SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Responders braced for the latest bout of high winds and torrential rain that swept California Wednesday, renewed threats of power outages and deadly flooding that battered parts of San Francisco Bay and Sacramento over the New Year’s weekend.
The “atmospheric flow” — a stream of dense moisture air flowing out of the ocean — was expected to drench much of California before a storm front would bring additional showers to low-lying areas and more snow to the Sierra Nevada mountains through Thursday.
The looming blast of extreme winter weather — the next in a series of storms expected to sweep across California in the coming weeks — stems from a vast, hurricane-force depression churning over the eastern Pacific, forecasters said.
The National Weather Service (NWS) predicted widespread rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 inches, with up to 3 feet of fresh snow in the Sierras.
Authorities warned that the torrential downpours were likely to trigger flash flooding and mudslides, particularly in areas where the ground is still saturated from rains that soaked Northern California days earlier. Fire-ravaged mountainsides are also particularly prone to landslides.
High wind warnings have been posted along the Central California coast north through the Bay Area and into far northern California and Oregon. The National Weather Service (NWS) said storm gusts would uproot trees, shear branches and down power lines, cutting power in many areas.
The San Francisco Transportation Company suspended its famous cable car service through Thursday due to inclement weather, and numerous commercial flights were canceled at San Francisco International Airport.
Stormy weather has been blamed for at least one traffic fatality in the North Bay town of Fairfield, where flooding on a street crashed a car into a utility pole, killing the driver, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Voluntary evacuation notices have been issued for homes along three streets in a flood-prone area of Alameda County, across the San Francisco Bay, citing the threats of “the upcoming storms, saturated soils and current runoff.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday declared a state of emergency to aid the state’s response to winter weather hazards and activated the California Flood Response Center.
The governor’s Office of Emergency Services said it has deployed crews in several northern counties that are likely to be hardest hit by flooding and where previous wildfires have destroyed vegetation on hillsides and put them at high risk of mudslides.
Secretary of State for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot urged residents of such areas to remain indoors unless ordered to evacuate and to prepare for blackouts by charging electrical devices and having flashlights and candles handy.
Sacramento County crews were still out Wednesday repairing breached levees along the Cosumnes River near Sacramento, where flooding closed Highway 99 last weekend, Crowfoot said at a news conference in the state capital.
At least three deaths have been attributed to last weekend’s storm. Two bodies were recovered from the Cosumnes River flood zone and a 72-year-old man was found dead under a fallen tree in Santa Cruz, authorities said.
The latest bout of extreme weather was the second in a series of potentially damaging storms expected to hit the state over the next seven to 10 days, emergency services director Nancy Ward told reporters. The state operations center has been settled at the highest level, she said.
“We anticipate this could be one of the most challenging and impactful storms to make landfall in California in the past five years,” she said.
Fallen trees, already weakened by the prolonged drought and now poorly anchored in rain-soaked soil, would likely pose a significant hazard in the coming storms, said Karla Nemeth, director of the state Department of Water Resources.
She said coastal areas from Los Angeles north to Crescent City near the Oregon border face the greatest potential for flooding, particularly in Mendocino County along the Russian and Navarro Rivers.
Nemeth said the increasing frequency and intensity of episodic flooding interrupting California’s multi-year droughts are symptomatic of extreme wet-dry fluctuations caused by climate change.
The good news was that recent storms have left Sierra snowpack, a key source of California’s water supply, well above average for this time of year, although far more will need to accumulate in the winter to end the drought, experts say. – Reuters