JANIE HAR and SOPHIE AUSTIN
With rain-soaked California expected to see more stormy weather over the weekend and into next week, Gov. Gavin Newsom, and other state and federal officials pleaded with residents Friday to stay alert to possibly more flooding and damage.
A series of storms has walloped the state since late December, leaving at least 19 people dead. On Friday, 6,000 people were under evacuation orders and another 20,000 households were without power, said Nancy Ward, the director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Homes have flooded, levees breached and topped, and mudslides and hurricane-force winds have slammed parts of the state, including a tornado touchdown in Northern California, she said at a press briefing with Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who was in California to tour damage.
“People will become complacent, but the ground is saturated. It is extremely, extremely dangerous,” Ward said. “And that water can continue to rise well after the storms have passed.”
Santa Monica escaped serious damage in the past storms and the most significant impact appeared to be problems with a traffic light causing significant traffic due to a poorly timed cycle.
The traffic signal along PCH between Santa Monica and Malibu has been causing serious traffic in recent days due to what appeared to be an issue causing the light to only turn green for several seconds at a time.
Scores of individuals have taken to social media to complain about the situation which has caused back-ups so severe, one user posted on Nextdoor, that what should have been a less than ten minute drive from the McLure Tunnel to Entrada Drive took over an hour. Another user said the issue was adding 40 minutes each way to their daily commute.
Caltrans Spokesperson Jim Medina said the agency had received several calls about the signal in recent days but said that because the light is still on, it is technically considered operational. However, multiple electricians were dispatched to the intersection to clear traffic and fix the green light issue before more rain swept in.
Residents said the lights along PCH were known to have issues in wet weather but officials said they could not confirm the cause of the problem on Friday.
“Our focus right now is on the storms,” said Medina. “We’ve been pretty busy with lines and flooding.”
A Saturday storm will bring widespread, powerful rainfall and heavy mountain snowfall — with wind gusts of up to 60 mph and the possibility of more trees falling and power outages, he said.
There have been at least 19 storm-related deaths, and half of those have involved motorists, with some of the deaths preventable if drivers had heeded road closure signs, said Sean Duryee, acting commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.
Heal The Bay said the impact ofatmospheric rivers and the “First Flush” of the rainy season have increased safety concerns around beach recreation. The recent extreme atmospheric rivers, which normally help replenish California water supplies, are currently dropping more water than most developed city infrastructures can handle due to climate change. Coupled with King Tides (exceptionally large wave phenomena) can make for a dangerous beach experience.
In addition, winter storms have also introduced a major water quality concern for California’s coastal waters. The Los Angeles storm drain system that was designed to evacuate water from the city streets also funnels high levels of debris, toxins, and bacteria straight to the ocean, drastically impacting the quality of recreational waters
“This January, ocean activity is strong, and heavy rainfall combined with high tides and rising baseline sea levels make for unpredictable coastal conditions. Storm surge – or increased water levels due to storm activity – has drastically changed our beaches, leaving some with little to no sand. Storm surges, flooding, rock falls, and mudslides may continue to prevent coastal access by impacting roads and recreational coastlines. As the landscape changes, beachgoer behavior must change for Angelenos to continue to safely enjoy the beach,” said Emily Parker, Water Quality and Marine Scientist.
Here are Heal the Bay’s Stay Safe and Stay Out of the Water precautions to keep in mind this winter:
- Check theBeach Report Card for rain advisories and weekly water quality updates on your favorite beaches.
- Check the weather, including the tide levels and wave height, before heading to the coast. Opt for rain-free days with low tides and low wave heights for the safest conditions.
- Check for road closures before leaving home.
- Stay home during active rainfall and the day after rainfall instead of traveling to the coast.
- If you do make it to the beach, stay out of the water for at least 3 days after rain! Bacteria levels along the LA coastline are very high for the first 72 hours after rainfall and getting in the water could make you sick.
- Always keep your eyes on the water and don’t turn your back on the ocean. Be aware of rogue waves, potentially deadly coastal waves that surge the coast without warning and could hurt you unexpectedly.
Matthew Hall contributed to this report.