The California governor’s office announced Wednesday morning that it has issued a State of Emergency in response to the winter storm battering the state and the storms that will arrive in the coming days.
“California has issued a State of Emergency to support response and recovery efforts to the large winter storm sweeping through the state,” the governor’s office said in a tweet shortly after 11 a.m., at the same time that state emergency officials were providing a news conference on the state’s response to the storms.
The declaration allows the state to mobilize emergency services faster, such as the California National Guard and Caltrans, as well as provides for closer collaboration with federal agencies in the repair and recovery efforts across the state.
Nancy Ward, the newly-appointed director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said at the news conference, “we anticipate that this may be one of the most challenging and impactful series of storms to touch down in California in the last 5 years.”
Wednesday’s storm arrives after a Dec. 27 storm and a second storm over the New Year weekend drenched the state, dropping several inches of rain across the Bay Area and the Sacramento region, leading to floods, closed-off highways and streets, and leaving tens of thousands of people without power.
The storms are known as atmospheric rivers, large formations of vapor over the Pacific Ocean that move towards the West Coast of the United States back-to-back in a short period of time, unleashing torrents of rain and snow when they move over land.
“We’re currently experiencing a series of storms that may continue for the next 7 to 10 days. Consequently, if the storm materializes as we anticipate, we could see widespread flooding, mudslides, and power outages in many communities,” Ward said.
The state’s Director of the Department of Water Resources Karla Nemeth said that Wednesday’s storm is considered slightly weaker than the first two because there is less rain and snow in a shorter time period, but that it will include stronger winds as “the primary impact,” which could lead to downed trees and power outages.
Today’s storm is expected to be at its strongest in the evening, when wind gusts could reach faster than 50 miles per hour, potentially causing more damage than the first storms.
Nemeth added that the areas that could see “significant challenges” are the California coast, “from Crescent City all the way down to Los Angeles,” and that flooding is still possible, particularly in Mendocino County and along the Russian River and the Navarro River.
Nemeth said that state and federal officials are working together to monitor flood control throughout the state, such as reservoirs, levees and river systems, and that the state has enough capacity to weather the storms.
In spite of this, widespread flooding is possible and state officials advise residents to avoid the roadways, particularly during the brunt of Wednesday’s storm.
Wildfire burn scars present another challenge, as the heavy rainfall can loosen the scorched dirt, leading to mudslides, rockslides and debris flows. Residents that live near the burn scars are advised to evacuate if warnings or orders are issued.
State officials repeated throughout the news conference that each subsequent storm presents more challenges because the ground will still be saturated from the prior storm and the water will not have fully receded.
“Additional storms could arrive this weekend and another two storms that could arrive next week,” Nemeth said. “It doesn’t require the same amount of precipitation to inflict significant damage.”