Powerful winter storm pummels the Golden State

Millions of Southern Californians are waking up to a powerful storm that’s expected to linger over the region through Monday, bringing risks of dangerous flooding, road closures, power outages and other hazards.

The slow-moving atmospheric river made its way into Southern California on Sunday afternoon after dousing the Bay Area and Central Coast earlier in the weekend. National Weather Service officials issued flash flood warnings for large swaths of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The warnings were set to expire at 12 a.m. Monday but could be extended.

Noah Berger / Associated Press

“Forecasters said much of the brunt of the storm appeared to be focused on the Los Angeles area, where the system could park itself for an extended period of time over the next few days,” Times reporters Hayley Smith, Grace Toohey, Emily Alpert Reyes and Roger Vincent noted in their coverage Sunday.

But surrounding regions are also bracing for considerable impacts. NWS officials in San Diego warned that they expect “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” in Orange County, western parts of the Inland Empire, and in parts of the San Bernardino Mountains.

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As of Sunday evening, the system — which officials say is the most powerful one we’ve seen this winter — was slated to drop up to 8 inches of rain on coasts and valleys, and up to 14 inches in the foothills and mountains. Snowfall totals of 2 to 5 feet are likely at elevations above 7,000 feet.

So what should Monday morning commuters expect? According to NWS meteorologist Ryan Kittell, it’s best to work from home if you can and “stay off the freeways.”

“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,” Kittell said in a media briefing Sunday.

Several college campuses canceled in-person classes for Monday, including Cal State Northridge, Cal State L.A. and Cal Poly Pomona.

A hazard-filled Sunday

It wasn’t just SoCal; the atmospheric river brought heavy rain and strong winds across the Bay Area and Central Coast earlier Sunday. Thousands of residents lost power as officials worked to clear downed trees and repair power lines. Statewide, more than 800,000 people were without power as of Sunday evening.

The storm that doused SoCal last week was far less powerful than this one but was still strong enough to cause serious street flooding, notably in Long Beach. Officials were expecting this storm to be even worse.

Flooding remains a major concern for several rivers across the state, including the Ventura River, Guadalupe River and Carmel River.

On Sunday, NWS officials warned that debris flows were “imminent or occurring” and advised residents to avoid traveling and take precautions to safeguard their homes and themselves.

Evacuation warnings and notices were issued in portions of Ventura, Santa Barbara, Monterey and L.A. counties — focused near burn scars from a few recent wildfires.

Newsom’s response

In response to the powerful storm, Gov. Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

He also mobilized a record 8,500 emergency response personnel to help communities impacted by the storm.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California braces for inundation as atmospheric rivers barrel in from Pacific Ocean

Still reeling from last year’s onslaught of winter wind and rain, communities along the California coast are bracing for a one-two punch of hefty storms that began to move onshore Wednesday and are expected to last through early next week.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Federalcounty and municipal officials are preparing for potential flooding and power outages from strong atmospheric river systems, followingGov. Gavin Newsom’s move Tuesday to activateCalifornia’s Emergency Operations Center. State officials warned that the back-to-back storms may be only the beginning of a strong, wet weather pattern that could linger for up to two weeks.

“This is a longer-duration event,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Emergency Services, said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “It’s not just the localized impacts, but the duration of the impacts and the wide geographic distribution of the challenges. … We want to be early and proactive on our emergency response efforts.”

Fire crews, swift water rescue teams and other first responders have been moving into place throughout the state in preparation of the storms, and supplies such as sandbags and snowplows are being distributed, Ferguson said.

“The state is working around the clock with our local partners to deploy life-saving equipment and resources statewide,” Newsom said. “With more storms on the horizon, we’ll continue to mobilize every available resource to protect Californians.”

The first storm was expected to wallop the northern part of the state beginning Wednesday, with the National Weather Service issuing multiple flood advisories, winter storm and high wind warnings across the state through at least Friday. The second one, forecast to arrive late Sunday, is anticipated to hit harder in the south, potentially wreaking havoc in Southern California.

