California storm: Damage for homeowners facing mudslides, good for drought relief

By Brian Hardzinski and Amy Ta

A view of a Salinas Valley neighborhood affected by mudslides, January 27, 2021. Photo by Hana Mohsin.

California has seen some heavy weather over the past few days. In Big Sur, Highway 1 along the cliff near Esalen washed into the ocean. Mammoth Mountain is expecting up to 10 feet of snow. Mudslides are happening in a part of Monterey County that’s still trying to recover from a wildfire last summer that burned 40,000 acres.

Hana Mohsin’s neighborhood in the Salinas Valley was affected by this week’s mudslides. Her neighbors’ home was completely covered in mud overnight and will be torn down in the next few days, she tells KCRW.

Mohsin saw her neighbors in the hospital, recovering from minor injuries. And when rain briefly paused, Mohsin, her family and friends went into the neighbors’ house to grab whatever they could for them.

She says during her 18 years living in Salinas, she’s never seen a weather event like this, which affects the community’s livelihood.

“It's a horse ranch. So there were a lot of people in the community coming to get their horses and making sure that the animals were all safe. And luckily, they saved the animals. People were pulling sheep out of the mud. … This is their livelihood, and it just all was washed away in one night.”

That area was also the site of a big fire, and Mohsin evacuated in August 2020. “The River Fire forced us all to evacuate. … The burn scars really ruined the property of the hills. And that's where most of the water, if not all of it, came from and damaged the home.”

As for her neighbors, someone set up a place for them and set up a GoFundMe campaign. “We're just trying to raise all the money … to make sure they're taken care of. And our community really comes together in a crisis. And we did it before with the River Fire and we're doing it again with this,” Mohsin says.

Bill Patzert, a retired climatologist from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, says it’s all due to what’s called an atmospheric river.

“Think of this plume as a river in the sky,” Patzert says. “They carry almost 10 times the amount of water that flows out of the Mississippi River. As these plumes collide with the coast, they’re laden with all of this moisture, they’re lifted by the coastal mountains, and they unload copious amounts of rainfall.”

Patzert says these events aren’t unusual, and actually provide Californians with about 50% of its winter rainfall.

“We’re in an extreme drought situation,” Patzert says. “This is the first significant rainfall in more than nine months. So we need this rain.”

Credits

Guests:

  • Hana Mohsin - Salinas resident who lives in a neighborhood affected by recent mudslides
  • Bill Patzert - retired Jet Propulsion Lab climatologist - @NASAJPL