California rainstorm death toll hits 20, Biden plans visit

Jan 16 (Reuters) – The parade of atmospheric rivers that battered California for three weeks finally subsided on Monday, allowing the state to begin extended road and levee repairs as the White House announced President Joe Biden planned to survey the damage.

The nine rainstorms that have pummeled California in a row since Dec. 26 have killed at least 20 people, while tens of thousands remained under evacuation orders since Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in an executive order that stepped up the state’s response to the storm damage.

“The last of the heavier rain in California is slowly winding down. It shouldn’t be heavy after midnight,” said meteorologist David Roth of the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center.

Biden will travel to areas of the Central Coast on Thursday to meet with first responders, visit affected cities and “assess what additional federal support is needed,” the White House said.

The president had already issued an emergency declaration on Jan. 8 to release federal aid and then on Saturday authorized disaster relief for Merced, Sacramento and Santa Cruz counties.

The White House has not yet revealed the districts Biden will visit.

Among the more dramatic images of damage from the storm were those of Highway 1, the scenic coastal highway near Big Sur, which was closed in several places due to mudslides and falling rocks strewn along the road.

While damaging, the storms also helped alleviate a historic drought, with much of the state already receiving half or more of its average annual rainfall.

The Russian River, swollen with flooding following a series of winter storms, flows past the town of Guerneville, California, U.S. January 15, 2023. REUTERS/Fred Greaves/File photo

But with the end of the rainy season more than two months away, officials are urging Californians to continue conserving water. The US Drought Monitor still shows nearly the entire state in moderate to severe drought conditions. Reservoir levels are still below average for this time of year, officials said.

In addition, atmospheric rivers largely failed to reach the Colorado River Basin, a critical source of water in Southern California.

“If you’re relying on the Colorado River Basin as part of your water supply, then there’s going to be ongoing drought issues because of the extreme drought in this part of the world,” Michael Anderson, California’s state climatologist, told reporters.

Colorado’s two major reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, were at 28.5 percent and 22.6 percent of capacity, respectively, and still below levels from this time a year ago, according to Water-Data.com.

The ninth straight atmospheric river disappeared Monday, its remnants drenching the southernmost part of the state, Arizona and northern Mexico, Roth said.

Storms are similar to rivers in the sky which carry moisture from Earth’s tropics to higher latitudes, dumping huge amounts of rain.

Another storm is on the way that could bring moderate rain Tuesday and Wednesday. The U.S. National Weather Service said it was not of a volume to be classified as an atmospheric river, while the state Department of Water Resources said it could briefly qualify as one.

Otherwise, California can expect dry conditions for the rest of January, state officials said.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, Calif., and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Josie Kao, Grant McCool and Jamie Freed

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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