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Lingering atmospheric river soaks California, threatening more flooding, mudslides

In World
February 07, 2024

LOS ANGELES – A deadly atmospheric river storm lingered over southern California for a third day on Feb 6, soaking the region with steady rains that threatened to trigger more flooding and mudslides as the weather system slowly crept towards the America’s desert South-west.

After a day of record-breaking rainfall across the Los Angeles area, a flood watch remained in effect for much of southern California through Feb 6 afternoon.

A flash flood warning was posted for the Orange County coast, and flood advisories were issued as far south as San Diego and the US-Mexico border.

As rain continued to fall throughout Los Angeles, work crews and residents were cleaning up after the storm felled more than 250 trees and triggered over 380 mudslides across the nation’s second-largest city as at Feb 5 night, the authorities said.

Downed trees and utility lines knocked out electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, including 156,000 utility customers who remained without power in Los Angeles alone as at Feb 6.

LA Fire Chief Kristin Crowley said at least three dozen buildings required inspection due to mudslide damage and hillside slope failures. Seven have been red-tagged as unsafe for occupancy.

Mayor Karen Bass told a news conference: “Even though the rain may ease up a bit today, this storm continues, and that means we still need Angelinos to take precautions.”

‘Once-in-a-lifetime scenario’

Mr Barry Blocker, 55, a retired police officer, said he spent several hours on Feb 5 digging his car out from a cascade of mud that had poured down a hillside onto his driveway before dawn.

The house where he has lived in Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills district for 23 years without incident was undamaged.

“Hopefully, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime scenario,” he said on Feb 6 has he stood in his garage, still cleaning up water and muck from the aftermath.

Dr Ariel Cohen, chief forecaster for the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Los Angeles, said prolonged downpours that dumped 15cm to 30cm of water have left the ground so “super-saturated” that it will take very little additional rain to trigger further landslides and debris flow.

The intense rainfall, with heavy snows in the mountains, was carried to California by a storm system meteorologists call an atmospheric river, a vast airborne current of dense moisture funneled inland from the Pacific.

The latest tempest, and a less powerful storm that hit California last week, also qualified as a “Pineapple Express”, a type of atmospheric river originating from subtropical waters around Hawaii.

While such storms are not uncommon to the West Coast, meteorologists say they are likely to become more frequent and extreme over the next century if planetary warming from human-induced climate change continues at current rates.

Scientists say the prevailing El Nino weather pattern also may be contributing to some of the recent storm activity along the Pacific coast.

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