In anticipation of the major bomb cyclone storm about to hit the state, the second such storm in less than a week, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a State of Emergency on Wednesday in anticipation of more flooding, damage, and people in need of assistance.
On New Years Eve, a large bomb cyclone struck California, and specifically Northern California particularly hard. Many roads were flooded as a result, highways were shut down for some time, including Highway 99. Sacramento County was hit particularly hard, with at least two people killed so far from the previous storm. While some positive effects were noted, such as the storms bringing much needed water to the state and building up mountain snowpack at such levels that it could help avert a major drought this year, the massive amount of water is, in the short-term, causing major floods, driving delays, and the potential of other disasters ranging from mudslides to avalanches.
Faced with these dangers on Wednesday, with heavy rain, snow, and wind gusts expected to bring more floods, power outages, and other dangers like evacuations, Governor Newsom declared a State of Emergency. Under the order, the mobilization of the California National Guard to support disaster response has been initiated, as well as directing Caltrans to request immediate assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program to support highway repairs and other support for local response and recovery efforts. The State Operations Center has also moved to it’s highest level as a result.
The state has also prepositioned fire and rescue equipment and personnel to support local resources across the state, with teams being mobilized to quickly respond in the event of mud flows, avalanches or flash floods.
“California is mobilizing to keep people safe from the impacts of the incoming storm,” said Governor Newsom on Wednesday. “This state of emergency will allow the state to respond quickly as the storm develops and support local officials in their ongoing response.”
Local areas have already responded to the state of emergency, with many local park systems closing early to help keep people away from downed trees, as well as some cities, such as Watsonville in Santa Cruz County, already evacuating parts of the city in response.
Newly-minted California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Director Nancy Ward, only a few days since being appointed by the Governor, is also now facing her first major emergency. In a press conference of Wednesday, she warned that the rural levee system is now the most vulnerable infrastructure in the state due to the incoming storm, with flooding expected in coastal communities around the state. More locally, officials in already hard hit counties such as Sacramento County are bracing for the second storm, with many expected to ask for state and federal assistance should bad flooding return once again.
“We fail to build flood control measures in the state, with the Central Valley needing around $30 billion worth alone to avoid major flooding, and we continue to tear down dams, which brings back major flood risk, and we wonder why floods seem to be getting worse,” explained water engineer Sean Cooke to the Globe on Wednesday. “A big part of it is that these are huge storms bringing a lot of water, but if we had the infrastructure in place, they wouldn’t be nearly as bad. Instead, we just allow things to continue on like this and then people are surprised when flooding happens. A lot of water falling at once is one thing, but ignoring flood dangers is another, and California needs to stop doing that.”
While there is no end date on the state of emergency, it is expected to stay in effect through much of the month as other storms and longer-term flooding may necessitate more state emergency resources.
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