California Scrambles to Recover From Storm Before the Next One Hits

After days of pounding rain, winds and snow, Californians woke up to sunny skies and waterlogged streets on New Year’s Day, scrambling to recover during a brief intermission before the next rainstorms that are forecast to hit the region later this week.

Northern California bore the brunt of an intense “atmospheric river” system that brought floods and landslides to parts of the West Coast on Saturday.

On Sunday, rescuers were still plucking trapped passengers from submerged vehicles, while bloated rivers and creeks spilled over banks. Streets in downtown San Francisco were still draining after the city nearly broke its record for the most rainfall on a single day. The National Weather Service’s downtown site recorded 5.46 inches on New Year’s Eve, 0.08 inch shy of the 1994 record in more than 170 years of record keeping there — and 46.8 percent of the monthly rainfall.

Agricultural workers in Sacramento County ushered in the New Year by patching up a weakened levee system.

Firefighters and rescue crews combed through a rural section of Sacramento County on Sunday afternoon, searching for people who might be trapped in homes and cars.

Khaled Dajani cleared water from his flooded living room in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve.Credit…Mike Kai Chen
A flooded basement on in San Francisco.Credit…Mike Kai Chen

Rescue crews circled the county’s flooded roads in helicopters and boats, finding vehicles either stuck in or completely submerged by floodwaters, according to a spokesman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

The county conducted roughly 40 rescuesover the course of around 24 hours, according to Dan Quiggle, deputy fire chief of operations for the Cosumnes Fire Department in Sacramento County.

Though severe damage was not widespread, one person died and several were injured as result of flooding, with most rescues occurring near the Cosumnes River, Mr. Quiggle said.

Multiple survivors were stranded in their vehicles for hours before being rescued, he said on Sunday.

The storm is expected to movefrom Salt Lake City down to Phoenix, according to Bob Oravec, a forecaster at the National Weather Service. The severe storm is expected to bring rain to areas such as Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.

On Sunday, over 130,000 utilities customers were without power in California, according to, which tracks outages.

The storm also caused power outages in Nevada, with tens of thousands of people without power in Washoe County.

In Sacramento County, two levees failed near the Cosumnes River in Wilton, a farming area. Previous rainstorms had already left the ground oversaturated, according to Matt Robinson, a spokesman for the county.

“If we had just this rain event without any previous storms, we would’ve been pretty much OK, the levees would have been OK,” he said.

“The water from levee breaches has to go somewhere. It can’t just go and get absorbed into the ground, like normal,” Mr. Robinson said.

A tow truck pulled a car out of a flooded intersection in San Francisco.Credit…Mike Kai Chen
A resident in San Francisco helped clear debris from blocked sewer drains, which was causing flooding.Credit…Mike Kai Chen

The levees, which broke in a rural area and flooded a highway, are maintained by an elected board for the area called Reclamation District 800, a type of homeowner’s association for agricultural land.

Mark Hite, a spokesman for Reclamation District 800 and a member of the board, said it was too soon to properly assess the extent of the storm’s damage.

“We have some crews doing repair jobs on the levees right now, but I haven’t seen high water like this in 20 years,” Mr. Hite said.

County officials hope that the next storm forecast to hit Northern California on Wednesday won’t be as bad. Warmer weather meant rain instead of snow, which worsened flooding issues. Cold weather is expected for the next round of precipitation.

“Hopefully the cold will freeze some of the runoff and give us a chance to catch our breath,” Mr. Robinson said.

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