Historic rains hit San Diego on Monday, causing massive flooding that closed major roads, shut down bus lines, and cut power in parts of the region.
Nearly four inches of rain fell in less than three hours in some areas of San Diego — nearly double the regional average for the month — flooding the city and possibly setting a record. for the area’s wettest January day, said Casey Oswant, a National Weather Service meteorologist in San Diego. Previously, Jan. 31, 1979, was San Diego’s wettest day, when 2.57 inches fell, but early counts put Monday’s total at least an inch short of that measure, Oswant said.
“We had some torrential rain this morning,” the meteorologist said, noting that the rain total was more than 2 inches in most of the metro area.
The wet system first hit the Los Angeles area early Monday before moving south. The morning commute in LA was clogged, and there was some local and urban flooding — including most of the southbound 405 Freeway in Long Beach being closed — but the worst impact was farther south.
This is the second record event in Southern California in recent weeks, following heavy rains in Oxnard and Ventura in December. Oxnard during the event saw rainfall rates of 3 inches per hour – one of the heaviest downpours ever observed in the area.
On Monday afternoon, the banks of the San Diego River in the Mission Valley neighborhood overflowed, sending water rushing onto nearby roads and developments. River levels are expected to continue rising into the evening, with a flash flood warning in place until midnight in the area around the Fashion Valley shopping mall in Mission Valley, forecasters warned. Much of the region south and west of Los Angeles County remains under a flood watch until 9 p.m. Monday, with warnings about possible thunderstorms that could trigger additional flooding and drainage issues.
Motorists saw flooding across San Diego County closing several major roads — including northbound State Route 15 near Oceanview and eastbound State Route 78 near Carlsbad — and several major arteries in downtown San Diego. Other roads, including Interstate 5 near the East Village, saw significant flooding.
Flooding also closed the Central Library after the parking garage took on water, according to the city of San Diego, as well as two downtown shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
The storm caused major delays and backups across the county, with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System having to shut down its downtown trolley service and suspend several bus routes.
After repeated updates throughout the morning, the transit system warned residents: “Please do not travel today unless necessary.”
Thousands of residents across San Diego lost power during the storm, according to outage maps from San Diego Gas & Electric, with the company estimating some service won’t be restored until late Monday. at night.
Videos shared on social media show muddy flood waters rushing through the neighborhoods and sweeping cars. Parts of Interstate 5 in downtown San Diego were submerged; elsewhere, police sirens wailed and dogs bark the water rose in one place near National Avenue.
“The house I’ve lived in all my life just got flooded,” one person wrote in a post on X as they waded through waist-deep water. “Most dangerous moment of my life.”
Brian Adams, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego, said that “a couple of separate small thunderstorm cells” produced “a very strong rate of rain.”
The San Diego river is actively flooding, and water levels are still rising – after 2 to 3 inches of rain fell this morning, the crossing roads on the river will be dangerous with high flows #cawx pic.twitter.com/94NUxxDvQm
— NWS San Diego (@NWSSanDiego) January 22, 2024
The San Diego River in Fashion Valley reached its flood stage, 10 feet, around 1 p.m. and continues to rise, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Oswant said it was projected to rise to about 13 feet late Monday, with forecasters warning it could cause “extensive road flooding” in and around Mission Valley, as well as significant flooding of Fashion Valley parking structures.
Southern California residents should see some relief from the rain late Tuesday, forecasts show. Rain is still possible early Tuesday across much of the region – including snow showers in the mountains – but sunny skies are forecast for most areas later in the day.
The storm also brought some snowfall to the mountains of Southern California, where up to 6 inches of snow is forecast at elevations above 6,500 feet. Big Bear City and Big Bear Lake remain under a winter weather advisory through Monday night, with other mountain communities in Riverside and San Bernardino located above 6,500 feet. There are major travel concerns, especially on high mountain passes.
Meanwhile, across the Sierra Nevada, even heavier snowfall is forecast through early Tuesday, with up to a foot likely at elevations above 7,000 feet and up to 2 feet above 10,000 feet, according to the weather service. A winter storm warning is in effect for the entire Sierra until 1 a.m. Tuesday, with the agency warning that “travel will be very difficult, almost impossible.”
As the storm moved out of Southern California on Monday afternoon, low-lying areas were also bracing for impacts, with a flood advisory in effect until early afternoon for Kern County.