Intense bursts of rain threaten flooding and landslides in Los Angeles as storms continue in California

Feb 20, 2024, 9:53 AM

A large tree branch fell, knocking out power and damaging vehicles during a storm on February 19, 2...

A large tree branch fell, knocking out power and damaging vehicles during a storm on February 19, 2024. Mandatory Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

(CNN) — Nearly the entire population of California is under flood alerts Tuesday as the latest round of rainfall soaks the state, prompting road closures, evacuation warnings and some water rescues. In Los Angeles, which faces a significant flood threat, part of the city is close to seeing its wettest February ever recorded.

• Over 35 million people under flood alerts: Rain continues to drench much of California on Tuesday, with the heaviest downpours focused on Los Angeles and coastal Southern California. Flood watches in place across parts of Northern California will expire Tuesday morning, but the bulk of the state’s flood alerts last through Wednesday.

• Los Angeles eyes record rainfall: After exceptional rainfall inundated the city earlier this month, downtown Los Angeles could see its wettest February on record if it picks up just over 2 inches of rain. An additional 1.5 to 3 inches are expected to fall across Los Angeles County through Wednesday morning, posing a risk of “significant flooding,” the National Weather Service said. It’s also Santa Barbara’s second-wettest February on record.

• Flooding shuts down airport and roads: Significant flooding on the tarmac of the Santa Barbara Airport forced it to close until Tuesday morning, the airport said Tuesday. There was “no major damage” and the airport resumed service. Several roads across the state are also shut down due to flooding and weather-related conditions, according to the state transportation department.

• Evacuation warnings issued: Evacuation warnings are in place for parts of Santa Barbara County, where some high-elevation areas have seen as much as 9 inches of rain in 24 hours. Local officials warned that homes could become isolated if roads become blocked by flooding or debris and urged people to evacuate if they are concerned their area is becoming unsafe. An evacuation warning was also issued for a portion of southwestern Los Angeles County over mud and debris flow fears, according to the sheriff’s office.

• Heavy snow building in Sierra Nevada: Winter weather alerts span the Sierra Nevada as snow blankets the region. Up to 5 feet of snow could accumulate in some areas by Wednesday night, though widespread amounts of 1-2 feet are expected across high-elevation areas.

Soaked state battles flooding, mudslides

As rain continues to pelt a vast portion of California Tuesday, saturated grounds and swelling waterways are struggling to take in the influx of water, causing runoff to gush over local roads, soften soil for mudslides and cause widespread concern of flooding.

The downpours will become more isolated on Tuesday as the atmospheric river fueling the storms weakens. The position of the atmospheric river could also wobble a bit throughout the day, and in the process, point its firehose of moisture at different parts of coastal Southern California, raising rainfall totals where it does.

The region, including Los Angeles, faces a considerable flood threat as a result, and is under a Level 3 of 4 flood risk on Tuesday.

Heavy bursts of rain with lighter showers in between are likely in the Los Angeles area, before steadier rain arrives in the evening. Another 1.5 to 3 inches of rain are expected through Wednesday morning – with 3 to 5 inches in isolated areas of the Santa Monica mountains, the National Weather Service said.

People in southwest California should be cautious of large mud and rock slides along canyon roads as well as debris flows in areas recently burned by wildfires, the forecast office in Los Angeles warned.

Large boulders and chunks of debris caused the closure of westbound traffic on a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu Monday, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

Two people were safely removed from a flooded vehicle in San Luis Obispo County Monday morning, according to fire officials. A photo from the scene showed a vehicle submerged to the hood in rushing floodwaters. Two more people were rescued in Sacramento County from the roof of their flooded vehicle, according to county fire officials.

In Ventura County, which was under a flash flood warning Monday, fire personnel scrambled to redirect floodwaters and prevent damage to nearby homes. Video from the county fire department showed a wide sheet of murky water rushing down one local street and into a muddy roadside channel being maintained by fire crews.

The Bay Area is also under a flood watch until Wednesday morning, the weather service said. That includes San Francisco, where officials are providing some residents and businesses with 10 free sandbags.

“Several of our streams and creeks are running high. … Never drive into flood waters,” the National Weather Service in the Bay Area said, noting Sonoma County is especially hard-hit. Sonoma County fire officials captured video of riverlike floodwaters running across a fully submerged road.

Rounds of rain will finally come to an end in California by late Wednesday as the main storm driving the soaking weather pushes eastward, crossing into the Rockies.

CNN’s Robert Shackelford, Steve Almasy, and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.

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Intense bursts of rain threaten flooding and landslides in Los Angeles as storms continue in California