Monterey Peninsula could 'become an island' as Salinas River levels rise

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Monterey Peninsula could 'become an island' as river levels rise
Monterey Peninsula could 'become an island' as Salinas River levels surge toward expected moderate flood stage.

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Monterey Peninsula residents could soon be living on an island as mammoth flooding threatens to cut them off from the rest of California.

The state has been hammered by a cascade of atmospheric rivers -- long, narrow regions in the atmosphere that can carry moisture thousands of miles.

Find current evacuation warnings/orders and road closures in Monterey County here.

At least 18 people have died, neighborhoods have turned into lakes, and countless homes have been destroyed as a string of storms toppled trees and paralyzed communities over the past two weeks.

But a sliver of good news emerged Thursday: The nearly relentless rainfall has lifted much of California out of "extreme drought" conditions.

And many walloped communities are getting a brief respite from brutal weather Thursday. But cities are still inundated -- and more storms are on the way.

RELATED: Levee breaks from overflowing water along flooded Salinas River

'Monterey Peninsula may become an island'

Monterey, Carmel and Pacific Grove could soon be severed from the rest of California due to epic floodwater.

"If anyone was here in 1995, you know that during a large flooding event, the Monterey Peninsula became an island -- people were either stuck on one side or the other," Monterey County Sheriff Tina Nieto warned Wednesday evening.

"And we anticipate that we're going to go into a similar situation, but not as bad. Some of the roadways are going to be closed, and you could be stuck on one side or the other."

In 1995, the Salinas River flooding crested more than seven feet above flood stage topping out above 30 feet causing major road closures on Highways 68 and 156 as well as Highway 1.

Communities all along the Salinas River were flooded.

In Monterey County on Thursday, multiple agencies were keeping watch, monitoring creeks, waterways and the rising Salinas River.

Ag fields remain underwater in parts of Monterey County.

RELATED: Drone video shows Salinas River flooding in Monterey County

ABC7's drone footage shows the area south of Salinas -- along River Road and near the Chualar River Road -- taking on water quickly.

"I think our public forgets that - how dangerous the Salinas River could be," she told reporters.

That potential danger is expected to impact the small town of Spreckles, population, 600+.

Officials are concerned about the area, since the Salinas River runs alongside it. This prompted an evacuation order for the town and beyond.

"The concern's obviously anybody that does not heed the evacuation warnings, so we are just having those concerns for floodwater staging areas that we're not expecting," Menlo Park Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Jon Johnston told ABC7 News.

He's with a team of 10, ready to respond.

Spreckles resident, Tressa Novak said she and her family plan to stay.

"I think the house is high enough off the ground," she said. "We have a couple sandbags laid out and we're just gonna wait it out."

Agencies waiting to respond include teams from around the region and the Bay Area. They're in place, as conditions are constantly changing.

"Depends on where you're at," Johnston explained. "But obviously, there's floodwaters that are within a lot of the fields. So it depends on where it's at and whether it's slow moving or quick moving water."

Message boards on Thursday night warned drivers of several road closures. At River Road and Chualar River Road, ABC7 News found a sizeable set up.

Video shows homes, highways near Gilroy flooded following major storm

Parts of Highway 101 south of Gilroy is closed following a major storm that swept through the Bay Area, police said. SKY7 video shows the storm's impact as homes and highways are flooded.

Cal Fire BEU posted about the strong possibility rising flood waters could cut off areas on River Road, Spreckles and the Peninsula.

With slides impacting Highway 1 near Big Sur, roads between the Salinas Valley and the Monterey Peninsula remain a primary concern.

Officials said the power of the rising water should not be underestimated.

"This is a slow moving event, the river crests at different times," the sheriff said. "This will not occur all at the same time."

Parts of low-lying communities have been under evacuation orders including Spreckles, a small unincorporated Monterey County town of more than 600.

Spreckles resident Grey Zimmerman says she's prepared to leave.

"I have some relatives in town," she said, "And I have quite a few friends who have offered a room."

Tressa Novak says she and her family plan to stay.

"I think the house is high enough off the ground," Novak said, "We have a couple of sandbags laid out and I'm just gonna wait it out."

Thursday afternoon, officials said the outlook for that community was slightly better.

But with more rain on the way, the conditions of the river are constantly changing and as it slowly floods farmland throughout Monterey County, the river's impact can't be underestimated.

"Monterey Peninsula may become an island again like it did in the '95 floods, so please start preparing now," the sheriff warned.

Nieto said it could be days before residents are allowed to return home, as crews need to make sure the area is safe.

More ferocious weather will slam the West Coast

According to the Storm Prediction Center, here's what's in store for California as another round of storms heads its way:

Thursday: Heavy rain will be confined along the northern California coast and into Oregon and Washington through Thursday night, with a slight risk of excessive rainfall in effect for northwestern California.

Friday: An atmospheric river will likely pummel the northern California and central California coast on Friday. Winter storm watches will likely begin across the Sierra Nevada.

Heavy snowfall could lead to dangerous mountain travel conditions Friday and Saturday at elevations over 5,000 feet and in the northern and central California passes.

Saturday: A second system will move in on Saturday, and rainfall will spread south and begin to impact the whole state. Excessive rainfall threats will likely be issued for central California.

LIVE UPDATES: Flood Watch issued for Bay Area this weekend

Officials urge residents to stay off roads

The recent storms have crippled travel and left dozens of highways inoperable.

At least 40 state routes were closed as of Wednesday night, state transportation spokesman Will Arnold said.

"We're asking the public: If you don't need to be on the roadways, please stay home and avoid any non-essential trips," Arnold said.

Over 100 National Guard members were in San Luis Obispo County searching for missing 5-year-old Kyle Doan after he was swept away from a vehicle surrounded by floodwater on Monday.

Drought conditions improve, but still exist

Less than 1% of California is now under "extreme drought" -- down from one-third of the state just two weeks ago, according to the latest US Drought Monitor report published Thursday.

"Intense precipitation in California the past few weeks -- particularly late December and early January -- has significantly reduced drought intensity in California," according to the US Drought Monitor.

In 16 days, swaths of California received 50% to 70% of the amount of precipitation that they would usually get in a whole year, according to the National Weather Service.

Isolated areas, especially in the mountains near Santa Barbara, have recorded more than 90% of their annual precipitation.

VIDEO: Before-and-after look at devastating NorCal floods

Here's a before-and-after look at the devastating flooding that hit Gilroy, Felton and Scotts Valley.

But more than 95% of the state still faces some drought designation.

Large portions of the state remain in "moderate" or "severe" drought "since moisture deficits have been entrenched across some areas for the last 2-3 years," the drought summary said.

The recent rains have "provided a generous boost" to key reservoirs in the state, but most are still below the long-term average for this time of the year.

CNN contributed to this report.

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