Bomb Cyclone Brings Evacuations, Deaths and Power Outages to Storm-Weary California
At least two people have died in a “bomb cyclone” that lashed California with hurricane-force wind and extreme rainfall Thursday, forcing evacuations and leaving more than 100,000 without power.
The storm comes on the heels of a massive New Year’s Eve storm that left the soil waterlogged and is likely to be followed by two more “atmospheric river” events Friday and Monday.
“The cumulative effect of additional heavy rain after recent heavy rains will lead to additional considerable flood impacts this weekend, including rapid water rises and mudslides, over northern and central California,” the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center warned on Thursday.
Thursday’s storm was the result of an atmospheric river — a particularly wet portion of the atmosphere that can move moisture thousands of miles, CNN explained. It became a bomb cyclone on Wednesday when it intensified 24 millibars within 24 hours off the Pacific coast.
“This is the third significant storm system in a remarkable sequence that looks to continue on this weekend and next week,” the NWS said of the deluge.
The two previous storms occurred immediately following Christmas and again on New Year’s weekend. All of this has meant that San Francisco saw its wettest 10 day period since 1871 between December 26 and January 4, according to NWS Bay Area.
As the storm advanced, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an emergency declaration.
“This state of emergency will allow the state to respond quickly as the storm develops and support local officials in their ongoing response,” he said.
Evacuations were also issued, including in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, according to CNN.
“I’m urging folks to comply with the evacuation,” First District Supervisor in Santa Barbara County Das Williams said, as CNN reported. “If you live in that red zone, the one thing that we should’ve learned these past five years is that it’s better to play it safe and to evacuate and comply with the order.”
At one point on Thursday, 90 percent of the state’s population was under a flood watch, according to The Guardian. Waves reached heights of 60 feet, and wind gusts blew at up to 100 miles per hour. Battering from waves caused damage to the piers of Capitola and Seacliff, while more than 163,500 people were without power as of Thursday morning.
The storm also proved deadly. One two-year-old boy was killed Wednesday night when a tree crashed into the mobile home he was sitting in in Occidental, California, NBC News reported. The storm claimed another life Wednesday morning when a 19-year-old woman driving on a flooded street in Fairfield, California, crashed into a pole.
The heavy precipitation comes as the state is in the midst of an ongoing drought made more extreme by the climate crisis. However, experts say the rain is falling too fast to provide relief, and the dry soil may worsen the storm’s impacts.
“The rainwater runs right off — it doesn’t soak in,” San Jose State University professor of meteorology and climate science Alison Bridger said, as The Guardian reported. “[T]he drought has weakened the trees and it makes it that much easier to have them come down if the ground is very soft and if you have strong winds come along.”
However, one positive sign is that the snowpack in the mountains — which helps replenish reservoirs and rivers throughout the year — was 174 percent above average for this time of year even before Thursday’s storm.
As California faces weeks of heavy rains, it’s not clear whether the climate crisis is making these atmospheric rivers more frequent, The New York Times reported. However, it does generally enable the atmosphere to hold more moisture, making each storm wetter than it would have been.
“The dominant thing that’s happening is just that, in a warmer atmosphere, there’s exponentially more potential for it to hold water vapor,” University of California, Los Angeles, climate scientist Daniel L. Swain told The New York Times. “And that exerts a really profound influence on things.”
Subscribe to get exclusive updates in our daily newsletter!