At least 2 dead following latest California downpour

The latest wave of storm parade to hit the West Coast on Friday brought additional flooding hazards across California, killing at least two people and isolating several communities amid the first flash flood emergencies of the year.

One of the two deaths related to the storm occurred in Placer County in northern California and the second in San Bernardino County in the southern part of the state, spokesman Shawn Boyd told AccuWeather.

A third person died Friday in Oakland, California, when the roof of a commercial warehouse and distribution facility for Peet’s Coffee partially collapsed. The cause of the collapse is being investigated to determine if the heavy rain played a direct role, according to Oakland Fire Department spokesman Michael Hunt. State and OSHA officials were at the scene Friday as part of the investigation.

The man killed was a longtime employee of Peet’s Coffee and had been in the building with a woman who was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. They were the only people in the building at the time, officials said.

President Biden authorized a declaration of emergency for California due to the ongoing storms, meaning the state can access federal resources to deal with the state’s tenth atmospheric winter flooding, landslides and severe weather.

The flooding events triggered flash flood emergencies in central California’s Tulare and Kern counties — the first such alerts in 2023. Flash flood emergencies are rare alerts issued by the NWS to indicate a major threat to life or the potential for catastrophic damage.

In the case of Friday’s issued, the first alert included the town of Springville, about 67 miles southeast of Fresno, where rainfall combined with snowmelt.


“Between 1.5 and 3 inches of rain has fallen. Rapid snowmelt is also occurring, which will add to the flooding,” the NWS warned. “This is a particularly dangerous situation. Now seek higher ground.”

An unbelievable amount of snow has fallen over the Sierra Nevada this season. As of Thursday, Mammoth Mountain, a popular ski resort, had measured 556 inches (46.3 feet) of snow for the season, significantly more than the historical average of 300 inches.

“When large amounts of snow accumulate in the Sierras, as we have seen over the past week, the potential for flooding increases dramatically with warmer temperature swings. This is a major concern when atmospheric flows come onshore and bring a slug of warm, humid air and heavy rain to the Sierras,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Aaron Druckmiller. “These effects are causing a rapid increase in otherwise normal snowmelt runoff, leading to general congestion of streams, rivers and other forms of water management infrastructure.”

Evacuations were ordered for areas of Kernville and Riverkern, California, both in Kern County, late Friday morning as Kern River water levels began to rise. Over 5,200 people live in the covered area, and they were among more than 9,400 residents who have been ordered to evacuate their homes due to flooding across the state, according to Ward.

Drone footage over Kernville provided by Storm Chaser Brandon Clement showed homes turned into islands in a flooded landscape. At a bridge, the river lapped just below the structure as people gathered at the railing to see how far the water had risen.

“I’ve never seen it except for the mobile homes [this] in 30, 35 years. I’ve never seen [the water level] higher,” Kernville resident John Kelly told Clement.[It’s] historical.”

Further north in Santa Cruz County, a creek fed by the excessive rains destroyed part of Main Street in the town of Soquel, which has a population of 10,000. The damage to vital infrastructure resulted in the isolation of several neighborhoods, according to The Associated Press.

With residents trapped north of the roadblock, officials ordered Soquel Hills to have an emergency shelter.

“It’s awful,” Heather Wingfield, a teacher who runs a small urban farm with her husband in Soquel, told the AP. “Hopefully nobody has a medical emergency.”

Wingfield knew flooding was a problem, especially for someone who lives near Soquel Creek, but she didn’t think it would be as bad as it is now.

“The weather in California is almost like an outdoor faucet,” said Bernie Rayno, AccuWeather’s chief video meteorologist. “When it’s on, the water will flow out and flood. But when it’s off, there will hardly be a drop.”

Heavy rains have accumulated across California due to atmospheric flow, falling nearly 10 inches at one location in Southern California. A total of 9.42 inches of rain has been reported in Rocky Butte in San Luis Obispo County through Friday night.

The city of San Luis Obispo itself received 7.99 inches of rain. The Bay Area also saw heavy accumulation beginning Friday night, including 7.71 inches of rain in Cazadero, about 90 miles northwest of San Francisco.

This season’s severe winter storms have completely eliminated the ongoing drought in much of California, and further improvement is expected in the coming weeks and months. More than 26% of California is now drought-free, up from just over 16% at this time last week, according to the latest US Drought Monitor report released Thursday.

Three months ago, the entire state was either experiencing some form of drought or unusually dry conditions. As of Thursday, more than 5 million Californians were living in drought-affected areas. This is down from more than 9 million just a week ago.

This winter has been quite active for California and busier than expected according to some experts. The state normally has stormier winters during El Niño patterns, but up until this week there was a La Niña.

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“We saw a tremendous [drought] Improvement…wasn’t expecting it this winter, wasn’t expecting it to be that kind of winter, but we got a gift in California,” said Ken Clark, AccuWeather’s chief weather forecaster, who lives in Southern California and predictions have been made about the weather in the West for decades.

The copious amount of water that recent winter storms have brought to the Golden State has filled in many reservoirs and lakes. The level of the Oroville Dam north of Sacramento has risen 180 feet since December 1. On Friday, water levels at the dam were just 60 feet from their maximum, State Water Project assistant director Ted Craddock told The Sacramento Bee.

This prompted California water authorities to open the dam’s main spillway for the first time since April 2019. This should make room for more water and hopes to prevent further flooding. While the spillway is currently releasing only 15,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), it is capable of handling higher releases if needed, water officials said.

Previously, torrential rains damaged the dam in 2017, resulting in the evacuation of portions of Butte, Sutter, and Yuba counties in Northern California. Repairs were completed by April 2, 2019.

AccuWeather forecasters warn that the end of fickle weather is far from over.

“A strong wave of energy will invade California Monday night through Wednesday, bringing heavy rain, heavy mountain snow over 7,500 feet and gusty winds,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Alyssa Smithmyer. “Although the days leading up to this event will be far from dry in parts of California. Showers will be frequent in northern and central California Saturday through Monday.”

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