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An atmospheric river continues to wallop Southern California

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To California, where an atmospheric river continues to wallop the southern part of the state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAREN BASS: Yesterday marked the 10th-wettest day in the history of the city since 1877, 10th-wettest day in the history of the city.

KELLY: That is LA Mayor Karen Bass speaking earlier today. And she says the danger is not over yet. LAist science reporter Jacob Margolis joins me now from LA. Hey, Jacob. Thanks for being here.

JACOB MARGOLIS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Tell us more about this storm.

MARGOLIS: Yeah. The impacts have been widespread across the state. I mean, it got crazy up in Northern California, where winds reached 100-plus miles per hour and according to our colleagues at KQED, knocked out power for more than a million customers. Here in Southern California, though, seems to be where we're getting the hardest hit. Governor Newsom even had to proclaim a state of emergency from Santa Barbara to LA to San Diego counties. What happened is basically an especially heavy part of the storm parked itself right over the LA area and just dropped an astronomical 10-plus inches of rain in some spots, which, for context for those out there, is close to the average amount of rain we get for the entire year in LA.

KELLY: Wow.

MARGOLIS: Yeah.

KELLY: Ten-plus inches. OK. You mentioned some power is out for some places. What other kind of damage is being reported?

MARGOLIS: Oh, I mean, lots of flooding, trapped cars. There have been a number of landslides. So, like, mud and rocks come barreling down these steep hills and canyon roads, running into homes, like, up in the mountains above Beverly Hills, where seven homes had to be evacuated. There's also been reports of people needing to be rescued from rushing water by special rescue crews. That said, things are still unfolding. There are different incidents going on. And I'm sure we'll learn more over the next 24 hours.

KELLY: And remind us. This atmospheric river, this is the storm system, that is what's causing this?

MARGOLIS: Yeah. So people should think of an atmospheric river, it's essentially a river of moisture in the sky. It travels from deep in the subtropics, across the Pacific. It picked up a whole lot of water along the way, and now it's just slamming right into us, just squeezing every drop out over us. And these storms are typical for California, and they're actually how we get a lot of our moisture during the rainy season. So it's not uncommon for them to overwhelm infrastructure and flood roads and cause landslides. But what's interesting about this one is that we have this patch of warm water off the coast that's likely juicing the storm by sending more water and heat up into the sky. And the warm water off the coast, it's pretty typical in strong El Nino years, like the one that we're in right now.

KELLY: Is climate change playing a role in this weather?

MARGOLIS: It is very tough to ascribe climate change to any one particular storm's intensity, including this one, because the conditions that lead to any one storm are so complex and multifaceted. That said, there is modeling that shows that climate change is expected to increase the size and intensity of atmospheric rivers in the coming decades, in part because a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, which is - it's like more fuel for the atmospheric rivers. And the other thing that we've seen modeled out is this sort of whiplash from extreme wet to long periods of dry, which California can naturally experience but could get more extreme as the climate continues to change.

KELLY: And real quick. Is more rain coming?

MARGOLIS: Oh, yeah. We got to hold on to our hats through Tuesday.

KELLY: LAist's Jacob Margolis holding his hat there in LA. Thank you.

MARGOLIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jacob Margolis