San Diego, a city accustomed to scarce winter storms, found itself reeling from an unexpected deluge on Monday as a powerful Pacific front swept through the region. This marked the third storm to hit the West Coast since Friday, with the first one bypassing the area and the second producing only a fraction of an inch of warm rain. The third storm, initially predicted to be stronger, turned out to be the wettest January day on record in San Diego, according to the National Weather Service.
Mayor Todd Gloria declared a state of emergency due to extreme rainfall and flash flooding, as approximately 100 homes were impacted. Social media videos depicted cars being swept away by rapidly flowing waters that transformed roads into rivers. A high school in the city was utilized as a temporary shelter for residents affected by the flooding.
The havoc extended beyond San Diego, affecting Tijuana and other parts of northern Baja California. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and San Diego Fire Department rescuers rescued at least eight migrants endangered by floodwaters in the Tijuana River Valley on the U.S. side. In Southcrest, southeast of downtown San Diego, firefighters had to rescue residents as standing water surrounded their apartment complex. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries.
Navy Base San Diego, located south of downtown, experienced flooding, leading to the closure of multiple streets and Interstate 15. Navy officials instructed personnel on base to shelter in place as they managed traffic affected by the floodwaters. Mayor Gloria urged residents to stay off the roads, and schools in nearby La Mesa and Spring Valley announced closures for the following day.
Acknowledging the unexpected intensity of the rainfall, Mayor Gloria expressed his intention to request federal funds from California Governor Gavin Newsome. The American Red Cross Southern California Region set up a shelter capable of accommodating 375 people, providing hot meals and mental health support.
The storm’s impact resonated across San Diego County, with flooded roads in Mission Valley and Ocean Beach. State Route 78, east of Oceanside, was closed due to floodwaters, further complicating transportation in the region. The storm, drawing moisture from the Pacific and forming an atmospheric river, created once-in-a-generation effects reminiscent of historical El Niño events in 1983 and 1998.
Meteorologist Brandt Maxwell from the National Weather Service explained that the storm’s intensity resulted from the combination of the long-tail jet stream, an atmospheric river, and unstable air. Despite San Diego’s rainfall being below normal for the season, this single storm brought the city slightly above the average, with hopes for more precipitation to follow in the remaining half of the rainy season.
Looking ahead, Maxwell indicated that, at least in the short term, there appeared to be no imminent storms on the horizon for Southern California. Mayor Gloria, reflecting on the recent extreme weather events, emphasized the consensus among mayors at a U.S. mayors’ conference in Washington that climate change-driven extreme weather is becoming the new normal, impacting regions across the country.