On Tuesday, March 14, 2023 the 11th atmospheric river storm of the season plowed over California, dumping more rain and snow and sending hundreds of inhabitants once again running for higher ground.
As the high-impact storm traveled south through the state, at least 16 spots along major rivers were overflowing their banks.
This included locations along the Salinas, Sacramento and Merced rivers. After a levee break on the Pajaro River caused by a storm the week before, water proceeded to flood nearby fields and towns.
The National Weather Service has issued at least 70 flood watches, warnings and advisories for the state of California, as well as avalanche warnings for parts of Mono and Inyo counties and the Lake Tahoe region.
The agency said:
“The storm will create considerable to locally catastrophic flooding impacts below 5,000-feet elevation and is expected to shift south across much of the California Coast, Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills”.
A spokesperson for the American Red Cross, Nicole Maul, reported that as of Monday, March 13, 2023 night, more than 500 people had sought safety in around 30 shelters.
The storm was bringing moderate urban floods, road closures, toppled trees and gusting winds of up to 50 mph to the San Francisco Bay Area, as reported by meteorologist Eleanor Dhuyvetter.
Read the below post for a rundown of the events that transpired in California this past week:
Pajaro River Floods the Town
Strong gusts on Tuesday morning forced the airport to ground all flights at San Francisco International; a gust of 82 mph was recorded just south of Los Gatos. More than ten thousand people in Monterey County were warned to leave their homes when the Salinas River rose to dangerous levels.
This was in addition to the tens of thousands who had already been told to leave as the Pajaro River flooded their town. More floods, county officials warned, might destroy a large portion of the region’s agricultural output.
Dhuyvetter predicted that as much as 6 inches of rain might fall in the Santa Lucia Mountains by midnight; this area is part of the Salinas River catchment. She said that there was still a risk of rain in the Santa Lucias, thus there could be consequences for the Salinas River.
We’ll have to wait and see how much precipitation really hits those mountains. Evacuation orders were expanded on Tuesday to encompass the region around Corralitos Creek as flooding continued to put pressure on the levees defending the city of Watsonville.
There was a complete lack of education in the region. “The real question today is about manually breaching a part to release pressure,” said Zach Friend, a Santa Cruz County supervisor whose district includes Watsonville. The highway 1 bridge which is downstream from the city and surrounded by countryside, would be the site of the breach.
“Although nature has been destroyed very extensively in that area, it could handle it also,” Friend added.
NWS Weather Prediction Center shared a Tweet in which they said, “More dangerous flooding is expected over Central and Southern CA today with another strong atmospheric river”.
More dangerous flooding is expected over Central and Southern CA today with another strong atmospheric river. 40% of ALL flood related fatalities and 80% of ALL flood related damages occur within WPC High Risks. Be prepared to act quickly should a warning be issued for your area. pic.twitter.com/t1AcvqKFa1
— NWS Weather Prediction Center (@NWSWPC) March 14, 2023
In an effort to stop the 350-foot rupture upstream of Pajaro from getting any worse, authorities have only managed to stabilize around half of it so far. Several residents of Pajaro, a community filled with migrants, refused to leave despite the danger.
Dora Alvarez, 54, pointing south toward Salinas Road, which was submerged in water said:
“I know some people criticize us for not leaving, but the flooding danger isn’t here, it’s somewhere else”.
Standing nearby, her neighbor, Karla Loreto, 35, nodded in agreement. Loreto said, “We’re also not going to be wandering around in search of danger”.
Nevertheless, authorities have warned that flooding isn’t the only danger in the region. Downstream from the levee, near the wastewater treatment facility are several major utility lines.
Mark Strudley, executive director of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency said:
“So, if the water continues to erode through the levee such that it reenters the river system … it could overwhelm the river system downstream of Highway 1 and notably, the feature that’s immediately downstream is the wastewater treatment plant for the city of Watsonville, which is on the Santa Cruz County side.”
If the water overtops or seeps through the levee, Strudley said:
“We stand to destroy parts of the plant and may end up releasing untreated sewage to the floodplain to the river and then ultimately to the Monterey Bay. A decision on the best course of action is likely to be made Tuesday afternoon”.
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