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Another atmospheric river unleashes more storms in rain-soaked California

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Winter storms on both coasts have wreaked havoc in several states.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Residents of Pajaro, time to evacuate. Water is coming.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

A powerful nor'easter has swept through parts of the Northeast. It dumped heavy snow and caused power outages for hundreds of thousands of people, plus hazardous roads and school closures. In already rain-soaked California, a new storm there is just the latest in a series of extreme weather events that have battered that coast. Rain and wind knocked out power and flooded communities.

FADEL: Jerimiah Oetting of member station KAZU is in Monterey County, Calif., and he joins us now. Good morning.

JERIMIAH OETTING, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So let's start with where you are - the Monterey Bay area. What are you seeing there?

OETTING: Well, there wasn't as much rain with this latest storm as we expected, and these storms have been relentless this year. This is the 11th atmospheric river to hit California so far this season. The bad news is there was a lot of wind. Up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the winds were gusting up to 97 miles an hour. That brought down a lot of trees, closed roads, caused power outages. And all of that is slowing down recovery from previous storms in places like the town of Pajaro. That's where a levee failed over the weekend, flooding the community and causing thousands to flee their homes.

Power outages have really been a consistent theme of these storms here. Last weekend, there were over 35,000 residents in Monterey County without power for days, some even without cell service. So with all the wind, we're seeing some of those impacts continue.

FADEL: So really an unprecedented year weather-wise in California. How are other parts of the state doing?

OETTING: There are currently over 200,000 Californians without power. And again, that's largely due to wind. The National Weather Service had high wind warnings in the Bay Area, Sacramento Valley, the Sierra Foothills. And out in the Sierra Nevada, they've had a really historic snow year. But this most recent storm was warmer, so now there's rain on snow. And that's causing this huge snowpack that's accumulated in the mountains to really melt fast, which is bringing the risk of flooding to communities downstream. It also makes the snow heavier, which increases avalanche risk in mountain communities like Lake Tahoe. But despite all this, I think people are really feeling a sense of relief because the storm was just not as bad as expected.

FADEL: Especially after all that they've already seen. So how are people coping? What kind of help are they getting?

OETTING: Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for 40 of California's 58 counties. President Joe Biden, who's been visiting California recently, also issued a federal emergency declaration. And that opens up a lot of funds and resources and support to help these communities recover. Locally, here in Monterey County, the food bank is kicked into high gear. Some of the local hotels and - are offering discounts. The county has provided shelter options for the thousands of evacuees at this point. So all that happened here, but there were reports of this kind of volunteer and first responder work happening in other communities as well.

FADEL: What about the people who were forced to evacuate? You mentioned at least thousands in Monterey County. Any sense of when they'll be able to return to their homes?

OETTING: Well, we do have a break in the rain coming up, and that will help crews open up roads and reestablish power and really help a lot of people across California kind of clean up. But I will say, for lower-income communities, like small agricultural towns like Pajaro here in Monterey County, it really is a different story. After the aging levee failed, the whole town was underwater. And, you know, that levee was historically neglected. The federal government knew for decades it needed to be replaced. Now there's no word as to when it will be fixed. And officials are saying, you know, it could be months before these residents can return home.

FADEL: Jerimiah Oetting from member station KAZU in Monterey County. Thanks, Jerimiah.

OETTING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jerimiah Oetting