Second atmospheric river in days blows into California, knocking out power and flooding roads

Second atmospheric river in days blows into California, knocking out power and flooding roads
AP Photo/Ethan Swope
A drift boat washes ashore during a rainstorm, Feb. 4, 2024, in Santa Barbara, Calif. The second of back-to-back atmospheric rivers is drenching Northern California, flooding roads, knocking out power to tens of thousands and leading forecasters to warn of possible hurricane-force winds and mudslides as it heads south over the coming days. The system is expected to dump heavy to moderate rain on Southern California until Tuesday.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The second of back-to-back atmospheric rivers drenched Northern California on Sunday, flooding roads, knocking out power to tens of thousands and leading forecasters to warn of possible hurricane-force winds and mudslides as it slowly heads south over the coming days.

The storm knocked down trees and power lines in the San Francisco Bay Area, where winds topped 60 mph (96 kph) in some areas. Gusts exceeding 80 mph (128 kph) were recorded in the mountains.

More than 200,000 customers were without electricity statewide, with most of the outages in the northern part of the state, according to

“We’re not out of the woods yet — strong winds will continue through the early evening today,” the Bay Area’s National Weather Service said.

Six Bay Area counties were at low risk of waterspouts coming ashore and becoming tornadoes, said the Storm Prediction Center. The last time the center forecasted a tornado risk in the region was in February 2015, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Palisades Tahoe, a ski resort about 200 miles (320 kilometres) northeast of San Francisco, said it was anticipating the heaviest snowfall yet this season, with accumulations of 6 inches (15 centimetres) per hour for a total of up to two feet (60 centimetres). Heavy snow was possible into Monday throughout the Sierra Nevada.

Meanwhile, Southern California was at risk of substantial flooding beginning late Sunday because of how slow the system was moving, said Ryan Kittell, a meteorologist at the weather service’s Los Angeles-area office.

“The core of the low-pressure system is very deep, and it’s moving very slowly, and it’s very close to us. And that’s why we have those very strong winds. And the slow nature of it is really giving us the highest rainfall totals and the flooding risk,” he said at a Sunday briefing.

Much of the state had been drying out from the system that blew in last week, causing flooding and dumping welcome snow in mountains. The latest storm, also called a “Pineapple Express” because its plume of moisture stretches back across the Pacific to near Hawaii, arrived offshore in Northern California on Saturday, when most of the state was under some sort of wind, surf or flood watch.

The phone was ringing incessantly at the Santa Barbara Home Improvement Center, with people inquiring about sandbags, flashlights and generators, said assistant manager Lupita Vital. Sandbags sold out on Saturday, so customers were buying bags of potting soil and fertilizer instead, she said.

“People are trying to get anything they can get that’s heavy to use it as, you know, protection for their doors and everything,” Vital said Sunday.

She said the store might close early so employees can get home before the heaviest rain arrived.

“This storm is predicted to be one of the largest and most significant in our county’s history, and our goal is to get through it without any fatalities or any serious injuries,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters Saturday. Classes were cancelled Monday for schools across the county, which was devastated by mudslides caused by powerful storms in 2018.

Evacuation orders and warnings were in effect for mountain and canyon areas of Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

By early Sunday, the weather service issued a rare “hurricane force wind warning” for the Central Coast, with wind gusts of up to 92 mph (148 kph) possible from the Monterey Peninsula to the northern section of San Luis Obispo County.

The rain forced organizers to postpone the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in Monterey County until Monday.

The storm was expected to move down the coast and bring heavy rain, possible flash-flooding and mountain snow to the Los Angeles area late Sunday, before moving on to hammer Orange and San Diego counties on Monday.

“This is a dangerous system with major risks to life and property,” the weather service’s Los Angeles office said. “Residents should heed any evacuation orders. Stay off the roads, especially the freeways, this afternoon through at least Monday morning.”

The weather service forecast up to 6 inches (15 centimetres) of rainfall across Southern California’s coastal and valley areas, with up to 12 inches (31 centimetres) likely in the foothills and mountains. Forecasters warned that mudslides, debris flows and flooding are likely. Heavy to moderate rain is expected in Southern California until Tuesday.

“Even if the rain does start to let up on Monday morning, just the sheer amount of rain overnight will cause lingering flooding issues into the morning hours,” said Kittell.

By Christopher Weber in Los Angeles

The Associated PressThe Associated Press

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