Weather and Natural Disasters

California's 'endless onslaught' of severe weather forces thousands to flee their homes and leaves 1 dead

Chantal Da Silva and David K. Li
Cars are seen submerged in flood waters in Morro Bay, California, U.S., January 9, 2023 in this picture obtained from social media. 
Carolyn Krueger Via Reuters

Thousands of Californians fled their homes as severe weather battered the state, leaving one dead, a child missing and massive swaths of power outages Tuesday.

Rains continued to hammer much of California on Tuesday as a fresh low-pressure system barreled toward the state as part of a "parade of cyclones" that prompted a string of rescues Monday.

Homes were flooded, streets transformed into rivers and cars were swamped amid the deluge.

The city of San Francisco told residents on Tuesday to take "shelter and do not travel" for three hours, starting about 12:30 p.m. PT after the National Weather Service issued a flash-flood warning for the region.

High winds forced the closure of Interstate 80, in both directions, near the California-Nevada line.

And in Southern California, several routes in Angeles National Forest were closed.

"We could see more flooding concerns throughout much of the state," National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Schoening said in a taped message posted by the state's Office of Emergency Services Tuesday afternoon.

"So keep an eye on the radar, keep an eye on anything from your local media, from your local emergency management and from your local National Weather Service."

One person was killed Monday in Avila Beach, roughly 180 miles north of Los Angeles, when a vehicle was overtaken by water, said Anita Konopa, an official with the San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services.

A child is also missing after being swept away when floodwaters swamped a vehicle in the northern section of the county, near Paso Robles, according to Scott Jalbert, another official with the agency.

By noon Tuesday, power company workers had whittled the number of homes and businesses in the dark down to 179,000, according to

Sacramento County was one of the hardest hit with about 12,000 customers still without power by the lunch hour, according to the outage tracker.

The rain appeared to be letting up in Beverly Hills on Tuesday afternoon. But organizers of the Golden Globes took no chances and set up tents so that the gray-colored red carpet will remain dry when celebrities arrive.

Read more from NBC News:

An 'endless onslaught'

Just as one episode of heavy rains across the state began to wind down, another low-pressure system rapidly gained strength off the West Coast, barreling toward the state, according to the National Weather Service.

"The endless onslaught of potent systems with atmospheric rivers of moisture continue to inundate California," it said.

Moderate to heavy rains were expected across much of California through Tuesday and into the night, while several more feet of snow were expected to accumulate along the Sierra Nevada, it said. The heavy rains are expected to worsen the ongoing flooding and prolong the risk of flash flooding and mudslides across the state.

Officials issued immediate evacuation orders Monday for the entire community of Montecito, which is home to a number of celebrities including Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, as well as for parts of Santa Barbara and other nearby towns amid heightened flood and mudslide hazards.

A view of damage on the road after storm and heavy rain in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Silicon Valley in Scotts Valley, California, United States on January 09, 2023.
Neal Waters | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

In Montecito, which is home to 10,000 people, Monday's flooding came five years to the day after heavy rains hammered a Montecito "burn scar," killing nearly two dozen people.

The severe weather also forced the Santa Barbara Airport to close, the airport announced in a tweet Monday.

"All commercial flights are canceled until further notice, and the terminal is closed," it said. The airport said its reopening would be "dependent on the weather and conditions."

In Chatsworth, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, four people were trapped after two cars were swallowed by a sinkhole that left an entire road "compromised" Monday night, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

Two people were able to get themselves out of the sinkhole, while firefighters were able to safely extricate the other two, who were treated and taken to a hospital with minor injuries, it said.

Maria Aldana, a 26-year-old who lives in the northern Los Angeles County community of Lancaster, couldn't believe her eyes when she saw sidewalks swallowed up by rain waters on Monday night.

Aldana was grateful to be driving her dad's truck and not her normal Toyota Corolla.

"When we were passing by, we were like, 'Dang if we would have come in my car, this would have been a lot worse,' " she said. "A 2023 Tacoma is very high."

In an aerial view, cars are submerged in floodwater after heavy rain moved through the area on January 09, 2023 in Windsor, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

California has faced deadly severe weather for days, with at least six people having died since New Year's weekend, including a toddler who was killed after a redwood tree fell, crushing a mobile home in the state's north.

Two people killed in what appeared to be storm-related deaths in Sacramento County over the weekend were identified by the county's coroner's office Monday.

Both Rebekah Rohde, 40, and Steven Sorensen, 61, were found inside tents at separate homeless encampments when a tree branch fell, the coroner's office said. The cause of death for both was pending.

Nearly all of California has seen higher than average rainfall totals over the past several weeks, with totals 400% to 600% above average, according to the weather service.

Climate change has made extreme precipitation in California twice as likely, with extreme weather predicted to generate 200% to 400% of surface runoff, rainwater that cannot be absorbed by soil, by the end of the century, according to research by the UCLA environment and sustainability department.

The recent severe weather prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency last week, while President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration Sunday to support the storm response.

'Enormous cyclone' to strike Wednesday

While Tuesday's storm system was expected to push inland in the evening, bringing widespread mountain snows across the Great Basin, an "enormous cyclone forming well off the coast of the North American continent will bring yet another Atmospheric River toward the West Coast — this time impacting areas further north from northern California northward up the coast of the Pacific Northwest" on Wednesday, the weather service said.

"When all is said and done, precipitation totals over the next few days will be in the 3-7 inch range through the Transverse Range of southern California, northward along the central to northern California coast ranges and through the Sierra," it said.

The weather service warned that widespread considerable flood impacts were likely across large swaths of California into western Nevada.

— Tim Stelloh, Helen Kwong and Janhvi Bhojwani contributed.