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"It Was Raining Heavy Redwood Branches"

A California water expert has a close call in the Santa Cruz mountains facing impacts of the continuing barrage of atmospheric rivers hammering the state
Satellite imagery shows the successive waves of extremely moist air striking California. Click for details. (Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes)

Last night a microcell hit around 2 a.m. and we heard these amazingly loud noises and it was raining heavy redwood branches on our roof..."

This was just one of hundreds of accounts of close calls and worse amid the violent winds, torrents, mudslides and flash floods accompanying the barrage of atmospheric rivers hitting California, with more coming through January - and far worse possible in the years ahead even without human-driven global warming.

You're hearing Deirdre Des Jardins, an independent analyst and advocate for sustainable California water policy, describing the scene as potent gusts swept the mountains above Santa Cruz, California, early Tuesday morning.

As of today, authorities have reported 14 deaths and damage estimates are already topping $1 billion. Human and economic losses will assuredly mount given how many people and how much property are in harm’s way in a state that grew explosively in zones of implicit environmental hazard even as knowledge of the scope of potential extreme weather grew.

I’ve been writing about this “expanding bull’s eye” pattern for so long it hurts.

Please weigh in with your experiences in a comment if you’re out West now or have had run ins with atmospheric rivers before.

Listen to the full conversation here with the journalist Erica Gies, whose new book "Water Always Wins" is all too aptly titled, and Dustin Mulvaney, a professor in environmental studies at San Jose State University.

We discussed Gies’ pitch, articulated in a New York Times op-ed, for California to put key geological structures called “paleo valleys” to work harvesting some of the masses of floodwater for the inevitable return of potent drought - with both conditions deeply ingrained in the state’s climate history. As she explained, that’ll require restoring spongy properties to a lot more land now hidden by asphalt.

Her ideas prompted me to mention my “bumper sticker” making this point - “Build Forward Spongier.” Feel free to print it out or post it any time!

Mulvaney laid out the deep flood history of the landscapes around Santa Cruz, some of which he’s been conveying in a flow of illuminating tweets.

Des Jardins, joining us by phone because the storm took out internet lines, described her work pressing the case for holistic policies cutting demand for water even as the state tries to expand supplies using winter abundance to get through dry spans.

For starters, read her post from last year, before the deluges, titled “Climate adaptation: match crops to climate.”

Explore more context in my previous Sustain What post on California’s whiplash water challenge.

Sustain What
California's Atmospheric River Blitz is a Mild Reminder of an Inevitable Climatic Calamity
For the latest on California’s whiplash water crisiss watch this Sustain What webcast with some fantastic on-scene experts…
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Sustain What
Andy @Revkin