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Biden declares emergency in California as more winter storms advance

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House January 5, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Monday declared an emergency in California after a barrage of deadly winter storms has prompted widespread power outages and flooding since last week.

Extreme downpours, high winds and flash floods have caused at least 12 fatalities in the past 10 days and created power outages for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across the state. National Weather Service forecasters have warned of a “relentless parade of cyclones” over the coming days that will exacerbate the risk of flooding in central and Northern California.

“Round after round of heavy rain on saturated soils will produce considerable flood potential with rapid river rises, mudslides and burn scar flash floods or debris flows,” NWS forecasters said in a bulletin.

The president approved the emergency declaration for California during a visit in Mexico City for the North American Leaders’ Summit. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday evening said he’s in close contact with the White House to ensure the state has adequate aid.

A resident walks along a flooded street, after “atmospheric river” rainstorms slammed northern California, in the coastal town of Aptos, January 5, 2023.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

The president’s emergency declaration authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and provide assistance for required emergency measures, the White House said in a statement.

The declaration covers the counties of El Dorado, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Stanislaus and Ventura.

As of Monday morning, more than 130,000 homes and businesses in California were still without power, according to data from Pacific Gas and Electric, the state’s largest power company, said on its website on Sunday that more than 4,100 crews are staged throughout its service area — including the regions most affected by the storms — in one of the company’s largest emergency response efforts in history.

A flooded street after a rain storm in the Aptos Beach Flats neighborhood in Aptos, California, US, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.

Nic Coury | Bloomberg | Getty Images

California has endured a series of atmospheric river storms, which are long, narrow streams in the atmosphere that transport most of the water vapor outside of the tropics and typically produce extreme rainfall and snowfall over short durations.

The atmospheric river storms have overlapped with a low-pressure system often referred to as a bomb cyclone, a phenomenon that generally occurs when a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass.

The upcoming storms are particularly concerning as the ground in California remains saturated and therefore more vulnerable to flooding and rapid runoff. The NWS said it anticipates heavy rainfall of up to five inches near California’s coast and more than six feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the coming days.


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