States in the Pacific Northwest were hit this week with El Niño weather that brought record rainfall, flooding, mudslides, and power cuts, causing two deaths and leading state officials to declare a state of emergency in multiple counties.
Weather experts and federal agencies have warned that California could be hit with severe seasonal weather patterns whose effects could be worsened by the state’s ongoing drought.
According to a recently released Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)preparedness guide, this El Niño season—which some expect to be the strongest on record—could combine with existing conditions in California to create a slew of borderline disaster-scenarios in the state. The guide warns of increased flooding risks because of too-dry soil, a higher likelihood of landslides from wildfire destruction, and abnormally high tides along coastal regions.
While the seasonal warming of the Pacific Ocean affects localities spanning the entire West Coast, California’s environment is particularly suited to magnify the effects of those weather patterns.
Certain areas could be more susceptible to dangerous conditions brought on by El Niño weather, like Calaveras County and Lake County, where summer wildfires scorched thousands of acres, Capital Public Radio reports. Even though soil in some areas of the state is unusually dry, it has a tendency to harden, not soak up rain, thereby creating more runoff that could lead to flooding. Places with “burn scars,” where destructive burning has created an environment in which soil, rocks, and debris can move more freely, could be more prone to landslides.
The Sacramento Bee also reports that while the state’s drought-induced low reservoirs will likely take in some of the heavy rainfall, tributaries in flat areas could be prone to flooding, and several levees in the Sacramento Valley “have a significant chance of failure during the next high water mark.”
“All it takes is one levee to fail, compounding events to occur, for flooding to happen,” Bob Fenton, FEMA’s regional administrator told the paper.