In California, 'Everything Is at a Breaking Point'

At least 17 dead as a result of recent storms, with more rain expected
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 11, 2023 11:33 AM CST
In California, 'Everything Is at a Breaking Point'
Debris from a mudslide blocks a street in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.   (AP Photo/Michael R. Blood)

At least 17 people have died in recent storms in California, where some of the most extensive rainfall in decades has triggered mudslides, washed out roads, downed thousands of trees, and opened up car-swallowing sinkholes in a state accustomed to drought. The death toll is now higher than that from "the last two wildfire seasons combined," reports the Los Angeles Times. And it's only "likely to grow," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday, per the Guardian. After a brief period of relief, another atmospheric river storm is expected Wednesday. More:

  • Deaths: Deaths as a result of fallen trees and floodwaters overwhelming vehicles have been most common, per NBC News. Record-dry conditions have sapped moisture from trees, making them "more prone to snap and fall," per the LA Times. And as Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis tells CNN, "it only takes 6 inches of water to lose control of a car" and "in 12 inches, cars start floating away."

  • The deluge: The counties of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Santa Barbara have been heavily affected this week. More than a foot of rain was recorded in certain locations over two days, while some areas received a month's worth of rainfall in a single day, per Global News. Some creeks "have risen 14 feet just in the last day," Kounalakis tells CNN. "It is unbelievable."
  • Evidence from Ellen: On Monday, Ellen DeGeneres shared a video showing a raging creek near her home in Montecito, which was put under an evacuation order. Usually it "never flows," but "it's probably about 9 feet up, and it could go another 2 feet up," she said, per Global. "We need to be nicer to Mother Nature 'cause Mother Nature is not happy with us," she continued. "This is crazy."
  • Climate change: "Part of it that we cannot ignore is that our environment is rapidly changing around us," Brian Ferguson of the California Office of Emergency Services tells the LA Times. The outlet notes "climate change is increasingly catching people off guard as the state swings from one extreme weather event to another, leaving little time to prepare."

  • More trouble ahead: Another storm is expected Wednesday, "adding to the misery," per the Guardian. "We're not out of the woods," Newsom warned residents on Tuesday, saying storms were expected for another week. "We're very much in the middle of this, we're not on a downhill trajectory at all," Ferguson tells the New York Times.
  • 'At a breaking point': The heaviest rain, an estimated 5 to 10 inches, is expected north of San Francisco, per CNN. But even small amounts could prove disastrous, with saturated ground unable to absorb more water. "Everything is saturated," Kounalakis tells CNN. "Everything is at a breaking point." Experts say damage from the storms may top $1 billion, per the NY Times.
  • The bright side: The Guardian reports the storms have helped to fill depleted reservoirs in the state. Meanwhile, CNN reports "the eastern Sierra is now at a record value for snow water equivalent for this date and is higher than the median peak usually seen in March."
(Read more California stories.)

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