California’s latest atmospheric river storm is fast becoming deadly

the latest in a series of atmospheric river storms arrived in California on Wednesday and was already charged with at least two deaths. It brought strong winds and rains that threatened widespread flooding and prompted evacuation orders in many areas, including a high-risk coastal town where mudslides killed 23 people in 2018.

The massive storm toppled a redwood tree that crashed into a mobile home in Sonoma County on Wednesday night, killing a toddler, Occidental Fire Chief Ron Lunardi told CBS News. He said the boy, about two to two and a half years old, was inside with his parents, who were uninjured. Rescuers couldn’t use helicopters due to the weather, Lunardi said, so he took the boy in his van to nearby paramedics.

Police in the city of Fairfield, in the San Francisco Bay Area, said a 19-year-old resident was killed Wednesday morning when her vehicle crashed into a utility pole on a partially flooded road.

Massive storm brings torrential rains and devastating winds to California
The canopy of a Valero gas station lies on the ground after being blown over by high winds on January 04, 2023 in south San Francisco.

Getty Images

According to, some 186,000 customers across the state were in the dark as of 4 a.m. California time Thursday, mostly in the storm-ravaged region.

The storm was expected to dump up to 6 inches of rain in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, where most of the region would remain under flood warnings late into Thursday night. In Southern California, the storm is expected to peak in intensity overnight through Thursday morning, with Santa Barbara and Ventura counties likely to see the most rain, forecasters said.

“We expect this to be one of the toughest and most impactful series of storms to hit California in the past five years,” said Nancy Ward, the new director of the Bureau of California Governor’s Emergency Services.

The National Weather Service’s Bay Area office didn’t mince words about the storm’s potential, calling it “really a brutal system that we’re looking at and that needs to be taken seriously.” according to CBS Bay Area.

The station said: “Rain from the river’s latest atmospheric storm battered the Bay Area and northern California on Wednesday evening, causing widespread flooding, landslides and traffic issues, while gusts of wind knocked down trees and left tens of thousands of people without electricity.”

Severe weather
An empty vehicle is surrounded by floodwaters on a road in Oakland, California on January 4, 2023.

Godofredo A. Vásquez / AP

San Francisco Mayor London Breed told a press conference that the city was “preparing for war”. Crews cleared clogged storm drains, tried to move the homeless into shelters, and distributed emergency supplies and ponchos to those who refused to go.

The city distributed so many sandbags to residents that supplies temporarily ran out.

Powerful winds reaching 85 mph or more forced the cancellation of more than 70 flights at San Francisco International Airport and downed trees and power lines. City firefighters rescued a family after a tree fell on their car. The fire department reported that “large pieces of glass” fell from the Fox Plaza tower near the Civic Center, although no injuries were reported. It was “strongly possible” that the damage to the skyscraper was wind-related, the department tweeted.

The new storm knocked out power to more than 100,000 customers in the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Coast.

South of San Francisco, the Pacheco Reservoir Dam spillway in eastern Santa Clara County and San Benito County has failed and authorities have issued evacuation warnings due to flooding expected to begin Thursday morning, reports KSBW-TV. The station quotes San Benito County Emergency Services Director Kris Mangano as saying the spillway failed Wednesday and water will come over the spillway as the water level rises.

CBS Bay Area Reports that a group of more than 200 school children were evacuated from a YMCA science camp in Boulder Creek on Wednesday due to the approaching storm.

The storm is one of three so-called atmospheric river last week’s storms to reach drought status.

NOVATO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 4, 2023: Warning signs for driv
Warning messages for drivers are posted along U.S. Highway 101 in Marin County before a powerful storm arrives in the Novato, California area on January 4, 2023.

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to allow for a quick response and help clean up another powerful storm that hit days earlier.

In Southern California, evacuations have been ordered for people living in areas scorched by three recent wildfires in Santa Barbara County, where heavy rains forecast overnight could cause widespread flooding and trigger slides of debris.

County officials did not have a specific number on the number of people under evacuation orders, but Susan Klein-Rothschild, spokeswoman for the county’s emergency operations center, said sheriff’s deputies did door-to-door and contacted at least 480 people.

Among the towns ordered to be evacuated was Montecito, where five years ago huge boulders, mud and debris swept up the mountains through the town to the shore, killing 23 people and destroying over 100 homes. The city is home to many celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan.

“What we’re talking about here is a lot of water flowing down from the tops of hills, down into streams and streams and as it goes down it gets bigger and that’s what what the initial danger is,” the Montecito Fire Department chief said. said Kevin Taylor.

unstable cliffs near PCH
Shifting cliffs tower over the Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point, California, as heavy rain threatens to create landslides leading to road closures.

Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Elsewhere, a 45-mile stretch of Coast Highway 1 through Big Sur was closed Wednesday night in anticipation of flooding and rockfall. Further north, a 25-mile stretch of Highway 101 was closed due to several downed trees.

Drivers have been urged to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary, particularly with heavy snowfall expected in the mountains.

The storm came a few days after a New Year’s downpour led to the evacuation of people in rural Northern California communities and the rescue of several motorists from flooded roads. A few levees south of Sacramento were damaged.

On Wednesday, authorities in southern Sacramento County found a body in a submerged car – one of at least four victims of flooding from that storm.

Evacuation orders were in place in Santa Cruz County Paradise Park along the fast-moving San Lorenzo River, as well as areas along the Pajaro River. Residents who fled wildfires in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 2020 packed their bags as the towns of Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond and Felton were all warned to be ready to evacuate.

Sonoma County officials have issued an evacuation warning for a series of towns along the Russian River, which is expected to reach flood stage on Thursday.

The storms alone won’t be enough to officially end the state’s ongoing drought, which is now entering its fourth year. The US Drought Monitor showed that most of California is experiencing severe to extreme drought. Since the state’s main reservoirs are low, they have plenty of room to fill with more water from the storm, officials said.

Trees already stressed by years of limited rainfall are more likely to fall now that the ground is suddenly saturated and the winds are high. That could cause widespread power outages or create flooding hazards, said Karla Nemeth, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources.

“We are in the middle of a flood emergency and also in the middle of a drought emergency,” she told an emergency briefing.

CBS News’ Patrick Torphy contributed reporting.


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