Along the North Coast from Klamath to Fort Bragg early Wednesday, officials reported widespread urban and small stream flooding, with an additional inch or 2 of rain expectedto fall. In the Bay Area, wind gusts had been recorded above 60 mph, reaching as high as 70 mph at one location in Marin, according to the weather service.

Officials continue to predict possible power outages. Ferguson said state officials are already working with utilities to get crews dispatched quickly when power goes down.

“Much if not the entire portion of the state is expecting measurable rainfall as we head through today and tomorrow,” said Robert Hart, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Northern and Central California can generally expect 2 to 5 inches, with up to 6 inches locally, he said.

As the storm moves south Thursday, Southern California can expect on average 1 to 3 inches of rain, but up to 5 inches locally, Hart said.

The second storm system, aimed with a particular ferocity toward Southern California, is “the one we’re more concerned about,” Ferguson said. It is warmer — allowing it to pack more water — and is expected to move slower, which can leave some regions inundated. Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego could be in for massive amounts of rain. The mountains east of Los Angeles could face heavy snow.

“Storm No. 1 will be significant and is notable, but won’t bring extreme impacts anywhere,” said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain in a Tuesday briefing. But he said his eyes are on that still-developing second storm, which “has a higher potential to produce some major and significant either wind- and/or flood-related impacts,” with flooding concentrated in Southern California.

Ferguson added that the dangerous flooding that devastated communities such as Pajaro and Planada in last winter’s atmospheric rivers — and killed dozens across the state — was less of a concern this time around. But many of the levees that crisscross the state are aging, privately maintained and something of an unknown to officials.

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“That is always a challenge,” he said. “We don’t know which levees have ground squirrels in them, which farmer put a pipe [in somewhere]. Unknowns are the things that are hardest to solve for.”

He added that officials are also confronting “tons of misinformation and bad information” about the weather on social media. Contrary to one rumor flying around cyberspace, this is not a megaflood or “ARkStorm” scenario, he said, though he still urged residents to take it seriously and prepare.

Jim Shivers, a spokesman for Caltrans District 5 — which covers the Central Coast — said they’re keeping an eye on Paul’s Slide, a two-mile stretch of Highway 1 south of Big Sur that was knocked out by a landslide last year. It’s been closed ever since and remains under repair.

Worker safety is the biggest concern, he said, and the agency will pull all construction workers from the site until the storm has passed. They’ll then wait a couple of days until they have drier conditions, and only then bring them back.

In Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, officials said there are no signs these storms will cause flooding in the Pajaro River — where a levee breached last year, flooding the community of Pajaro — but said those areas will be monitored closely.

Mark Strudley, executive director at Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency, said the 400-foot area that breached last year “and caused all the grief … was repaired using modern engineering standards [and] is actually better built than the older levees to either side of it.”

Because of that and “a bunch of other work that the counties did in preparation for this winter, we are going into this winter in a better position than we went in last year,” he said. However, despite those efforts, “it is still an old, decrepit levee system. So you can make your best efforts, but if Mother Nature gets too angry at us, you know … they’re still vulnerable.”

Along the North Coast, though, the Navarro and Hopland rivers will probablay come close to or reach flood stage Wednesday, according to the California Nevada River Forecast Center, and waters at many points along the Sacramento Valley rivershed could also rise dangerously high. On Thursday, the San Diego River at Fashion Valley is forecast to again overflow its banks, as occurred last week during historic rains that caused widespread urban flooding and some devastating flash floods.

“We don’t expect a repeat of Jan. 22 [flash flooding] on Thursday,” Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the weather service in San Diego, said Wednesday, adding, “That said, new and additional flooding is possible.”

Much of San Diego and Orange counties, as well as parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, already have a flood advisory out for Thursday, when the first storm will have moved south and east. But Tardy pointed out that besides San Diego, much of Southern California has received below average rainfall this year.

“In general, this is a beneficial rain,” he said. “We need this rain, we need the snow too.”

