing drought.

Since midnight Monday, the lake has gone up 1.92 inches, the equivalent of 6.39 billion gallons of water.

The water comes as a winter storm slams the Sierra, bringing several feet of snow to higher elevations and rain at lake level, which sits at roughly 6,223 feet.

The lake — the second deepest in the United States behind Oregon’s Crater Lake – was hit hard this year by the drought. …

Click here to read the full story

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Daryl Cagle,