Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the United States, is facing a catastrophic situation as a powerful storm has unleashed hundreds of mudslides across the region. The storm, which is caused by an atmospheric river, has dumped more than half the amount of rainfall the city typically gets in a season in just two days. The torrential rain has triggered flash floods, power outages, road closures, and evacuations. Officials have warned that the threat is not over yet, as more rain is expected in the coming days.
The Impact of the Storm
The storm, which began on Sunday, has been one of the wettest in Southern California history. According to the National Weather Service, downtown Los Angeles recorded 7.03 inches (17.8 centimeters) of rain from Sunday to Monday, the third-wettest two-day total since weather records began in 1877. Some other parts of the city got far more, including more than 12 inches (30.4 cm) in Bel Air.
The massive amount of rain has saturated the soil and caused widespread landslides, also known as debris flows. These are fast-moving mixtures of water, mud, rocks, and other materials that can sweep away anything in their path. The Los Angeles Fire Department reported that it responded to more than 380 mudslides as of Tuesday morning. Fire Chief Kristin Crowley, who toured hard-hit areas on Monday, said 35 buildings required inspections, five were deemed uninhabitable, and there were seven where people were only allowed to remove possessions.
“Yesterday I was reminded of the pure force and magnitude with which a hillside can suddenly come down,” Crowley said.
The mudslides have damaged or destroyed homes, cars, roads, and infrastructure. Some of the worst-hit areas include Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, Malibu, and Topanga Canyon. In Beverly Hills, resident Jeb Johenning witnessed an “avalanche of mud” that buried several vehicles near his home.
“I was driving up here last night, right after the Grammys, and coincidentally, my neighbor, who was in this SUV behind us, was being dropped off at his house, and the driver’s coming down the hill, and the mud is chasing the driver,” Johenning told Reuters.
The storm has also caused widespread power outages, affecting more than 150,000 customers as of Tuesday morning. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said it was working to restore service as quickly as possible, but some areas may take longer due to the extent of the damage. The storm has also disrupted air travel, as several flights were canceled or delayed at Los Angeles International Airport and other nearby airports.
The Cause of the Storm
The storm is the result of an atmospheric river, a phenomenon in which water evaporates into the air and is carried along by the wind, forming long currents that flow in the sky like rivers flow on land. These rivers can transport large amounts of moisture across long distances, and when they encounter land, they can produce heavy precipitation.
This storm is the second atmospheric river to hit California in two weeks. The first one brought significant rain and snow to the northern and central parts of the state, easing the drought conditions that have plagued the region for years. However, the second one has been much more intense and destructive, as it underwent a process called bombogenesis as it approached the state. This means that colder air mixed with warmer sea air, leading to a swift drop in atmospheric pressure, creating a so-called “bomb cyclone”. This amplified the strength and impact of the storm, making it one of the most powerful to hit Southern California in decades.
The Outlook for the Future
The storm is expected to continue to affect Southern California until Wednesday, with showers and thunderstorms still possible in some areas. The National Weather Service has issued several warnings and advisories, including flash flood watches, high surf warnings, and wind advisories. The agency has also warned of the “slight risk of excessive rainfall” in some areas, which could trigger more mudslides and flooding.
Officials have urged residents to stay alert and follow the instructions of local authorities. They have also advised people to avoid driving through flooded roads, walking near hillsides, and going to the beach, where large waves and rip currents could pose a danger. Residents who live in or near burn areas, where recent wildfires have stripped the vegetation and increased the risk of mudslides, have been asked to evacuate or prepare to do so if necessary.
The storm has also raised concerns about the effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. According to UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, atmospheric rivers are expected to become more common and more variable in the future, as warmer temperatures increase the amount of water vapor in the air. This could mean more droughts and floods for California, as well as more challenges for water management and disaster preparedness.