President Joe Biden approved disaster declarations for California and Alabama on Jan. 14 to help state and local recovery efforts from severe storms in both states.
Storms in California have claimed at least 19 lives amid widespread flooding, mudslides and other adverse weather events, while severe storms, straight-line winds and tornadoes battered Alabama on January 12. The Alabama storms were among the severe storms that killed at least nine people in the Southeast.
Since late December 2022, storm waves have pounded California as part of what the National Weather Service (NWS) calls “atmospheric flow.”
“The President’s action will provide federal funds to affected individuals in Merced, Sacramento and Santa Cruz counties,” the White House said in a statement. “Federal funding is also available to state, tribal and eligible local governments and certain shared-cost private nonprofit organizations for emergency work in Merced, Sacramento and Santa Cruz counties.”
The NWS said more rain could be expected in some parts of California through Jan. 16, according to a Jan. 15 bulletin. After that, however, drier weather is expected across much of the state.
“Valley/coastal rain at lower elevations and heavy mountain snow at high elevations continue to spread west as multiple storm systems affect the region,” the agency said. “The first system, which brought more severe rain and flooding problems across California on Saturday, is moving through the Great Basin and toward the Rockies today before another system moves in early from the Pacific [on Jan. 16].”
Up to two inches of rain was forecast for the already soaked Sacramento Valley, where residents of semi-rural Wilton, home to about 5,000 people, were ordered to evacuate as the Cosumnes River continued to rise. Another three inches of snow and gusty winds were expected in the Sierra Nevada. Interstate 80, a major highway from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Lake Tahoe ski resorts, has reopened after being closed for most of January 14 due to slick roads, snow and whiteout conditions.
The Central Sierra Snow Lab at the University of California – Berkeley Central Sierra posted on social media Jan. 15 that it received 21.5 inches of snow in 24 hours. From about 10 feet, snowpack was expected to grow a few more feet by January 16.
At least 19 people have reportedly died in storm-related incidents over the past three weeks. Some reportedly died from falling rocks, falling trees or floods.
More than 68,000 utility customers were without power as of the morning of Jan. 14, a number that had dropped to about 12,000 by Jan. 15, the website shows.
On Jan. 14, the swollen Salinas River flooded farmland in Monterey County, and to the east, flood warnings were in place for Merced County in the agricultural Central Valley, which California Gov. Gavin Newsom was visiting to take stock of the storm’s problems.
“The reality is this is only the eighth of nine projected atmospheric flows – we’re not done yet,” Newsom said at a briefing with local leaders, where he urged people to stay safe over the next 24 to 30 days 48 hours.
During a Jan. 13 visit to Montecito, Newsom urged residents to exercise caution and heed warnings from public safety officials.
“I know how tired you all are,” Newsom said. “Just stay a little more vigilant over the next weekend.”
Waves of storms and rainfall have reduced drought intensity in California, according to the latest US Drought Monitor report. Much of the state is classified as being in a moderate or severe drought, as some parts of the state were classified as “extreme” two weeks ago.
“That’s good news [the reservoirs] are away from historic lows,” Michael Anderson, an official with the state water department, told reporters Jan. 11. so something to watch out for.”
Meanwhile, federal emergency response funds in Autauga and Dallas counties are being made available on a shared-cost basis to state, qualifying local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations in Alabama.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.