California: Storm breaks California river levee, hundreds evacuated

WATSONVILLE: Hundreds of people in a northern California farming community were forced to flee their homes early Saturday after the Pajaro River levee was breached by flooding from a new atmospheric river pounding the state.
First responders and the California National Guard rescued more than 50 people overnight in the unincorporated community of Pajaro in Monterey Bay along California’s central coast. Video showed a member of the Guard helping a driver out of a car that had been waist-deep in floodwaters.
“We were hoping to avoid and prevent this situation, but the worst scenario happened with the Pajaro River overflowing and the dike breaking around midnight,” Luis wrote. Alejochairman of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, on Twitter.
Alejo called the floods “massive”, saying they have impacted Pajaro’s 1,700 residents and the damage will take months to repair.
Crews began working to repair the sea wall at dawn on Saturday as residents slept in evacuation centers.
The storm marked the state’s 10th atmospheric river in the winter, storms that brought huge amounts of rain and snow to the state and helped ease three-year drought conditions. State reservoirs that had dropped to surprisingly low levels are now well above average for this time of year, prompting state officials to release water from dams to help control flooding. and make room for even more rain.
State transportation officials said Friday they removed so much snow from the roads in February that it would be enough to fill the iconic Rose Bowl 100 times.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared emergencies in 34 counties in recent weeks, and the Biden administration approved a presidential disaster declaration for some on Friday morning, a move that will bring in more federal aid.
Emergency officials have warned people to stay off the roads if they can and to heed flash flood warnings carefully.
The atmospheric river, known as the ‘Pineapple Express’ because it brought warm subtropical moisture across the Pacific from near Hawaii, was melting the lower parts of the massive snowpack building in the California mountains . Snow levels in the Sierra Nevada, which provides about a third of the state’s water supply, are more than 180% of the April 1 average, when it is historically at its peak.
The high-altitude snowpack is so massive it was thought to be able to absorb rain, but snow below 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) could begin to melt, which could contribute to flooding, forecasters said.
Lake Oroville — one of the state’s largest reservoirs and home to the nation’s tallest dam — has so much water that authorities on Friday opened the dam’s spillways for the first time since April 2019. The Reservoir water rose 180 feet (54.8 meters). ) since December 1. Of the state’s 17 major reservoirs, seven are still below their historical averages this year.
State water managers were also grappling with how best to use the storms to help emerge from a severe drought. On Friday, Newsom signed an executive order making it easier for farmers and water agencies to use floodwater to fill underground aquifers. Groundwater provides an average of about 41% of the state’s supply each year. But many of these underground basins have been in deficit in recent years.
Forecasters have warned that mountain travel could be difficult, if not impossible, during the latest storm. At high elevations, the storm is expected to dump heavy snow, up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) over several days.
Yet another atmospheric river is already in the forecast for early next week. State climatologist Michael Anderson said a third appeared to be looming over the Pacific and possibly a fourth.
California appeared to be “on track for a fourth year of drought” before the series of early winter storms, Anderson said. “We are in a very different condition now,” he added.


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