The “Atmospheric River” will hit already-battered Northern California, triggering warnings of flooding and mudslides

The “Atmospheric River” will hit already-battered Northern California, triggering warnings of flooding and mudslides

  • US News
  • January 4, 2023
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Northern California is bracing for another powerful storm that is expected to drench the already battered region with heavy rain and high winds on Wednesday, raising concerns of flooding, landslides and power outages.

A moisture-rich atmospheric flux — fed by a plume of subtropical water vapor in the lower and middle layers of the atmosphere — is expected to bring wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour and more than 6 inches of rain in some parts of the bay area.

“The strong winds we expect today on already saturated soils and additional rains expected over the next 24 to 48 hours will really exacerbate flooding concerns and the potential for wind damage and downed trees,” said Roger Gass, meteorologist with the Bay Area National Weather Service.

As of Wednesday morning, rain had already started in the area, but forecasters say the brunt of the storm is likely to hit in the afternoon, with rain likely to continue into Thursday.

The weather service warns of rapid rise in streams, creeks and rivers across the region, as well as gusty winds likely to topple trees and branches and cause “local congestion of waterways”.

“To put it simply, this will likely be one of the most impactful systems on a widespread scale this weather forecaster has seen in a long time,” the Weather Service said in its forecast for Northern California, adding that widespread flooding, downed trees, power outages, etc and slope collapses are likely.

Wednesday’s so-called Pineapple Express storm follows a New Year’s Eve storm that dumped more than 5 inches of rain in San Francisco. It was the region’s second wettest day in more than 170 years of records, officials said.

Three vehicles have gone underground on Dillard Road west of Highway 99 in southern Sacramento County in Wilton

Three vehicles submerged on Dillard Road west of Highway 99 in southern Sacramento County in Wilton January 1 after heavy rains caused levee breaches on New Year’s Eve.

(Hector Amezcua/The Bee of Sacramento)

Across northern California, creeks filled, rivers rose and flood waters began to rise in recent days, stranding motorists and spurring evacuations. At least one person was killed when water from the Cosumnes River tumbled over levees in Sacramento County.

A Part of the city of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County was ordered to evacuate on Tuesday evening. With the rain arriving, authorities were concerned that a culvert under a main road that had been damaged in a previous storm could fail, making the road impassable to medical and law enforcement agencies, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

In San Jose, officials worked to evacuate homeless people who were near creeks around the city, fearing they could be swept away during the storm.

Nearly 500,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers lost power during the New Year’s Eve storm, and the utility plans to deploy additional crews on Wednesday to deal with any outages.

The series of atmospheric flows that began toward the end of December came as a shock of sorts after one of California’s driest years on record, which had drained reservoirs and left soils bone dry.

Experts say that while the system is expected to bring heavy rain, it’s not just this storm’s strength alone that has prompted damage concerns, it’s the culmination of all recent storms.

In October 2021, a similarly strong atmospheric flow brought significant rainfall to the state but didn’t cause nearly the same amount of damage because conditions before that were drier, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

Well, “it’s going to take a much smaller storm to have a much bigger impact considering how wet it is,” he added.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the city was “preparing for war” as officials passed out sandbags and residents braced for more rainy days.

Sacramento and other areas are also bracing for the powerful storm.

The Sacramento Valley can expect an additional 2 to 4 inches of rain late Wednesday through Thursday. Some areas in the foothills could see up to 6 inches above all of the previous days’ rain, according to the weather service.

The weather service has also published Flash flood watches in several fire areasincluding the August Complex fire area, the River Complex fire, the Mosquito fire, and the western region of the Dixie fire.

The agency advised residents in or near such areas to “prepare to depart before the storm hits and check with local authorities for possible evacuation warnings.”

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