Californians used a brief lull in a series of brutal storms to survey the damage on Friday, while bracing for the next onslaught of extreme weather due to arrive this weekend.
A succession of powerful storms have brought heavy rains and hurricane-strength winds over the past two days, knocking out power to thousands, battering the coastline, flooding streets, toppling trees and causing at least six deaths.
Remnant showers from the latest storm, a “bomb cyclone”, fell around the state on Friday as dangerous surf pounded the coast, while some areas enjoyed sunshine even as they readied for the next onslaught.
The lull was expected to be brief as more Pacific storms lined up to blast into the state. The next storms are predicted to arrive in northern California on Friday night and spread south into the central region during the weekend. The National Weather Service (NWS) said in its forecast that the heavy downpour could dump three to six inches (15cm) of rain on the region, potentially causing scattered flash flooding and mudslides due to the already saturated soil. Heavy snow was forecast for the Sierra Nevada.
Much of the northern two-thirds of California, the most populous state in the nation, was under flood, gale-force wind and winter storm warnings on Friday as forecasters urged residents to prepare for flooding and to stay off the roads.
“A very active weather pattern across the Pacific Ocean will continue to push energetic and fast-moving low pressure systems toward the West Coast,” the National Weather Service said. “California continues to take the brunt of the heavy precipitation and strong winds associated with these systems as we head into the first full weekend of 2023.”
The ominous forecast comes on the heels of a massive Pacific storm this week that unleashed high winds, torrential rains and heavy snow across the region for two days. As of Friday morning, some 60,000 homes and businesses remained without power because of the weather, according to data from Poweroutages.us.
The seaside village of Capitola in Santa Cruz county, about 60 miles (100km) south of San Francisco, suffered possibly the worst damage as waves that were forecast to top 25ft (7.6 meters) crashed into homes and restaurants at the mouth of Soquel Creek and knocked out a section of its historic wooden pier.
Hurricane-strength gusts as high as 101mph (162kph) toppled trees onto buildings and roads, knocked out power lines and blew down the roof on a gas station in South San Francisco.
National Weather Service meteorologist Warren Blier said the wind speed recorded on a Marin county hilltop was among the highest he could recall in a 25-year career.
The storm was powered by two overlapping phenomena – an immense airborne stream of dense moisture from the ocean called an atmospheric river, and a sprawling, hurricane-force low-pressure system known as a bomb cyclone.
The blast of extreme winter weather marked the third and strongest atmospheric river to strike California since early last week. Research predicts that climate change will cause atmospheric rivers to become larger and carry more water.
The back-to-back storms dropped staggering amounts of rain and snow across the state during the final days of 2022 and into the new year. San Francisco had its wettest 10-day period since 1871 between 26 December and 4 January when 10.33in (26.24cm) of rain fell. The all-time 10-day record was 14.37in (36.5cm) in January 1862. A powerful New Year’s weekend storm caused extensive flooding in northern California’s Sacramento county.
At least six people have been killed in the severe weather since New Year’s weekend, including a toddler killed by a fallen redwood crushing a mobile home in northern California, and motorists killed on a flooded roads near Sacramento.
The storms have also been piling up much-needed snow in the drought-stricken state’s mountains, where the snowpack supplies about a third of California’s water supply.
Experts say it won’t be enough to officially end the state’s ongoing drought, now entering its fourth year, but it has helped. Not including the latest deluge, recent storms moved parts of the state out of the “exceptional drought” category in the US Drought Monitor. Most of the state, though, remains in the extreme or severe drought categories.