500,000 lose power in California; next atmospheric river may be worse


Hundreds of thousands of Californians were without electricity Sunday, another result of storms that have brought deadly flooding in recent weeks and are expected to further drench the state in the coming days.

Rain and snow continued Sunday morning from the atmospheric river that arrived Saturday and brought its most intense weather Saturday night. It unleashed high winds that contributed to more than a half-million customers being without power early Sunday, according to utility tracker PowerOutage.us — about 4 percent of the 13.1 million customers across California served by utilities that the website tracks. By noon Pacific time, the number of outages had fallen to about 360,000.

The bulk of the outages were reported in Sacramento County, where high winds toppled trees and power lines. Sacramento International Airport clocked a gust of 70 mph.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District tweeted that it was “working as safely and quickly as possible to restore power.”

Sacramento County was urging people to flee the Wilton area because of “imminent” flooding Sunday morning.

In the Bay Area, Mines Tower in Alameda, at an elevation of 2,932 feet, recorded a gust of 99 mph, while a gust at the Richardson East weather station, at an elevation of 1,109 feet, hit 85 mph.

South of San Francisco in Santa Cruz, Mayor Fred Keeley (D) said city workers are in emergency mode and prepared for water rescues, but he is most concerned with keeping the infrastructure operational, including the storm sewer, drains and gutters. He said in an interview that Santa Cruz is prepared to use a National Guard armory to shelter up to 500 people who are experiencing homelessness, and to provide tents for those who prefer to live outside.

Keeley said his city and state have a “front-row seat to climate change” and the devastation it brings.

The state has responded as well as it can, he said, but Washington has not caught up.

“They are behind as usual,” Keeley said. “The federal government is stuck in what I would call the old-school FEMA response to things as opposed to marshaling the Army Corps of Engineers and starting to look forward about what we need to do.”

FEMA did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment.

Michael Anderson, state climatologist for California’s Department of Water Resources, said during a Saturday briefing that the series of storms began Dec. 27 and is expected to continue until Jan. 19. The storm anticipated Monday and Tuesday is the second of five, he said, “and also the one that has our largest concerns right now.”

Forecast models don’t agree on the strength and location of the third, fourth and fifth storms, Anderson said. “But,” he added, “we have an indication something’s out there.”

Like its predecessors, the coming storm is an intense atmospheric river, or strip of deep tropical moisture. It is expected to flood lowland areas in the region, rile surf at the beaches, and bring heavy snow and winds over 100 mph near mountaintops.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) scheduled a news conference for 1 p.m. Pacific time to discuss the storm, according to his office.

Severe flooding batters California beach town, splits pier in half

The National Weather Service called for residents to follow local forecasts, avoid driving across flooded roadways and have an emergency evacuation kit and plan ready.

“The longevity and intensity of rain, combined with the cumulative effect of successive heavy rain events dating back to the end of December, will lead to widespread and potentially significant flood impacts,” the Weather Service wrote in a discussion Sunday.

In California’s Central Valley and near the coast, 2 to 4 inches of rain is likely, while up to 9 inches could fall in the foothills through Wednesday. Flood watches are plastered over most of central and Northern California, along with wind advisories warning of gusts over 40 to 50 mph.

The state has been inundated with rain in recent weeks. An atmospheric river soaked Northern and central California on New Year’s Eve, knocking out power and stranding some people in flooded cars.

In 13 days, San Francisco has picked up 11.16 inches, the wettest stretch the city has recorded since 1871. On Dec. 31 alone, 5.46 inches of rain fell, the second-wettest calendar day on record since bookkeeping began in 1849.

“All main stem rivers are forecast to be near or above flood stage by Monday afternoon/evening,” the Bay Area office wrote. A few rivers could reach record levels.

Photos: A bomb cyclone and atmospheric river hammer California

The Weather Service’s national center responsible for precipitation forecasts wrote that some areas could see amounts that occur once every five to 10 years on average. A large area of central and Northern California has a 40 to 70 percent chance of flash flooding within 25 miles of any given location.

Winter storm warnings are in effect for the Sierra Nevada, where snow accumulations of 3 to 6 feet are expected Monday into Tuesday above 6,000-foot elevations. Winds of 80 mph are likely too, and gusts of 100 to 130 mph can’t be ruled out on the Sierra ridgeline.

Below 7,000 feet, the precipitation will start as snow and then flip to rain, causing the snowpack to become water-loaded, which will increase the avalanche risk. Amid a lull in precipitation intensity Monday night, temperatures will cool and the elevation at which it’s below freezing will descend as another batch of precipitation arrives into Tuesday morning.

“Widespread avalanche activity in the mountains” is expected, according to the National Weather Service in Reno, Nev. “Large destructive avalanches could occur in a variety of areas.”

California is being inundated with rain. Will it ease the drought?

Weather models are indicating the potential for a few lightning strikes Monday night, which could lead to thundersnow, posing a danger to skiers and enhancing snowfall rates. Accumulations of more than 5 inches per hour can’t be ruled out during the peak of the storm.

Anderson, the climatologist, said the rain that has fallen over California in the previous week makes for “some pretty astounding numbers.”

“What may be more impressive are the next six days coming,” he said. “You look at those numbers — just as large as what we’ve been through, and this unrelenting pace of storms, and some really large numbers.”

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