A furious rainstorm unleashed record levels of rain on communities across San Diego county on Monday, inundating homes and overturning cars. Hundreds of people had to be rescued from flooded areas as the San Diego River surged over its banks, fueled by downpours that left the city grappling with the fourth wettest day in history.
States of emergencies have been declared across the county by local officials, and hundreds of unhoused people were displaced when water rushed into homeless shelters. Residents described harrowing escapes from Alpha Project’s Bridge Shelter that was quickly overtaken by waist-deep water, which had also previously flooded in 2018, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
California has been ravaged by storms this week, but San Diego’s aging stormwater system was overwhelmed by the heavy rain and quickly reached capacity according to the city’s stormwater department.
Eddie Ochoa, a resident of San Diego, said it was just sprinkling when he and his sister went out for breakfast Monday morning. When they returned to their family-owned autobody shop, the entire block was flooded and his sister’s parked car had been washed away.
“All that happened within an hour,” Ochoa said, guessing that the sewers had backed up. They later found his sister’s car about three miles (4.8km) down the street.
“It’s never been that bad, ever. It’s crazy,” he said.
A whopping 4.25 in of rain was dumped on nearby National City according to reports from the National Weather Service and more than 3in fell at the San Diego international airport.
During the winter, the region averages about 2 inches of rain a month.
Deputies pulled people to safety after water rushed into homes in the Spring Valley and Casa de Oro neighborhoods, said San Diego countysheriff’s Lt Zee Sanchez. Other residents escaped by wading through waist-high water carrying their cats and dogs.
“Flooding is pretty widespread out there,” Sanchez said. The department aided in a swift-water rescue near Santee, he said.
No injuries were reported.
The San Diego River was flooding, the National Weather Service said, warning that crossing roads would be unsafe. The city fire department said it had rescued at least 24 people from the rushing San Diego and Tijuana rivers.
In the city’s Southcrest neighborhood, hundreds of people had to be rescued from their homes as water rushed in at about 11am, the Los Angeles Times reported.
San Diego mayor, Todd Gloria, declared a state of emergency and the city set up shelters to house displaced residents.
The clouds were beginning to clear by Tuesday morning, returning the southern Californian city to its typical balmy conditions, but more storms may be on the way next week. Still, the receding waters have left behind big messes as impacted residents begin the daunting task of clearing mud from homes.
Despite the destructively wet weather, California water officials are still concerned with below-average snowpack levels, a key component of the state’s water supply. California has seen large swings between wet and dry in recent years, and the storms were a welcome sign for those watching snow accumulations across the Sierra Nevada range. Some mountainous areas received up to 2ft of snow during last weekend’s storms.
There was also an avalanche warning through Tuesday morning for the backcountry in the mountains around the Lake Tahoe area, which might see more than a foot (30cm) of snow, according to the Sierra avalanche center in Truckee, California. The storm was expected to bring up to 8 inches (20cm) of snow to the lake’s shores and up to 14 inches (35cm) with winds gusting up to 60mph (95km/h) in the highest elevations beginning late Monday.
Forecasters believe there’s more wet weather on the way. The NWS Climate Prediction Center has logged a high chance of above-average precipitation in California and the south-west through the start of February.
Extreme weather has wreaked havoc across the US this week, after a deep freeze enveloped large parts of the country and killed dozens of people, many in road deaths or from hypothermia. A warm air reprieve is on the way for the eastern half of the country though, according to the National Weather Service, which said “a few locations may have daily high temperatures as much as 20F above seasonal average by Wednesday”.