Massive flooding, evacuations and power outages hit California amid atmospheric river storm

California’s 11th riverine atmospheric storm of the season swept through a beleaguered state on Tuesday, dropping more rain and snow, again sending thousands rushing to higher ground and leaving more than 300,000 people without power.

More than a dozen locations along major rivers overflowed as the high-impact storm moved south across the state, including areas along the Salinas, Sacramento and Merced rivers. The Pajaro River, which suffered a levee breach in a similar storm last week, continued to dump water onto nearby farmlands and communities.

At least 90 flood watches, warnings and advisories were in effect across the state, as were avalanche warnings in parts of Mono and Inyo counties and the Lake Tahoe area, according to National Weather. Service, which said the storm would “create extensive to locally catastrophic flooding.” impacts below 5,000 feet altitude.

About 336,000 homes across the state were without power as of Tuesday afternoon, according to data compiled by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. The majority of those households were in Santa Clara County, which had about 128,000 customers without power.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the storm caused minor urban flooding, road closures, felled trees and gusty winds of up to 50 mph, said Meteorological Service meteorologist Eleanor Dhuyvetter. Due to high winds, about 40% of flights departing from San Francisco International Airport experienced delays and 72 had been canceled as of Tuesday afternoon.

In downtown San Francisco, a shelter-in-place order has been instituted for the area around a 52-story skyscraper at 555 California St. A window was blown out amid winds of up to 50 mph and another was damaged on the 43rd floor of what was previously called the Bank of America building.

A person in yellow rain gear leans in a field.

A farm worker cleans a drain on Tuesday after a pair of powerful storms ripped through the area around Watsonville, Calif., causing massive flooding.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Firefighters said the gusts could have contributed to the dangerous situation.

In Monterey County, where a farming town was already flooded by the Pajaro River, more than 10,000 residents were under warnings and evacuation orders due to the surging Salinas River. County officials feared more flooding could cause major crop losses in the heavily agricultural region.

Up to 6 inches of rain are expected to fall before midnight in the Santa Lucia Mountains, which include part of the Salinas River watershed, Dhuyvetter said.

On Tuesday afternoon, officials were considering how to deal with the nearly overflowing levees protecting Watsonville, where evacuation orders have been extended to include the Corralitos Creek area. All schools in the area have been closed.

“The real question today is to manually violate a section [of the Pajaro River] to relieve the pressure,” said Zach Friend, a Santa Cruz County supervisor whose district includes Watsonville.

The breach is believed to occur at the Highway 1 bridge, which is downstream from the city and surrounded by farmland.

Only about half of the 350ft section that was breached upstream from Pajaro on Friday night had been stabilized as authorities tried to stop it from widening.

Despite the threat, some residents of the migrant town of about 3,000 people chose not to evacuate.

“I know some people blame us for not going, but the danger of flooding isn’t there, it’s somewhere else,” said Dora Alvarez, 54, pointing south toward Salinas Road, which was submerged.

But officials said flooding was not the only risk in the area. Major utility lines cross the levee below Highway 1, and a sewage treatment facility is downstream.

“If water continues to erode through the levee such that it re-enters the river system…it could overwhelm the river system downstream of Highway 1,” where the water treatment plant is located. Watsonville wastewater, said Mark Strudley, executive director of the Pajaro Regional Flood. Management agency.

If water overflows or seeps through the levee, Strudley said, “we risk destroying parts of the plant and we could end up dumping untreated sewage into the floodplain, into the river, and then finally in Monterey Bay”.

Meanwhile, in the Sacramento area, officials warned of high winds and heavy rainfall, with the heaviest rains likely in Shasta County and the foothills and northern Sierra Nevada.

The Tres Pinos area in San Benito County was rocked by a 3.4 magnitude earthquake as the storm hit the area, according to the US Geological Survey.

Further inland, flood advisories were in effect from Bakersfield to Yosemite National Park, with a high risk of flash flooding east of the Fresno area, said Hanford Weather Service meteorologist Jim Brusda. Up to 1.5 inches of rain was possible over much of the Central Valley.

“The ground just can’t absorb all the new rain we’re going to get, and that’s the problem,” Brusda said. “Rainfall could be a little less than last week, but the impacts will be the same, if not more, because the rivers and streams are already so high and the ground is already saturated.”

