The first of several storms linked to El Niño has hit California – until now stricken by drought – bringing flooding and warnings of possible landslides.
The storms sweeping in from the Pacific are expected to lash the US west coast until the end of the week, bringing heavy rain, potential thunderstorms and snow in the mountains.
Flash flood warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) as far north as San Francisco.
Fire crews in San Diego were sent to help drivers whose cars became trapped in rising waters. In Orange County near Los Angeles a man was swept away in a torrent for a mile before hauling himself out.
Despite the chaotic scenes the storms are welcome news after four years of drought – though the authorities warn that even the wettest of winters won’t be enough to replenish depleted water supplies.
El Niño is a natural warming of the central Pacific Ocean interacting with the atmosphere and having an impact on worldwide weather conditions.
The phenomenon usually brings heavy rains to California. In 1997 and 1998 storms reportedly killed 17 people, damaging roads and destroying crops.