JEFFREY BROWN: For two weeks, relentless rains drenched the West Coast and led to widespread flooding while driving snows piled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and other areas. A series of record-setting storms have led to at least two dozen fatalities and caused disruptions in several states in the western region.
This afternoon, I asked meteorologist Jim Kosek of AccuWeather what had caused the storms.
JIM KOSEK: It actually comes down to the position of the jet stream which is the ribbon of air, which is able to steer storm systems across the northern hemisphere, our nation included in that, of course.
A dominant area of low pressure which has been sitting off the Pacific Northwest has allowed for excessive rainfall. It's more or less the pineapple connection, if you will.
If you take note of the counterclockwise circulation off the coast of Oregon -- this satellite is from this past weekend, by the way -- you can see how it draws the moisture in from the subtropical jet stream south of the Hawaiian Islands and diverts it into portions of California.
JEFFREY BROWN: And how unusual is this confluence of storms?
JIM KOSEK: Well, we see it happening every several years. It's not a one-in-a-generation type storm system as was so noted in the news a couple weeks ago. We see this happening every so often.
More typical in strong El Nino years although this is a weak El Nino signature this season -- back in 2001 we saw heavy flooding rains over parts of California. Also during the '98 and '99 winter season it got pretty rough and tough over portions of California.
Now in some locations this is a record rainfall. So in that aspect it is unprecedented. But every several years, we typically do get flooding downpours and unfortunately the mudslides.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the California seaside town of La Conchita, rescuers found the bodies of a mother and three of her children this morning as the search for the missing continued after heavy rains caused a deadly mudslide on Monday.
Firefighters used listening devices to hunt for signs of life in the debris. The mudslide covered up four blocks of homes and sent people running for their lives into the streets. In the immediate aftermath, nine people were brought out of the rubble alive. Ten people have now been confirmed dead; at least eight remain unaccounted for. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the stricken area today.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Californians quickly lend a hand in a time of crisis. It's extraordinary the way people have come together here. From the moment the mudslides hit, people rushed to the aid of neighbors, helping each other escape the danger and helping to find survivors.
JEFFREY BROWN: In Los Angeles alone, more than 17 inches of rain have fallen since Dec. 27, the wettest period ever recorded there. In Malibu, a massive boulder dislodged by heavy rains fell and blocked this road. Crews had to explode it into smaller pieces in order to clear it away.
Some parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains have been hit with 19 feet of snow-- the most recorded since 1916-- prompting avalanche warnings at ski resorts. One was forced to shut down.
The wicked weather caused damage beyond California as well. In Southern Utah, this river overflowed its banks, taking houses in St. George with it as residents helplessly stood by and watched. And in Mojave County, Arizona, this bridge was completely washed away in the rushing waters. Today, the sun was out over much of the West, but experts warned of continued danger of flooding.
JIM KOSEK: Anyone that has lived through a flood, even though the rains have subsided and moved away, you still have to take into account there were several feet of snow up in the mountains. That starts to melt; it trickles down to the valley floor. So water levels are going to continue to rise over the course of the next couple of days. So the flooding unfortunately will continue even though we are currently in a dry-weather pattern.
JEFFREY BROWN: Much of the West has been in the grip of a drought for the last five years. One question now is whether these latest storms could have a longer-term positive impact.