California residents have been told their state is still in drought despite the powerful storm that on Thursday caused thousands of power outages, and on Friday, mudslides. The “pineapple express” storm, said to be the worst California has seen in years, moved through much of the state yesterday, dumping enough rain to add a projected 166 billion gallons of water to the state’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake.
According to the state’s Department of Water Resources, both northern lakes will continue to collect run-off from the storm until Tuesday. However after three years of drought, the increase will raise California’s reservoirs to less than 50 percent of their actual capacity. Oroville will be 33 percent full, and Shasta 34 percent full; quantities which are still below historic mid-December averages.
Department of Water Resources hydrology branch chief Sudhakar Talanki told the San Jose Mercury News that the department estimates they would need up to eight major storms with similar volumes of rain, to create enough water to end the three year drought. While the good news is that more storms are expected, it comes as little comfort to the thousands of residents who have experienced personal loss and damage due to the extreme weather.
Wind gusts up to 140 miles per hour were reported to have damaged homes in the Lake Tahoe area. In Washington, CA, houses fell into the sea at Washaway Beach, while winds of 60 miles per hour tore across Puget Sound. Pacific Gas and Electric reported over 480,000 customers had lost power, however most had been reconnected by Friday afternoon.
CalTrans spokesman Bob Haus reported a quiet day as many people stayed home from work. Numerous schools in San Francisco and the Bay Area were also closed for the day. However for now, the California drought continues despite the powerful storm which dumped enough water to cause mudslides in Camarillo Springs.
As strong winds and heavy rain battered the southern part of the state during the early hours of Friday morning, at least 24 homes were damaged by mudslides. So far ten homes have been “red tagged” which means they are unsafe and uninhabitable Forty residents are taking shelter in an evacuation center, while several people were rescued from their homes by emergency crews, and five cars were reportedly buried in two feet of mud on the highway. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for 124 homes north west of Los Angeles.
In other parts of California, two deaths due to the wild weather have been reported. In Oregon, a forty-year-old man died after a tree fell on his tent along the Pacific Coast Trail, and a teenager died in Portland when the car he was traveling in crashed into a tree.
Scientists believe the recent wild weather has provided a good start to the rainy season, and suggested that continued heavy rains through until March would help alleviate the state’s water crisis. They added that Saturday and Sunday are forecast to be dry, allowing the ground time to dry out before the next bout of rain and thereby reducing the possibility of major flooding.
Despite Thursday’s powerful storm depositing enough water to cause mudslides and wide-spread flooding, California is still in the grip of a historic drought. However according to meteorologists, further storm systems are expected to move across the state early next week. UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences told the San Jose Mercury News, “This could be the end of the drought; we won’t know until late March.”
By Monica Grant
Photo Courtesy of Washington State Department of Transportation – Flickr Page