Huge California Storm Prompts Mudslides and Evacuations

California residents reeled from a powerful storm dumping enormous amounts of precipitation from the coasts to the mountains that caused evacuations, mudslides and other problems, but brought much needed drought relief to the region. 

Amy Lilly talks with neighbor Eric Rose as they look over her home damaged by a tree limb that crashed into her house and into Rose’s backyard during a storm in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

(CN) — A 14-year-old boy was found trapped under five feet of snow for five hours after a roof avalanche dumped approximately 5 feet of snow on him while he was playing next to his home in Serene Lakes, just west of Truckee in the California mountains. 

The boy was trapped under the snow for about 5 hours before firefighters were able to rescue him, according to the Truckee Fire Protection District. 

In Monterey County, a woman suffered broken bones after a mudslide came pounding through her house after 6 to 9 inches of rain fell in the area during a 24-hour period. 

The two stories demonstrate how from California’s coast to its mountains, a ferocious winter storm is wreaking havoc on residents, many of whom are nonetheless grateful for the abundant precipitation in a region that was hovering on the precipice of drought. 

Drought is now the furthest thing from most California residents’ minds as the season’s first big storm continues to pound the entire state. 

In Monterey County, residents saw 2.87 inches of rainfall over a 24-hour period beginning Wednesday and continuing into Thursday. That is more precipitation than fell during the entire water year beginning October 1, as only 2.14 inches had fallen to date. 

“More rain in one day than the whole season,” the National Weather Service said on Twitter. 

The abundant rainfall was created by an atmospheric river that marched over California after a high pressure system that had decamped over the lower West Coast for much of the winter finally broke up.

In Carmel, also in Monterey County, the overflowing of the Carmel River caused the Carmel Lagoon to flood, discharging water into several surrounding homes located near the Carmel River State Beach. 

Mudslides have been reported on various highways throughout the region, and residents near the burn scars created by the Dolan Fire have been urged to evacuate due to fears of large mudslides. 

About 8,000 residents have evacuated as of Thursday afternoon. 

Hana Mohsin wades through mud while carrying belongings from a neighbor’s home which was damaged in a mudslide on Wednesday in Salinas, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

It’s the same story in Santa Cruz and San Mateo County where thousands of residents near the burn scars from the CZU Lightning Complex fires were forced to flee their homes over mudslide fears.  

About 5,000 people in various locations throughout those two counties have been asked to find alternative means of shelter during the storm. 

Residents of Southern California in proximity to the Bobcat fire area and the Bond fire area were also warned to be vigilant. 

Mudslides often follow wildfires, because damage to trees and plants means their roots are less capable of preventing erosion. 

The precipitation is expected to continue through the evening before tapering off overnight into Friday. 

In the mountains, Highway 80, which traverses the Sierra Nevada has been closed in both directions for much of Thursday, snarling traffic as several vehicles lost traction and spun out to the sides of the heavily trafficked roadway. 

“It’s a great day to avoid the Sierras,” the California Highway Patrol said on Twitter on Thursday. 

Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, located near Donner Summit west of Truckee received 29 inches of snow overnight, according to the weather service. Dodge Ridge, a ski resort about 50 miles south of Lake Tahoe, received 44 inches during the same period. 

Along with copious precipitation, the storm brought gale-force winds in some cases with gusts up to 120 miles per hour, felling trees and severing power lines. 

Pacific Gas & Electric estimated there were about 575,000 people without power throughout Northern California at one point during the storm. 

California has a Mediterranean climate, meaning its summer season is mostly dry with nearly all of its precipitation coming during the winter. While the state has been relatively dry to date, one or two storms like the one currently marching through the state have the ability to make an enormous difference in building the snowpack and replenishing its complex system of reservoirs. 

California’s water year begins on Oct. 1. Traditionally most of its precipitation comes in December, January and February, although March and April can be wet as well. 

Precipitation that falls outside the winter season is not as helpful in building the snowpack in the Sierra, which if large enough, melts incrementally throughout the spring and early summer, delivering water to the state’s water system. 

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