A new storm with driving rain lashed California on Saturday, causing major flooding, after three weeks of unprecedented rainfall that killed at least 19 people.
A large bout of rain — and mountain snow — swept through several areas of the most populous state in the United States on Saturday, whose soils are already soggy.
However, another low pressure system was due to arrive from the Pacific Ocean during the day Saturday, raining down the coast, valleys and then mountains of California, the US Weather Service (NWS) warned.
Power lines were hit and fields and roads were flooded.
“It’s not over yet,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom warned at a news conference, noting that although rain intensity has decreased, the ground has been submerged and the risk of flooding remains significant.
Aware of the fatigue of Californians after several weeks of rain, he said, “I urge all of us to maintain our vigil and common sense for the next 24 to 48 hours.”
And Gavin Newsom said he was convinced that Joe Biden would soon sign a major disaster declaration: “It is the intention of the American president,” he said.
In the Salinas area, a city of 160,000 residents south of San Francisco where the river of the same name overflowed, the flood affected agricultural corners of the valley but spared urban areas, an AFP journalist reported Saturday morning.
“avoid the worst”
At Spreckles, a housing estate a few hundred meters from the river, most residents have yet to be evacuated despite warnings from authorities this week.
“Looks like we avoided the worst,” said Robert Zajewski, walking his dog in the light rain. According to meteorologists, the river is supposed to start receding from Saturday.
Like the rest of California, Salinas is home to John Steinbeck, who was largely inspired by the Nobel Prize winner in literature to write his book Grapes of Wrathconnecting valleys.
“We need as much rain as possible, but farmers can’t do anything with such wet fields,” Zajewski sighs.
A few kilometers away, Eric Diaz watches the flooded fields from his modest wooden house near the river. Despite an evacuation order targeting the 17,000 people in the area, he remains at home.
“I have nowhere to go and so far everything is fine,” said a 30-year-old farm worker.
“The region has been severely affected by drought in recent years,” Manuel Paris, a 58-year-old agricultural worker, told AFP. “It’s been a long time, and we’re not used to getting so much rain anymore.”
A new “atmospheric river,” meaning a narrow band in the atmosphere that carries huge amounts of moisture from the tropics, is expected on Monday, which is a public holiday in the United States. The NWS warns that it will lead to “new waves of heavy rain”.
one meter of snow
In the mountains, this rainfall translates into heavy snowfall, with more than a meter expected over the Sierra Nevada weekend, and authorities have warned of avalanche danger and advised against movement.
At least 19 people have died since the start of this string of bad weather. In particular, drivers in their cars were found trapped by waves, people were hit by fallen trees, a couple was killed in a landslide and bodies were washed away by floods.
California is used to extreme weather conditions, and winter storms are common. On the one hand, such a sequence is unusual.
While it is difficult to establish a direct link between this series of storms and climate change, scientists regularly explain that warming increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.
However, the heavy rains of the past few weeks will not be enough to end the drought that has hit this western American state hard for two decades, according to specialists.
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