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Blackout as 16 die in California flooding

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Authorities have announced that at least 16 people have been killed by flooding caused by the storm raging in California, LA Times reports.

“These floods are deadly and have now turned to be more deadly than even the wildfires here in the state of California,” Governor Gavin Newsom said during a news conference over the weekend.

While it’s too early to know exactly how much the damage from these storms will cost California, it could reach or exceed $1bn, according to Adam Smith, an applied climatologist and disaster expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Last year the US experienced 18 weather and climate disasters costing at least $1bn, putting 2022 in a three-way tie with 2017 and 2011 for the third highest number of billion-dollar disasters in a year, according to a report published by the agency.

Early Tuesday, the Merced County sheriff issued a mandatory evacuation order for the town of Planada just east of Merced, affecting 4,000 residents, after Bear Creek began to flood amid heavy rain.

A day earlier, Merced city officials had issued evacuation orders and warnings along a number of residential neighborhoods along Bear Creek, which runs through the heart of the city.

Merced is bisected by Bear Creek, a tributary for the Mokelumne River that starts in the Sierra Nevada. Bear Creek’s water levels reached the major flood stage early Tuesday, sending muddy water into neighborhoods and stranding motorists.

About 189,000 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers remain without power Tuesday. Efforts to restore power overnight were stymied by wind gusts exceeding 70 mph in some areas and more than 100 lightning strikes, according to the utility.

The Felton area of Santa Cruz County, portions of which were flooded Monday from the rising San Lorenzo River, sustained major damage overnight from powerful winds gusting up to 70 mph that toppled trees. Highway 17 was closed after power lines went down and were sparking on the roadway, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasters are keeping close watch on the Salinas and Big Sur rivers in Monterey County.

Sheriff officials issued an evacuation order for residents near the Salinas River early Tuesday. Officials anticipate the river could reach flood stage by Wednesday, according to the California Nevada River Forecast Center.

While forecasters say the brunt of the storm, which began late Sunday, has passed through the northern half of the state, wet weather and periods of intense showers will occur across the region, with some thunderstorms.

“If a strong thunderstorm does develop over an area, people need to realise that it could produce really gusty winds as well as dump heavy rainfall,” said Brooke Bingaman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the San Francisco Bay Area. “So what that means is, while that thunderstorm is there, more trees could go down and there could be quick water rises if you’re near a creek or stream.”

In the Sacramento area, forecasters observed rotation on radar indicating favorable conditions for tornado formation and issued a tornado warning, though no twisters actually materialized, said Cory Mueller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

As far south as Modesto, residents reported being jolted awake shortly before 4am to an emergency alert warning them to get to a basement or low level of the house because of a tornado threat.

The strong winds wreaked havoc in the area, knocking over a semi truck and leaving it dangling on an overpass and toppling trees across El Dorado, Amador and Sacramento counties.

San Francisco has logged its third wettest 15-day period on record, which goes back to the Gold Rush in 1849, according to meteorologist Jan Null, an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Jose State.

Storms have dumped 12.37 inches of rain in San Francisco since December 26. The only two wettest 15-day periods ahead of that were in December 1866, when 13.54 inches fell, and during the Great Flood of 1862, which saw more than 19 inches of rain.

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