Rain, storms, and mudslides batter California

As of now, 34 million Californians, or about 90 percent of the state's population, are under flood watches.
Rain falls as the Los Angeles River flows at a strong rate on January 09, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Parts of California have seen more than a foot of rain since Sunday, when the latest wave of moisture hit, thanks to an atmospheric river bringing storm after storm to the western United States. The disastrous weather spread from Northern California into the central and southern parts of the state. In sections of of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties (west of Los Angeles), more than 16 inches of rain has fallen as of early this morning, prompting evacuations and flood alerts.

The storms are blamed for at least 14 deaths throughout the state. Floodwaters killed one person on Monday in San Luis Obispo County and a 5-year-old boy remains missing.

The National Weather Service (NWS) warned on Tuesday that heavy rain will continue to fall, causing more flash flooding, mudslides, and misery to the state. Forecasters expect Southern California to see at least seven more inches of rain over the next few days with “no significant let up” expected.

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As of early Tuesday morning, more than 11 million people in in western Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties are under a flood warning, while about 34 million people across California are under flood watches.

On Monday, evacuation orders were issued for parts of Santa Barbara County due to worries about mudslides in areas where wildfires have made the ground less stable. “LEAVE NOW! This is a rapidly evolving situation,” Santa Barbara County officials said. “Be prepared to sustain yourself and your household for multiple days if you choose not to evacuate.”

These orders were issued five years to the day after a mudslide killed 23 people in Montecito. Montecito is an affluent town home to celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres and Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. DeGeneres posted a video on Twitter of a raging creek near her home and urged neighbors in lower lying areas to flee.

“We’re in the midst of a series of significant and powerful storms,” Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County said in a briefing on Monday. “Currently, we’re experiencing a storm that is causing many problems and has the potential to cause major problems across our county, especially in the burn scar areas.”

On Tuesday, shelter-in-place orders are in place for some areas of Santa Barbara County and all public schools are closed.

Further north towards the Bay Area and the Sacramento region, meteorologists are monitoring thunderstorms and advised residents to be alert. “When thunder roars, head indoors,” NWS meteorologists warned.

[Related: It’s not in your head: The weather is weirder, and climate change is the reason why.]

According to the NWS, the state is seeing between 400 and 600 percent above average rainfall levels and comes after a recent drought. The deluge has filled water reservoirs, which “are now above their historical average levels.” However, the drought and devastating wildfires means that the land less able to soak up as much water, making California extremely vulnerable to flooding.

High winds are also a concern for both inland and coastal areas. More than 37 million people were under wind alerts on Monday in California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming, with Oroville, California recording a 132 MPH wind gust.

This current round of severe weather is part of a relentless parade of atmospheric rivers slamming the West Coast. Atmospheric rivers are dense areas of moisture from over the ocean that is brought to land an airborne current. They have the power to carry over one billion pounds of moisture overhead and this current stretch due to a steady west-to-east jetflow that is pushing these overhead rivers into California.