How 'hydrological whiplash' brought 'deadly storms' to rain-drenched California: climate scientists

How 'hydrological whiplash' brought 'deadly storms' to rain-drenched California: climate scientists
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Many scientists have been warning that as climate change advances, severe flooding will become more common. And California, from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Hollywood Hills to Santa Barbara, has suffered more than its share of flooding in 2023.

California has 58 counties altogether, and President Joe Biden has approved emergency declarations for 41 of them. In fact, the torrential rain that has been battering California in 2023 is among the worst in the state’s history, according to Guardian reporters Dani Anguiano and Gabrielle Canon.

“As more dangerous storms bear down on California, the state is only just beginning to grapple with the destruction and death left by weeks of extreme weather that wreaked havoc in nearly every region from the northern coast to Los Angeles,” Anguiano and Canon report in an article published on January 16. “The series of storms that have pummeled California since late December have killed at least 19 people, brought hurricane force winds that toppled trees and power lines, cutting energy to thousands, and flooded roads and rivers, covering swaths of land in dense mud and debris that stretches for miles. Entire communities have been forced to evacuate while road closures and power disruptions left some rural regions isolated and almost cut off from the outside world.”

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The torrential rains of 2023 follow the record drought and wildfires that California suffered in 2021. To climate change deniers, it is a contradiction to blame climate change for droughts, heatwaves and wildfires on one hand and blame it for record rainfall on the other. But climate change scientists have pointed out that climate change brings a variety of extreme weather. And California is an example of a state that has suffered too little rain at times and way too much of it at others.

But California is hardly the only place that has suffered record flooding in recent years. In 2022, Pakistan suffered some of the worst flooding in its history. More than 1500 deaths in Pakistan, according to the New York Times, were attributed to the flooding.

Australia also suffered historic flooding in 2022. And that follows the destructive wildfires Australia experienced in late 2019 and early 2020. Australia, like California, has received too little rain at times and way too much rain at other times.

At a press briefing on Friday, January 13, Nancy Ward (director of emergency services for the California Governor’s Office) noted, “These storms are among the most deadly natural disasters in the modern history of our state.”

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Anguiano and Canon report, “After a grueling drought and California’s driest years on record, the latest turn of extreme weather, which some experts have called hydrological ‘whiplash,’ has highlighted the challenges that come with such a rapid deluge, particularly in a state more accustomed in recent years to disasters related to heat and wildfire. California has received an average of more than 9 (inches) of rainfall since late December, and some areas have already seen the amount of rain they typically get in the entire year, according to the National Weather Service.”

In a January 13 update, climate scientist Daniel Swain pointed out that heavy rains aren’t the only thing California has been experiencing; the state has also suffered several winds. And a tornado — which is rare for California — was reported in Calaveras County in the central part of the state.

Swain observed, “This has been a deadly storm sequence. The damage will probably be at least in the hundreds of millions, if not higher, before all is said and done. And the disruption to people, even people who have stayed relatively safe; there are a lot of folks who have been without power and without road access to where they live for a long time.”

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