Reflecting on Three Weeks of Extraordinary Weather

Flooding from the Sacramento River at a public boat launch in Rio Vista last weekend.Credit…Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

SACRAMENTO — Sometimes you have to see nature’s power firsthand before you believe it.

Heading into New Year’s weekend, meteorologists warned that an inbound atmospheric river would pack a serious punch. Yet as my Times colleagues and I checked around the state, relatively few California residents seemed to be filling sandbags or stocking up on emergency supplies.

We’ve seen atmospheric rivers before, including a historically drenching one in Sacramento on Oct. 24, 2021. We could manage this New Year’s storm easily, we thought.

We could not.

Heavy gusts knocked down scores of trees. Many people lost electricity for days, a reminder of how overhead power lines and strong winds do not mix. Some saw their homes and cars destroyed. And the truly unfortunate lost their lives when floodwater inundated their vehicles or trees toppled onto them.

Intense storms continued to slam the state for two more weeks, each time compounding the problems from the previous downpours. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, and at least 19 people have died, more than during the past two years of wildfires, as Gov. Gavin Newsom has pointed out.

In California, natural disasters become markers in our lives, as well as lessons for navigating the future. I can recall the 1986 floods, when as an elementary school student, I realized for the first time the possibility that our region could quickly go underwater. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, experienced in the left-field seats at Candlestick Park, was the first time I really understood that we could not control the ground beneath us.

For others, there was the Northridge earthquake, the Montecito mudslide, the Camp fire. The Oroville Dam evacuation. The wine country fires.

These are moments that reshape our understanding of what it means to live in California, where natural disaster lives alongside natural beauty. And the recent storms serve as the latest alarm bell in an era of climate change.

A few days into the new year, residents took the situation more seriously as another big atmospheric river approached. So many people wanted sandbag supplies that some counties ran out. Bottled water and batteries flew off store shelves. Grocery stores had long checkout lines.

Most of us were fortunate enough to muddle through. We’ll gladly take the water that has flowed into our reservoirs and seeped into our soil. And we want more — just not immediately.

Folsom Lake, to the east of Sacramento, offers an example of trying to strike the right balance between serving our needs and avoiding disaster. As desperate as we are to store more water in a drought, the Bureau of Reclamation has to keep the reservoir empty enough to be able to avoid a catastrophic regionwide flood.

More on California

  • Storms and Flooding: A barrage of powerful storms has surprised people in California with an unrelenting period of extreme weather that has caused extensive damage across the state.
  • New Laws: A new year doesn’t always usher in sweeping change, but in California, at least, it usually means a slate of new laws going into effect.
  • Facebook’s Bridge to Nowhere: The tech giant planned to restore a century-old railroad to help people in the Bay Area to get to work. Then it gave up.
  • Wildfires: California avoided a third year of catastrophic wildfires because of a combination of well-timed precipitation and favorable wind conditions — or “luck,” as experts put it.

Forecasters say we’re approaching the end of an extraordinary three-week succession of atmospheric rivers. We now get a chance to clean up, repair and make preparations for future storms. It is a most welcome respite.

Kevin Yamamura is an editor on The Times’s National desk and oversees coverage of California. He is a longtime Sacramento resident.

For more:

  • A Times reporter and photographer flew above the Pacific with a team gathering data on the colossal atmospheric rivers. This is what they learned.

  • Why are the storms causing so many sinkholes?

  • How much will the storms help relieve the drought?

Wesleyan University.Credit…Bea Oyster for The New York Times

If you read one story, make it this

If affirmative action ends, college admissions may be changed forever.

Ana del Rocío left her job in the nonprofit sector at the end of 2021.Credit…Leah Nash for The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • Are they still happy? Last summer we shared stories of people who left their jobs during 2022’s surge in quitting. We asked them recently if they were still glad they switched gears.

  • Bad news: Your income tax refunds may be smaller this year than last.


  • E-bikes: As e-bikes have gained popularity, a three-mile boardwalk in Newport Beach has become a battleground, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Mask mandate: Parents of children in Los Angeles public schools are pleading for a mask mandate as Covid, the flu and R.S.V. continue to spread, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • San Diego accident: An S.U.V. fell off a cliff in La Jolla on Saturday during a torrential rainstorm, The Sacramento Bee reports.

  • Crushed car: A man driving in Malibu parked his car to step out and take a call. Then a giant boulder crushed the car, CNN reports.


  • Tulare County shooting: Two gunmen invaded a home in Goshen in the Central Valley early Monday, and killed six people, including a 6-month-old baby, in what the authorities said was presumed to be a gang-related attack.


  • Stanford murder: In 1973, a 21-year-old law librarian at Stanford University was found dead. This month, a man pleaded guilty to her murder.

Credit…Joe Lingeman for The New York Times.

What we’re eating

Easy vegan recipes.

The rooftop sky garden at Moxi, the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation.Credit…Graham Walzer for The New York Times

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Andrea Jensen, who lives in Olympia, Wash.:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

A sea dragon carrying eggs at Birch Aquarium.Credit…Jordann Tomasek

And before you go, some good news

Native to the waters of Australia, sea dragons are a stunning and unusual fish. But they face a number of challenges in the wild because of warming oceans, harmful fishing practices and more.

In 2019, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography — part of U.C. San Diego — opened an exhibit intended to create an ideal habitat for breeding these colorful cousins of sea horses. And last week, the aquarium announced a breakthrough: the first successful transfer of eggs from a female sea dragon to a male.

As with sea horses, sea dragon males — not females — are responsible for carrying eggs. After a courtship dance, the female transfers the eggs to the male’s tail, where he fertilizes them and then carries them for four to six weeks until they hatch.

“We’re elated to be able to witness this at the aquarium,” Jenn Nero Moffatt, senior director of animal care, science and conservation at U.C. San Diego, said in a statement. “It’s extremely rare for sea dragons to breed in captivity, so this is a monumental milestone for all of our staff.”

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia and Shivani Gonzalez contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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