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More rain is forecast for California

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

At least 19 people have been killed, and more rain is forecast this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAVIN NEWSOM: The ground's overwhelmed. What may appear less significant in terms of the rainfall may actually be more significant in terms of the impacts on the ground and the flooding.

FADEL: That was Governor Gavin Newsom speaking after surveying storm damage in central California.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

NPR's Nathan Rott is in Southern California. Nathan, you're in Ventura. That's about an hour northwest of L.A. What's the situation there now?

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Yeah, we got absolutely dumped on here last night. I drove up the coast a bit before sunset and saw quite a bit of localized flooding in low areas, cars hydroplaning on the road. The beaches up and down the coast here are just trashed with, you know, full trees washed up on the shores or drifting in the waves. I saw that California's Geological Survey says they've now documented more than 400 landslides since the start of the new year. President Biden declared a major disaster declaration for the state over the weekend, which should free up some federal dollars, which should help with the - what's going to be a pretty major cleanup.

MARTÍNEZ: So cleanup - is that the phase that California's in now?

ROTT: Yeah. We're supposed to get more rain today up and down the state, but yes. You know, I talked to Chris Outler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, yesterday, and here's how he put it.

CHRIS OUTLER: My main message, I guess, would just be hang on a little longer. You know, we got this kind of last storm system here and maybe a little one midweek, but we're just about to the end of the tunnel with a more extended dry period on the way as we get into the later portion of the week.

ROTT: And that last storm system he mentioned is supposed to be more of a typical winter storm, not a drenching atmospheric river, these bands of high-level moisture which have been moving water from the Pacific to the coast like we've been seeing over the last couple of weeks. So hopefully that'll allow swollen rivers to come back down a bit and for things to finally normalize.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Nathan, any time there's a lot of rain in California, everyone always wonders if it's making a dent in the drought. Is it?

ROTT: Yeah, it is. So all of this rain has made a serious dent. You know, it's filled some reservoirs. It's built this massive snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. A month ago, more than a third of California was in what the U.S. Drought Monitor was calling extreme drought. As of now, it's less than 1%. That being said, it's important to remember that there's still a lot of winter left, so there's still a chance we could get below average precipitation through the rest of the rainy season. Also, bear in mind, the drought is much larger than just California. We're talking about a multidecade megadrought, the driest period in at least 1,200 years across western North America. And people have been depleting groundwater reservoirs, so it'll take more than a series of extreme storms like we've been seeing for us to dig out. And there's still a longer term question of how best to support tens of millions of people living in a semi-arid landscape as the climate warms.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So speaking of climate change, then, do we see its fingerprints on these storms?

ROTT: Yeah, we're seeing the kinds of extreme weather whiplash that climate scientists have been warning about for a while - extreme heat, drought, extreme rain. Climate change is really expected to take normal phenomena like these atmospheric rivers, like the drought, and turn up the dial, making them more intense than before. So to answer your question directly, no, it's still too early to say whether this flooding and rain is a result of human-caused climate change. But we can say that this is the type of event that's going to become more common as the world continues to warm.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Nathan Rott in Ventura, California. Stay dry, Nate.

ROTT: Hey, thank you. You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.