Weather-weary California hopes for sunny spring after storms
Californians are tired. Tired of the rain, tired of the snow, tired of stormy weather and the cold, relentlessly gray skies that have clouded the Golden State nearly nonstop since late December.
With spring now underway, the state's 39 million residents are hopeful for sunnier days ahead. But this week's atmospheric river — the 12th such storm here since late December — had other plans.
The powerful systems dump huge amounts of rain and snow as they bring massive plumes of Pacific moisture into California. They have already wreaked havoc across the state, with a death toll rising as communities dig out and floodwaters recede. High winds toppled trees, snowfall stranded mountain communities and storm surges inundated coastal towns with no end in sight.
Californians initially welcomed the precipitation and chilly temperatures after a record-hot summer and yearslong drought that included the driest January through March on record in 2022. But the atmospheric rivers busted the drought in two-thirds of the state and broke precipitation records along the way.
In San Diego — famed for its 72-and-sunny climate — this week's high temperatures hover around 60 F to 61 F (15.5 C to 16 C). The average high is 67 F (19 C), said National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Moede.
And San Diego has already recorded nearly 5 more inches (13 centimeters) of rain than normal since the water year began in October, Moede said.
All that rainfall has hurt San Diego's beachfront businesses: Surf schools are slowing down, boardwalk vendors are bored, the usual sun-worshipping locals are staying home.
"We depend on the sunshine," said Duncan Taylor, who works at a surf-inspired clothing store called Sun Diego Boardshop. "We depend on people coming out and having a good time at the beach."
Noe Reyes closed up his stand in Mission Beach early Tuesday after too much rain and too few customers. He needs tourists to buy hoodies, souvenirs and drinks, but an empty promenade doesn't make money.
"It's been rough," he said. "There's no one out here, not even locals."
Weather in typically temperate Los Angeles hasn't been much better. Angelenos experienced the wettest January and February since 2005, according to the National Weather Service. That put a damper on everything from youth baseball leagues that faced cancellation after cancellation to washed-out beach yoga classes overlooking the Santa Monica Pier.
Beach Yoga SoCal co-owner Eric Gomez said he and his wife, who are from less-sunny New Jersey, took over the business in 2018 to experience yoga in "quintessential LA."
"We never imagined it to be this rainy," Gomez said Wednesday after canceling another class. "It definitely feels like a different climate of sorts these past few months."
Even Californians eager for winter weather found themselves exhausted by the season.
"I am so tired of this rain," said Nicolas Gonzalez, a National Audubon Society spokesperson. "I am just ready to be outside again."
Gonzalez and a friend had planned a cabin weekend last month in the city of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains with the goal of spotting the Southern California valley's bald eagle pair between snowy hikes and trips to the hot tub. They postponed their trip when major snowfall forced road closures that blocked most routes to the cabin.
"I'm hoping that next month, it'll be just as snowy and wintry with less of a life-endangering risk to get there," he said in February.
No such luck. The pair had to scrap the trip entirely as more snow fell and roads remained treacherous for weeks.
Along the central coast — where storm surges and pounding rain have destroyed picturesque seaside towns and inland farming communities alike — TV forecasters are exhausted.
"I don't want to come into work," said Lee Solomon, KSBW's chief meteorologist. "To have to focus your brain on three storms all at once, in a seven-day period — it's hard."
The stress is compounded by the complexity of knowing when to tell people to flee in a state with microclimates encompassing the coast, high mountains and valley farmlands. The evacuation orders are piling up with the atmospheric rivers, Solomon said, but you don't want to "over-warn people" and risk complacency.
In coastal Carmel, Jaime Schrabeck's nail salon was under evacuation orders for days in mid-January. Now she's contending with power outages — the result of the 11th atmospheric river — that could cost her up to $1,000 a day. Her clients prefer gel enhancements, which need electricity to power a special light.
"We can't take it outdoors and use the sun's rays to cure it properly," she said.
At Schrabeck's utility provider, Pacific Gas and Electric, crews work 12- to 14-hour days, hanging from poles trying to keep the lights on. They've been at it for months, but outages still topped 500,000 statewide during one storm.
"When everybody else has battened down the hatches, they're out there working," said Bob Dean, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1245, the union that represents thousands of line workers in Northern California and Nevada. "It's like, 'My God, we need a break here.'"
Further south at Bart's Books, the partially outdoor bookseller has seen business slow with the rain. The Ojai store lost a shelf of 150 Russian history books to a leak two months back, but manager Matt Henriksen is looking on the bright side.
"We lose more books to damage from sun than water," Henriksen said. "This is a Southern California problem."
As is the current surfing outlook. Even after the rains let up, experts tell swimmers to stay out of the water for three days. Contaminated runoff increases bacteria, introducing a risk of serious illness.
For Eric "Bird" Huffman, owner of Bird's Surf Shed in San Diego, the swell has remained stubbornly small, and the 12th atmospheric river's forecast is much the same.
Too many rainy days, too little sunshine. And way too much winter.