Intense weather has pummeled California since late December, with heavy rains and high winds leading to flooding, landslides, downed trees and other damage across the state.
“I’ve never really seen this many rainstorms, big ones, one after another, in my career,” Paul Horvat, the emergency services manager for Santa Cruz, tells the New York Times’ Victoria Kim, Soumya Karlamangla and Jacey Fortin.
The storms have caused the deaths of at least 18 people so far, and at a news conference Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the number of fatalities “tragically is likely to grow,” according to the Los Angeles Times’ Hannah Fry, Summer Lin, Jessica Garrison, Rong-Gong Lin II, Susanne Rust and Connor Sheets.
On Tuesday, more than 44,000 people across the state were under evacuation orders, and over 20 million were under flood alerts. The number of homes and businesses without power dropped to around 62,000 on Wednesday, down from about four times that number the day before. As of Tuesday, 31 of the state’s 58 counties had been declared disasters, per the L.A. Times.
President Joe Biden declared an emergency in more than a dozen counties, giving federal support to combat the storms.
“The amount of rain that’s just been continuous has been something we haven’t experienced in quite some time,” Matt Sampson, San Francisco’s deputy fire chief, says to the L.A. Times. “We’re not getting much reprieve. The ground isn’t getting much time to dry out and then we’re getting accompanying winds so we’re seeing quite a few trees come down.”
The storms come at a time when most of the state is experiencing severe or extreme drought. The intense rainfall is bringing some reprieve, filling reservoirs and likely preventing a mass tree die-off. But experts say it will take several seasons of above-average rain and snow to reverse the drought.
“What we’re seeing right now in California will certainly help to relieve some of the localized aspects of drought but will not resolve the long-term drought challenges,” Rick Spinrad, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tells Brian Melley and Christopher Weber of the Associated Press.
The state’s extended droughts and wildfire seasons also make the ground more vulnerable to landslides. And human-caused climate change can lead to wetter and more intense storms, per the New York Times.
“The hots are getting hotter … the dries are getting a lot drier,” Newsom said Tuesday, per the L.A. Times. “And the wets are getting a lot wetter.”
Two people experiencing homelessness were killed by the storms over the weekend. Unhoused people face the highest risks during extreme weather, the National Alliance to End Homelessness tells CNN’s Nouran Salahieh, Jason Hanna, Joe Sutton and Christina Maxouris.