‘1-in-1,000 year’ event: Deadly California storm triggers flooding, mudslides, power outages

Feb 6, 2024


Southern California is under siege from an unprecedented deluge as the second “Pineapple Express” storm in a week brings relentless rain and catastrophic conditions. Swathes of the state are grappling with severe flooding, mudslides, and widespread infrastructure damage. The storm has unleashed over 11 inches of rain in the Los Angeles area since Sunday, marking one of the city’s wettest days in recorded history.Authorities are bracing for more destruction, with the National Weather Service (NWS) cautioning that the torrential downpours are far from over.
Emergency services overwhelmed by floods and mudslides

  • Winds gusting to 75 miles per hour (121 kph) on Sunday downed trees and utility lines across the San Francisco Bay Area and California’s Central Coast, knocking out power to roughly 875,000 homes at the storm’s peak in that region.
  • At least two people were killed by wind-toppled trees on Sunday – an 82-year-old man in the former gold rush town of Yuba City and a 45-year-old man at Boulder Creek in the coastal Santa Cruz Mountains
  • The greatest flash-flooding threat on Monday centered on Southern California, the NWS said, as the system slowly pivoted and pushed farther into the interior of California, but forecasters said “catastrophic” impacts were unlikely.
  • A number of lavish homes in the Hollywood Hills, each worth several million dollars, sustained damage when a deluge of mud, rocks, and debris surged through the area.
  • The extreme weather has overwhelmed emergency services. The Los Angeles Police Department reported an alarming increase in traffic collisions, while the Los Angeles Fire Department is stretched thin, tackling over 130 flooding incidents and numerous debris flows. Upscale communities like the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills are among the hardest hit, with landslides causing extensive damage to property and infrastructure. Jeb Johenning, a Beverly Hills resident, described the harrowing scenes as “an avalanche of mud” descended on his neighborhood.
California Storms

Crews clean up the street after a tree fell on a car during the storm in Long Beach, California.

‘1-in-1,000 year rain’ event
As per a report in the USA Today, the staggering 11.87 inches of rain recorded at UCLA’s weather station within a 24-hour period represents an extremely rare meteorological phenomenon. Classified by meteorologist Jacob Feuerstein as a “1,000-year recurrence interval event,” this term signifies an event of such magnitude that the chances of it happening are statistically projected to be once in a millennium. In other words, as explained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it’s a way to quantify the likelihood of experiencing such an immense volume of rainfall in any specific location over the span of one year, the USA Today report said.

'More Rain Coming' to California After Mudslides, Rescues and Power Outages

Vehicles sit in a driveway amid debris flooding from heavy rainfall in Los Angeles. (Jenna Schoenefeld/The New York Times)

State of emergency declared
In response to the escalating crisis, California governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in eight counties. The declaration aims to mobilize resources and support for the over 20 million residents affected by the storm. The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) has been active in conducting rescues and issuing evacuation orders for neighborhoods at high risk of flash floods and mudslides.
Atmospheric river: A meteorological phenomenon
Meteorologists attribute the intense rainfall to an atmospheric river, a vast airborne current of moisture originating from the Pacific. This “Pineapple Express” carries dense moisture from the subtropical waters near Hawaii, resulting in hurricane-force winds and heavy precipitation. The phenomenon has led to widespread power outages, with approximately 875,000 homes losing electricity at the storm’s peak.

California Storms

Water gushes down Lockridge road during a storm in Studio City, California. The second of back-to-back atmospheric rivers took aim at Southern California, unleashing mudslides, flooding roadways and knocking out power as the soggy state braced for another day of heavy rains.

A call for caution
As the storm continues to rage, authorities urge residents to exercise extreme caution. Daniel Swain, a meteorologist and climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, emphasized the severity of the situation during a YouTube briefing. Despite the challenging conditions, Swain noted that the rainfall rates were diminishing, and the mild wildfire season last summer may have prevented more catastrophic landslides.
Historic weather patterns and climate concerns
The “Pineapple Express” storms are part of a larger trend of extreme weather events. This storm, described by the NWS as “the largest storm of the season,” highlights the changing weather patterns attributed to human-caused climate change. These shifts result in more intense and unpredictable storms, exacerbating the challenges faced by communities and emergency services.
Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass urged residents to stay off the roads and prioritize safety above all. As the city prepares for more rain and potential flooding, the resilience of the community and the effectiveness of the emergency response will be put to the test. This historic storm serves as a stark reminder of the power of nature and the importance of preparedness in the face of increasingly volatile weather patterns.
(With inputs from agencies)



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