Rivers of concern in the area include the Merced at Stevinson, Bear Creek at McKee Road and the El Nido Eastern Bypass, all of which are “in full flood stage”, he said.

The San Joaquin River at Friant, just below Lake Millerton, was also high on Tuesday, with flooding visible in low-lying areas. Residents said water levels in the lake and river were much higher than usual.

A farmer who declined to be named said his fields in Auberry were flooded.

“They won’t let us use the water, and now we have too much,” he said, referring to contentious water use issues for farms in the Central Valley.

Precipitation totals will increase significantly east of Highway 99 – including up to 4 inches of rain in the southern Sierra and more than 2 feet of snow in mountainous areas at about 7,000 feet, said Brusda. Areas at 8,000 feet or higher could see over 6 feet of snow.

The atmospheric river storm, which draws moisture from Hawaii in a phenomenon sometimes called the “pineapple express,” was moving rapidly south, raising concerns of flooding in burn scars and more snow on the mountains. already covered in southern California.

Flood watches are in effect in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties through Wednesday morning. Up to 4 inches of rain could fall in Santa Barbara and western Ventura County, said Oxnard Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Kittell.

Santa Barbara County officials have issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents of areas around the scorch scars of the Thomas, Alisal and Cave fires, advising residents to leave immediately. Burn scars are known to be waxy, water repellent and very vulnerable to debris flows and other hazards.

The worst of the storm occurred in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties Tuesday afternoon and into the evening. Los Angeles was expected to take the brunt of the weather later Tuesday night. The Los Angeles National Weather Service said the rain will likely increase in intensity later in the day, with roadway flooding and possible landslides and mudslides.

There were moderate threats of riverine flooding in the area, including along the Ventura, Sisquoc and Santa Ynez rivers, Kittell said. The San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers “will definitely have a lot of flow, and that will usually result in whitewater rescues, especially in homeless encampments.”

Residents of the San Bernardino Mountains have also braced for more rain and snow — though some people remain trapped by previous snowstorms. At least a dozen people have been found dead after those storms blocked roads and left residents stranded and unable to get out of their homes.

“Significant” precipitation totals are expected above 3,000 feet, said Philip Gonsalves of the San Diego Weather Service, which covers the San Bernardino area. “We’re looking at 2.5 to 5 inches locally,” he said. Snow is expected around 8,000 feet or higher.

“The bad news is that this event is going to dump a lot of rain on the remaining snowpack, and the melting snow is going to contribute to the threat of flooding, or debris flows and rockslides and so on over the next few weeks. next 18 hours,” Gonsalves said.

Flood watches were in effect in the San Bernardino, Riverside and Santa Ana Mountains, as well as parts of the Inland Empire “near the foothills” and interior Orange County through Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley declared a local state of emergency to support storm responses in the area, sparked in part by a hillside collapse in Newport Beach that threatened some homes and caused collapse a piece of bluff.

“I hope there will be no more landslides on the shore, but if these three houses fall, a cascading effect may occur for the other 50 houses on the cliff and we must be prepared in case that happens. would happen,” Foley said in a statement. .

Governor Gavin Newsom’s state of emergency remains in place in 40 counties across the state.

The storm arrives amid near-record snowpack and one of California’s wettest winters in recent memory. Nine consecutive atmospheric river storms hit the state in late December and early January, and a tenth flooded the state last week.

Although conditions are expected to clear after the storm, the relief will be short-lived as another atmospheric river has set its sights on California next week, forecasters said – just in time for the first day of spring.

There has been little respite for residents of communities that are only now beginning to recover from the harsh weather of early winter. The El Gallito bakery in the community of Planada in Merced County remained open through a few storms.

The bakery was flooded with the city at the end of January. Now the doors to the store are protected with sandbags and tarpaulins, and the family who run it also plan to take steps to protect their home from flooding. A pantry at the front of the store is particularly heavy, with the bottom shelves mostly empty. Every day at closing time, they “take everything from the bottom shelves and put it on the counters”, fearful of losing inventory again.

It is essential to maintain the activity, said Leonardo Villagomez, the son of owners Luis and Estella.

The family needs income.

“We have no choice,” he said.

Vives reported from Pajaro, Castleman from Fresno, Rust from Menlo Park, Smith and Benjamin Oreskes of Los Angeles.

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