Story at a glance
- Precipitation and wind speeds linked to the storm are shattering records across the state.
- Soil damaged by the recent Alisal fire is unable to properly absorb rainfall, threatening locals and wildlife in the area.
- Climate scientists say extreme weather flip-flops are to be expected in places like California as the effects of climate change worsen.
A severe California storm continues to move south, interrupting the state’s historic drought while leaving some residents without power and forcing more from their homes as damaged terrain from a recent wildfire struggles to sufficiently absorb rainfall.
Precipitation and wind speeds from the combined “bomb cyclone” storm and “atmospheric river” have shattered records in several California cities, The Guardian reported. Areas of the Sierra Nevada mountain range are also reporting heavy snowfall, with the University of California Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab recording 26.6 inches of snow accumulated between Sunday night and Monday morning.
The storm is expected to produce nearly 1 inch of rain per hour, according to the Los Angeles National Weather Service (NWS), and flash flooding with mud and debris is likely to flow into the burn scar of the recent Alisal wildfire. Rainfall that would typically be absorbed by soil runs off extremely quickly after a wildfire, as charred ground can be as water-repellant as pavement, according to the NWS.
Despite an evacuation order that has been in place since Sunday, Santa Barbara County officials on Monday issued a shelter in place order for remaining residents “due to the potential for life-threatening flooding and debris flows in the Alisal Fire burn area,” they said in a statement. “It is no longer possible to safely leave.”
California’s 2021 water year, which closed at the end of September, was the second driest on record, according to The Guardian. Before the storm, some of the state’s critical reservoirs were at record low levels.
While these extreme weather events are alarming, they certainly aren’t unexpected.
“It is worth noting that this exact situation -- an extremely strong atmospheric river bringing a brief period of record rainfall in midst of severe and temperature-amplified drought -- is what we expect to see in California with climate change,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain wrote Monday on Twitter.
Nearly 22,000 Californians were without power as of Tuesday, according to PowerOutage.US, a site that counts outages across the country. About 6,000 homes in Oregon and Washington State were also powerless, as strong winds downed power lines.
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