California weather: Another atmospheric river hits with heavy rain and threat of major flooding

A new storm system hit northern California on Friday with heavy rain, threatening millions with dangerous flood conditions when snow from previous storms melts. Flood advisories or warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service for areas around San Francisco Bay, the Central Coast, and the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. Southern California saw generally lighter rain.

THE atmospheric riverknown as the “Pineapple Express” because it brought warm subtropical moisture across the Pacific from near Hawaii, melting the lower parts of the massive snowpack built in the California mountains by nine atmospheric rivers early winter and later storms fueled by arctic air blast.

The high-altitude snowpack is so massive it was thought to be able to absorb rain, but snowmelt was expected at elevations below 4,000 feet, forecasters said.

In Santa Cruz County, a rain-swollen creek destroyed part of Main Street in Soquel, a town of 10,000, isolating several neighborhoods. Crews were working to remove trees and other debris and find a way for people to cross the creek, county officials said.

County officials have asked city residents to stay indoors. Southeast of Watsonville, authorities ordered residents of low-lying areas to evacuate.

Heather Wingfield, a teacher who runs a small urban farm with her husband in Soquel, said she and her neighbors were, for the time being, trapped in their homes as Bates Creek rushed down what was once Main Street.

“It’s awful,” she said. “I hope no one has a medical emergency.”

In the San Francisco Bay Area, flooding blocked portions of several major freeways, including Interstate 580 in Oakland, disrupting travel.

A truck drives through a flooded road after an atmospheric storm system in Hayward, California on March 10, 2023.
A truck drives through a flooded road after an atmospheric storm system in Hayward, California on March 10, 2023.

Reuters/Nathan Frandino

As the storm approached, Governor Gavin Newsom declared states of emergency in 21 counties in addition to previous declarations for 13 counties. President Biden on Friday approved Newsom’s request for an emergency declaration to authorize federal aid.

The California Department of Water Resources has also activated its flood operations center.

Evacuation warnings have been issued in advance for various foothill and mountain communities prone to flooding and mudslides. An evacuation order was in place for a small number of Central Coast residents who live under a seawall near Oceano in San Luis Obispo County.

Water releases for flood control purposes were underway or planned for some reservoirs that were depleted during three years of drought and filled from the winter’s extraordinary rains and snowfalls.

The releases were scheduled to begin late Friday morning from the state’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, which collects water from the Feather River in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in the northern Sacramento Valley.

The lake level has risen about 178 feet since December 1. Flow rates are intended to ensure that there is room for significant runoff.

Ted Craddock, deputy director of the State Water Project, on Thursday expressed confidence in the 1960s-era Oroville Dam, where thousands of people had to be evacuated in 2017 after the main spillway collapsed and the spillway eroded. emergency.

“The spillway has been rebuilt to modern standards, and we are very confident that it will be able to pass the flows coming into Lake Oroville,” he said.

Forecasters have warned that mountain travel could be difficult, if not impossible, during the latest storm. At high elevations, the storm is expected to dump heavy snow, up to 8 feet over several days.

California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about a third of the state’s water supply, is more than 180% of the April 1 average, when it is historically at its peak.

Yet another atmospheric river is already in the forecast for early next week. State climatologist Michael Anderson said a third appeared to be looming over the Pacific and possibly a fourth.

California appeared to be “on track for a fourth year of drought” before the series of early winter storms, Anderson said. “We are in a very different condition now,” he said.

So much snow has fallen in the Sierra and other mountain ranges that locals are still struggling to dig days after previous storms.

In the San Bernardino Mountains, east of Los Angeles, a storm in late February reached blizzard status. Roofs collapsed, cars were buried and roads were blocked.

This week, firefighters and paramedics began delivering prescription medication to residents still unable to leave their homes, said Fire Captain Steve Concialdi, spokesman for San Bernardino County Emergency Response. .

Far north of the coast, officials in Humboldt County staged an emergency response to feed starving livestock stuck in the snow.

Cal Fire and US Coast Guard helicopters started deliver hay bales to cattle in isolated mountain fields last weekend, then the California National Guard was called in to expand the effort.

“We have had unprecedented weather over the past two weeks and we have received several reports of cattle deaths because ranchers cannot access their cows due to impassable roads,” Sheriff William said. Hon. “These cattle are an economic engine, they’re starving and they’re calving right now. So all of those things need drastic action.”

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