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The atmospheric river has passed over LA and San Diego, with another storm behind it


The atmospheric river that pounded LA yesterday shifted south today, pouring on San Diego County overnight before moving east this morning. And another storm system has moved in right behind it, adding to the risk of flooding in some areas. Reporter John Carroll from member station KPBS in San Diego is here. Hi, John.


SHAPIRO: Well, I'm imagining you standing outside with an umbrella even if you're actually in a radio studio. But what are you seeing around San Diego right now?

CARROLL: I'm glad I'm not outside. So far, we are not seeing a repeat of the flooding that we saw back in late January, when 2 3/4 inches fell in just six hours. Right now, we're seeing mainly scattered showers and some isolated thunderstorms. The city's transportation department reports around 50 roads closed around San Diego. And at 11:45 our time this morning, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the south central part of the city, which is very rare, but they've since dropped that and said that no tornado developed. But even though the atmospheric river has passed over San Diego, we're still seeing rain on and off, and that has officials concerned about the possibility of more flooding.

SHAPIRO: As you mentioned, just a couple weeks ago, in late January, San Diego saw flooding. How has the city been preparing for this round?

CARROLL: Right. That storm was bad. It destroyed homes, prompted rescues. We really got caught flat-footed. But this time, Mayor Todd Gloria issued a flood evacuation warning all the way back on Sunday, which means residents in flood-prone areas have been told to be ready to go at a moment's notice. That is still in effect. And there are still dozens of people who were displaced by the last flood who are in temporary shelters, and the city has open new shelters in case more people have to be evacuated.

But since that January storm, the city has also been working around the clock to clear storm channels and flood drainage systems of mud, vegetation, debris that washed out of flooded homes. But the truth is, they just don't have the resources to get to all of them. The city has also called in extra firefighters, lifeguards and dispatch personnel to help should things get really bad again.

SHAPIRO: Well, those are short term preparations. Longer term, is the city taking steps to prepare for more frequent events like this as climate change makes extreme weather more common?

CARROLL: They're doing what they can do. San Diego's storm drainage system is old, and it's not able to keep up with those heavy downpours. Scientists know, of course, that human-caused climate change is making precipitation events more likely. And a new report from the city estimates we've got more than $6 billion worth of infrastructure needs over the next five years, and only about 1.5 billion to tackle the problem. The biggest need is with flood control, but we're also hundreds of millions of dollars short when it comes to other infrastructure needs.

SHAPIRO: When is San Diego expected to get the all clear for weather this week?

CARROLL: Well, the weather service says we're going to be seeing scattered showers with occasional heavy downpours through Friday. And, of course, one of the big issues we'll be watching is that rain that's falling now is landing on ground that is absolutely saturated, so there's nowhere for the water to go. We normally get about 2 inches for the entire month of January. By the time all is said and done this weekend, the National Weather Service says we may be looking at around 3 to 4 inches for both January and this first week of February, several more inches than that in the northern part of the county. But by this weekend, we should be getting back to our typical sunny weather. We'll just have to wait and see how much cleanup and recovery there is to do based on what happens before then.

SHAPIRO: John Carroll of member station KPBS. Thank you.

CARROLL: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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John Carroll