In Los Angeles, officials are less concerned about the first storm — though some minor flooding is likely — but concern is growing about the second system. County and city officials opened additional shelter options through at least Tuesday, offering motel vouchers during the coming storms for anyone living on the street.

“The Los Angeles region has been cold recently, but the addition of rain this week could make conditions especially dangerous for anyone living on the streets,” said Va Lecia Adams Kellum, chief executive of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Click here to read that the full article in the Los Angeles Times

Beaches battered by storms and surge, but spared major damage

With a break in the storms, crews are cleaning up the mess left behind following the recent big surf and heavy rains that battered the region in the past week.

The north end of Bolsa Chica State Beach’s parking lots, closed for nearly a week following a flooding of seawater that stretched across the sand and into Pacific Coast Highway, will reopen by Thursday, Jan. 11, following extensive clean-up efforts, said State Parks Superintendent Kevin Pearsall.

Crews worked 17-hour shifts in recent days to remove debris and sand, he said, from the lots and the multi-use trail after the rain storm that hit last Thursday mixed with extreme high tides and a hefty swell to overwhelm the shore.

“It’s insane the amount of trash and debris and driftwood,” Pearsall said. “We’re asking people to be cautious and courteous of the cleanup process and so far everyone has complied.”

Pono Barnes, spokesman for Los Angeles County Fire Department lifeguards, said no major damage was reported at South Bay beaches, though there was some sand erosion due to the high surf.

Workers will continue building up berms at vulnerable stretches of coast ahead of the next big swell heading to the area Friday and into the weekend, he said.

Carol Baker, spokesperson for Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors Department, said workers are continuing to move in sand and, where appropriate, add rocks to shore up the trouble areas, specifically at Point Dume and Dockweiler beaches.

The pier in Seal Beach will remain closed at least until next week, said Marine Safety Chief Joe Bailey. Crews will be surveying the pier in coming days to determine the extent of the damage incurred during last week’s big swell that slammed the coast.

Several large wooden pilings and the boat ramp were ripped off of the pier, which remains closed until inspectors can determine if it is sound enough to reopen, he said. “We’re hoping it’s not a huge structural damage.”

The lingering high surf has kept divers from being able to safely get in the water and check under the pier, Seal Beach Police Capt. Nick Nicholas said Wednesday, Jan. 11. “However, it looks like tomorrow the conditions will be better, and we should have more information next week.”

Flooding from the latest storm was contained to the parking lots and on the beach in town, Bailey said. “We were able to keep it off the boardwalk.”

The Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT,  was out filling sandbags in the parking lot for residents to protect property earlier this week.

The sand berm built in front of beachfront homes held up, but with a new big swell on the horizon for Friday that could bring 5- to 8-foot waves, Seal Beach workers will keep an eye on the sand wall to see if it needs to be rebuilt, officials said.

“We’re paying close attention,” Bailey said. “The forecast isn’t as big, but it’s still awfully big.”

A big swell hit the region Wednesday, with waves in the 6- to 8-foot range and even larger in some coastal areas. Pearsall said sets of 14 feet were slamming Bolsa Chica, but no flooding occurred because the accompanying tides were lower than last week.

The surf is expected to drop slightly Thursday, with a new northwest swell and waves in the 5- to 8-foot range expected Friday and Saturday, before dropping slightly Sunday in Orange County, according to Surfline.com. The waves are expected to be larger, in the 8- to 12-feet range, on Friday in the Los Angeles area.

The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach is reporting a roof leak that is causing damage to the ceiling tiles. The center had to shut down its treatment and nursery area until repairs are done.

“Wounded wildlife needs our center to be fully operational,” Executive Director  Debbie McGuire said.

The center had to bring all the birds inside and built indoor pools until damaged electrical systems can be fixed, she said.

Crystal Cove State Beach, where historic cottages sit on the sand, has also suffered in recent weeks, with a lot of sand loss and erosion during the storms, Pearsall said. “Right now, there’s very limited beach availability.”

Also, an access road leading to a lifeguard tower at El Moro was washed away by the storms, Pearsall said. And, further south, the dirt parking lot at San Onofre’s Surf Beach remains closed due to mud.

