Guerneville, CA  remained flooded yesterday  Photo: Bethe Schlanker, The Press Democrat

After days of relentless rain in several counties in Northern California, the Russian River and the Eel River flooded on Wednesday reaching their highest levels in 25 years and forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents.  Early on Thursday afternoon, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared an emergency for five northern counties because the heavy storms led to the worst flooding in 20 years.  And while the Russian River had begun receding yesterday,  an estimated 3,000 structures remain inundated by the flood waters.  More rain is expected there this weekend.

  • USA Today reported that the National Weather Service for the Bay Area reported a one-day rainfall for Santa Rosa of 8 inches, while the Venado weather station near Guerneville picked up over 20 inches in two days.
  • In two towns, where floodwaters stood as much as eight feet high in some spots, the National Guard had to bring in kayaks to get people out.
  • According to Accuweather, the NWS Bay Area office reported that the town of Santa Rosa obliterated the one-day rainfall record for the date with 5.66 inches. The old record was 1.82 inches set 100 years ago in 1919.
  • Dozens of mudslides were reported in Sonoma and Plumas counties through Tuesday night, many of which blocked lanes or entire portions of Highways 1, 116, 128 and 70.

But California is not the only area of the country with flooding problems — the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers are also experiencing rising waters.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the Mississippi River in Memphis could reach its fourth-highest level since record-keeping began.  When the river is within its natural banks, it’s about seven-tenths of a mile wide in Memphis, but when flooded this much the Mississippi swells to be three to four miles wide.  And parts of the Ohio River reached flood stage for the third time in a year.  The National Weather Service warned that water levels in the Ohio River from Paducah, Kentucky to Cairo, Illinois, will stay at a “major” flood stage for at least another week.

Why This Matters: Rainfall in drought-stricken California may sound good, but this time it may be too much of a good thing.  Because the rain is hitting the same areas as the fires did last summer, there is a greater potential for mudslides.  Just as with the fires, roads are blocked stranding people and making it hard for police and rescuers to reach those in need as the National Guard has to resort to kayaks and canoes to reach people who did not evacuate.  The same is true in the other areas of the country that are experiencing extremely heavy rainfall — pumps and sandbags are at a premium and emergency managers are stretched thin.  We have always had floods and needed to prepare for emergencies, but we will need to increase our readiness and build in more surge capacity to help communities in need both during and after the more frequent and extreme weather events we can expect as a result of climate change.  Be safe as you head home to Sonoma this weekend, Miro!

Russian River in the sun     Photo: Miro Korenha

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