Another powerful atmospheric river storm threatens California with more flooding, landslides and damaging winds in the next two days as the storm that drenched the state last week now drifts across the Midwest.
“The storm is coming,” National Weather Service forecasters in the Bay Area urgently warned late Tuesday, advising residents that the system would bring “major wind and rain.”
As California continues to cope with last weekend’s deadly floods, the new storm, expected to arrive on Wednesday, will bring up to four inches of rain and winds up to 40 miles an hour to the valleys and heavy snow to the mountains, according to the Weather Prediction Center’s forecast. Flood warnings were in place from Wednesday evening to Thursday in the area north of San Francisco, and flood watches were in effect across Southern California.
As the storm approached the West Coast on Tuesday night, it triggered a mandatory evacuation order in the flood-prone city of Watsonville and Santa Cruz County, south of San Francisco. San Jose and adjacent San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties have declared local emergencies.
“Residents and visitors located in California over the next few days are advised to check their local forecast and plan ahead for potentially hazardous weather conditions,” the Weather Prediction Center said. Meteorologists also suggested preparing for flooding, downed trees and power outages and said that traveling by road would be difficult to impossible in certain areas.
Storm preparations were in full swing across the state. The California National Guard was seen installing flood dams and sandbags in Sacramento, and officials in San Mateo County, just west of San Jose, had activated its emergency operations center. Several parks across Northern California were also closed because of tree hazards, and the South San Francisco Unified School District said it would cancel classes on Thursday.
The governor’s office said on Twitter that the state’s operations center was at its highest emergency level and that the flood operations center was helping local residents with getting sandbags and other storm necessities. Shelters were being opened and staff was ready to be deployed to hospitals and ambulance teams, officials said.
The latest storm is part of a series of atmospheric rivers, channels of moisture from the tropical Pacific Ocean, that meteorologists expect will continue until mid-January.
In drought-plagued California, the heavy rain and snow have brought a measure of relief. But rising waters have swamped streets and flooded homes in parts of the state. Streets and basements were still draining in downtown San Francisco, one of the areas hardest-hit by the approaching storm.
Already soaked by successive storms, California’s soil has become less absorbent, so even a few inches of rain could make it flood and slide, forecasters said.
“Recent rainfall has left soils saturated and susceptible to flooding and rapid runoff concerns,” the Weather Prediction Center said. “Sensitive terrain will also have the potential for landslides.”
An atmospheric river that drenched the West Coast on Dec. 26 killed at least five people. Another one barreled east across the country on Tuesday, causing strong tornadoes, thunderstorms and flooding in parts of the Plains, Upper Midwest and South after dropping snow on Utah and Arizona.
That storm should decrease in intensity across the Midwest by Wednesday night as it shifts to the East Coast, the Weather Prediction Center said. It continued to trigger tornadoes and bring large hail in the Midwest and Southeast on Tuesday night.
Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.