FORT BRAGG, Calif. — One person is dead, a 5-year-old is missing and more than 7 million people in the Los Angeles area were under a flash flood warning Monday as a "parade of cyclones" slammed California.
In Avila Beach, roughly 180 miles north of Los Angeles, one person was killed when a vehicle was overtaken by water, said Anita Konopa, an official with the San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services. Another official with the agency, Scott Jalbert, initially said two people had died.
In the northern section of the county, near Paso Robles, floodwaters swamped a vehicle driving through a low creek bed, Jalbert said. An adult was rescued, but a child was swept away, he said.
A team from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office called off their search Monday afternoon because weather conditions were "too extreme," spokesman Tony Coppola said.
"We’re seeing our creeks and rivers flow like they haven’t flowed in decades," Jalbert said. "So they're pretty monstrous."
In Southern California, a massive stretch of Southern California including Los Angeles, Malibu, El Monte and Santa Clarita were under a flash flooding warning until midnight, the National Weather Service said.
The area, with a population of 7.7 million, covers 1,521 schools and 91 hospitals, the service said.
In Santa Barbara County, all residents in the community of Montecito were ordered to evacuate Monday afternoon “based on the continuing high rate of rainfall with no indication that that is going to change before nightfall,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. Heavy rainfall in the area, home to 10,000 people, had flooded roads and creeks, he said.
The flooding came five years to the day after heavy rains tore through a Montecito "burn scar," killing nearly two dozen people.
Two "major episodes" of heavy rain and mountain snow were expected in rapid succession, with multiple cyclones barreling toward the state, the National Weather Service warned.
Two of the more "energetic and moisture-laden parade of cyclones" were "aiming directly for California," it said.
As of Monday afternoon, more than 10 inches of rain had fallen in the previous 24 hours in Bonny Doon, just north of Santa Cruz, according to the National Weather Service.
Between 3 and 5 inches were recorded across a wide swath of the Central and Northern California coast, from Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo County to Redwood City, just south of San Francisco, the agency said.
In Southern California, downtown Los Angeles recorded just over an inch of rain in the last 48 hours, according to the agency. Nordhoff Ridge, north of Ojai, saw 14 inches.
A second episode is expected Tuesday, resulting in slightly smaller amounts, but affecting areas farther south into Southern California, it said.
The cumulative effect of the rainfall is expected to cause flooding, including "rapid water rises, mudslides and the potential for major river flooding," it warned.
California Highway Patrol in Santa Cruz warned of multiple road closures Monday, including a landslide that has blocked Highway 17 south of Glenwood Drive.
The Montrose Search and Rescue team worked with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office overnight to rescue a group of hikers who were caught between two rising river crossings Sunday night. Five children and three adults were taken to safety.
Issues with power lines and weather prevented a helicopter rescue, but two members of the sheriff’s office were able to access the canyon to assist the hikers out.
“After a few recent recoveries of tragic fatalities, this rescue of eight came at the perfect time, reminding us why we volunteer to do this,” the Montrose rescue team said on Instagram Monday.
On Monday, seven people were rescued from a river in Ventura County, a county fire department spokesperson said. Video published by the agency showed a man climbing a ladder toward what appeared to be the roof of a home.
In Santa Cruz County, where officials issued evacuation orders for areas along the San Lorenzo River and several creeks, video posted by the county Monday showed a flooded river in the city's downtown.
Deadly winter weather
The warnings come as California continues to face deadly severe weather. At least six people have died since New Year’s weekend, including a toddler killed after a redwood tree fell, crushing a mobile home in Northern California.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California Los Angeles, said the past week had "brought a verifiable onslaught of active and often damaging weather conditions to the northern half of the state."
By Monday afternoon, more than 100,000 homes and businesses were still without power. More than half of those outages were in two counties — Sacramento and San Luis Obispo, according to PowerOutage.us.
California utility company PG&E said at a news conference it has been trying to prepare for the storms since before New Year’s Eve and is working diligently to return power to customers. Adam Wright, PG&E's chief operating officer, called it their largest response to bad weather to date.
But it might take time to assess and repair the damage caused by the "historic series of storms," Wright warned.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Wednesday as California was pounded by heavy rain and snow, causing flooding across the state. The declaration allows local jurisdictions and state agencies to respond to the changing weather more quickly.
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.
Over the coming days, the Sierra Nevada is expected to see heavy snow exceeding 6 feet across higher elevations before snowfall winds down Wednesday morning, according to the weather service.
Extremely heavy snow and intense snowfall rates in higher terrain parts of the Sierra Nevada are expected to make travel very dangerous and potentially impossible at times, it said, warning drivers to prepare for possible road closures.
Accumulating snow could also increase the threat of avalanches and put a strain on infrastructure.
CORRECTION (Jan. 9, 2023, 8:40 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the last name of California’s natural resources secretary. He is Wade Crowfoot, not Crawford.
Tim Stelloh reported from Fort Bragg, California. Chantal Da Silva reported from London.