Relentless downpours make history and raise concerns about L.A. flood readiness

A resident walks by the damaged remains of a home caused by heavy rainfall during a storm the Hollywood Hills
A resident walks by a Hollywood Hills home that was damaged during Monday’s rainstorm.
(Ringo Chiu / For The Times)

Good morning. It’s Tuesday, Feb. 6. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Relentless rain makes history and raises concerns about L.A. flood readiness

Entering Day 3, Southern Californians are grappling with the effects of a massive storm amid emergency declarations, evacuation orders, road closures and safety warnings.

Historic rainfall levels are prompting concerns about the sustainability of L.A. County’s byzantine flood control system.


Meanwhile, there is no such thing as a “rain day off” for Southern California schoolkids. Los Angeles Unified and school districts throughout the region — with only a few exceptions — are open as parents, students and teachers push through the downpours.

Here is the latest storm update.

Flood prevention a concern in L.A.

As record precipitation thrashes the region, local engineers, officials and residents are concerned about whether Los Angeles County’s flood control system can cope with increasingly frequent extreme weather events, The Times’ Louis Sahagún reported.

Officials credit the county’s flood control infrastructure —constructed over the last 100 years and based on 20th century hydrologic records— for successfully absorbing a copious amount of rainfall and immense mudflows.

The network of 18 dams, 487 miles of flood-control channels, 3,300 miles of underground storm drain channels, and dozens of debris basins successfully steered countless gallons of water and flowing debris away from communities from Sunday into Monday.

Officials attribute this accomplishment to extensive preparations, including the massive dredging of key debris basins and clearing storm drains in areas deemed most susceptible to flooding.


However, given the frequent occurrence of significant storms in the area, how sustainable is L.A. County’s flood infrastructure?

“The system can handle multiple atmospheric rivers, as long as they have some spacing between them,” Dena O’Dell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told The Times. “When they are back-to-back without a break, the system could be tested.”

Social media is flooded with videos depicting rushing waters in the L.A. River.

Marisa Neher and her son watch as the Los Angeles River carries stormwater away during a rainstorm near Atwater Village.
Marisa Neher, 37, and her son Robin, 2, watch as the Los Angeles River carries stormwater flow during a rainstorm near Atwater Village.

The city is particularly worried about mudslides and flooding in Studio City, Encino, Baldwin Hills, Baldwin Vista and La Tuna Canyon, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said.

As of Monday morning, Fire Chief Kristin Crowley told The Times that the L.A. Fire Department had responded to 130 flooding incidents and 49 mud and debris flows, with more incidents anticipated.


Astronomical rain totals

The storm brought significant rainfall, drenching parts of L.A. County with 10 inches in the first two days, surpassing February’s monthly average, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s pretty relentless; nothing of the intensity we saw last night, but the rains really are not letting up until, possibly, Thursday,” said Ryan Kittell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Downtown L.A. recorded 5.62 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, exceeding the monthly average for February, which is 3.80 inches.

Sunday’s downpour had ranked as the region’s 10th-wettest calendar day since record-keeping began in 1877, and the two-day rainfall tally was expected to break into the top five in history, Kittell told The Times.

California has already experienced 90% of its yearly rainfall average, totaling 11.5 inches, as of Sunday. California measures its annual precipitation cycle from October through the end of September.


L.A. County areas with nearly 10 inches and above include:

  • Santa Monica Mountains, at the Topanga fire station: 10.67 inches
  • Bel-Air: 10.46 inches
  • Sepulveda Pass, near the Skirball Cultural Center: 10.28 inches
  • Brentwood: 9.90 inches

L.A. schools remain open

Despite the heavy rainfall and warnings to avoid non-essential travel, the city’s public schools remain open. This decision was made by Los Angeles Unified Supt. Alberto Carvalho, in collaboration with city and county officials.

L.A. students and school employees braved the elements Monday, and about 63% of students and 90% of teachers and other staff showed up for school.

“I spoke with parents who extended their appreciation for the fact that we maintained our school sites open,” Carvalho said. “I spoke with a mother, single parent, who was an essential worker and nurse who had to go to work, and she did not know what to do if the school was not open for her child.”

Among the challenges: One campus experienced a power outage and four others lost phone service. On average, buses were 30 minutes late to school Monday morning, according to Carvalho’s tally.

“We have had thus far a rather successful school day. The numbers don’t lie,” he said during a news conference with Bass and other officials at the city’s emergency operations center.


Aware that officials were urging people to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary, Carvalho emphasized that parents and employees should not travel if they believe it is unsafe.

For Southland college students, classes moved largely online.

Read more about this week’s storm

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For your downtime

The Sasto sandwich from Saffy's Coffee & Tea Shop in East Hollywood.
The Sasto sandwich from Saffy’s Coffee & Tea Shop in East Hollywood.
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Going out

Staying in


And finally ... a powerful photo

Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.

A man assesses damage at a house due to a landslide from heavy rainfall during the atmospheric river hitting California
Clarence Brown assesses damage at his cousin’s house in Studio City due to a landslide from heavy rainfall during the atmospheric river hitting California.
(Carlin Stiehl / For The Times)

Today’s powerful photo is from Times contributor Carlin Stiehl. An atmospheric river pummeled California on Sunday, sending rain, clouds and winds.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Anthony De Leon, reporting fellow
Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor
Stephanie Chavez, deputy metro editor

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