California pummeled by heavy rain amid another round of storms

The latest in a series of powerful storm fronts driven by atmospheric rivers slammed California again Saturday, as the state continued to contend with heavy rain and flooding which has caused widespread damage and forced thousands to evacuate.

In a news conference Saturday in Merced County, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the storms are to blame for at least 19 deaths.

A series of atmospheric rivers – long regions in the atmosphere that transport water – are responsible for the storms which have battered California since Dec. 26. Newsom Saturday estimated that California has been hit by eight atmospheric rivers so far, with a ninth possible.

California storm damage
A pedestrian walks among driftwood storm debris on Capitola Beach in Capitola, California, on Jan. 14, 2023. 

Nic Coury/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The governor also estimated that between 22 and 25 trillion gallons of rain have fallen on the state since the storms began a few weeks ago.

“The stacking of these atmospheric rivers, the likes of which we have not experienced in our lifetimes. The reality is this is just the eighth of what we anticipate will be nine atmospheric rivers,” Newsom told reporters. “We’re not done. I know there’s a point comes in any challenging time where people are fatigued…I just pray on all of us to maintain our vigilance, our common sense over the next 24 to 48 hours.”

President Biden late Saturday night issued a major disaster declaration for California. Among other things, the declaration will make federal funding available to residents and businesses in Merced, Sacramento and Santa Cruz counties to help pay for recovery efforts, such as home repairs. The aid can consist of grants or loans. 

Crews Saturday were forced to suspend the search for a missing 5-year-old boy who was swept away by floodwaters Monday in San Marcos Creek, near San Miguel due to rising water levels and unsuitable weather conditions, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office reported.

Just over 26,000 customers in California were without power Saturday afternoon, according to the outage tracking website

Flood warnings were issued for the region north of San Francisco Bay, including Marin, Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Warnings were posted for parts of counties including San Mateo and Santa Cruz, where the tiny community of Felton Grove along the San Lorenzo River was ordered evacuated. An evacuation order also was issued for residents of the Wilton area in semirural southeastern Sacramento County. Authorities cited the threat of flooding from the Cosumnes River.

“Flooding is imminent,” the Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services tweeted.  

Residents in several parts San Benito County, located south of San Jose, were also ordered to evacuate.   

The swollen Salinas River swamped farmland in Monterey County, and to the east, flood warnings were in effect for Merced County in the agricultural Central Valley. 

California storm damage
Pedestrians wade through floodwaters in Aptos, California, on Jan. 14, 2023. 

Nic Coury/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Slick roads, snow and whiteout conditions plagued highways through the Sierra Nevada.

The UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab tweeted Saturday morning that it received 21.3 inches of snow in 24 hours and that its snowpack of about 10 feet was expected to grow several more feet by Monday.

A backcountry avalanche warning was issued for the central Sierra, including the greater Lake Tahoe area.

In Santa Barbara County, where a massive debris flow through the community of Montecito killed 23 people on Jan. 9, 2018, residents were told that new evacuations were not expected but that they should be prepared.

Montecito and adjacent areas were most recently ordered evacuated last Monday, the fifth anniversary of what is locally remembered as the “1/9 Debris Flow.” But the community perched on foothills of coastal mountains escaped serious harm.

Dry days are in next week’s forecast for California starting on Tuesday.

“Question will then become do we stay dry through the end of month?” the San Francisco Bay Area weather office wrote.

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