The south end of the parking lot at Capistrano Beach, which was already closed to the public, experienced some minor erosion from the most recent storm, said Danielle Kennedy, OC Parks interim public information officer.

A small portion of the sidewalk was also closed following the storm. At Aliso Beach, the front half of the west parking lot remains closed as crews continue to clear sand from that area, she said.

Newport Beach spokesman John Pope reported some pools of water around Balboa Island and the peninsula following the storm, as well as a large amount of trash that flowed down the Santa Ana River to the shore.

Pope said crews expect trash to wash down the Santa Ana River within the next 24 to 48 hours as water recedes from inland down to the ocean.

“There’s not that much right now, we’re expecting it in the next day or two as the river flows,” he said.

Heavy machinery will be helping as early as 7 a.m. Thursday to scoop the trash off the beach, as well as crews cleaning by hand through the day.

“We want to get to as much of that as we can before the tide picks up,” he said.

Considering the damage across other State Parks properties, especially in Northern California where beaches, campgrounds and structures were destroyed, Orange County has been lucky, Pearsall said.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Daily News

California Hit By More Storms, Braces for Potential Floods

California was hit with more turbulent weather Sunday as thunderstorms, snow and damaging winds swept into the northern part the state, preceding another series of incoming storms and raising the potential for road flooding, rising rivers and mudslides on soils already saturated after days of rain.

The National Weather Service warned of a “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers” — storms that are long plumes of moisture stretching out into the Pacific capable of dropping staggering amounts of rain and snow.

In the state capital, more than 60,000 customers were still without electricity Sunday evening — down from more than 350,000 — after gusts of 60 mph (97 kph) knocked trees into power lines, according to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

Joey Kleemann was listening to the winds howling shortly after midnight, wondering whether she should move her car, when she heard a “gigantic, thumping, crashing sound” as a massive tree fell onto the Sacramento home where she’s lived for 25 years.

The gusts were strong enough to rip the tree from its roots, pulling the concrete sidewalk up with it.

Cracks in Kleemann’s roof meant rain streamed into her dining area throughout the night. She planned to place a tarp over the damaged area in anticipation of another deluge.

“I just had a feeling with the winds. They were scary winds,” she said. “Mostly I focused on: It could be so much worse.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom said 12 people lost their lives as a result of violent weather during the past 10 days, and he warned that this week’s storms could be even more dangerous. He urged people to stay home.

“Just be cautious over the course of the next week, particularly the next day or two or so,” Newsom said during a briefing with California officials outlining the state’s storm preparations.

The weather service’s Sacramento office said the region should brace for the latest atmospheric river to roar ashore late Sunday and early Monday.

“Widespread power outages, downed trees and difficult driving conditions will be possible,” the office said on Twitter.

Evacuation warnings were in place for about 13,000 residents of a flood-prone area of Sonoma County north of San Francisco, where the swollen Russian River was expected to overspill its banks in the coming days.

And Sacramento County ordered evacuations for people living around Wilton, a town of about 6,000 roughly 20 miles southeast of downtown Sacramento, with warnings of imminent flooding. The rural area along the Cosumnes River saw flooding in an earlier storm.

“Residents must leave now before roads become impassable,” the county said.

The state Department of Transportation warned motorists to stay off mountain roads after closing a stretch of U.S. 395 in Mono County, along the Eastern Sierra, due to heavy snow, ice and whiteout conditions.

“With the severe nature of this storm, Caltrans is asking all drivers to limit nonessential travel until the peak of the storm has passed,” the department said in a statement.

The wet weather comes after days of rain in California from Pacific storms that last week knocked out power to thousands, flooded streets, battered the coastline and caused at least six deaths.

The first of the newest, heavier storms prompted the weather service to issue a flood watch for a large swath of Northern and Central California with 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain expected through Wednesday in the already saturated Sacramento-area foothills.

In the Los Angeles region, scattered rain fell during the weekend while stormy conditions were expected to return Monday, with the potential for up to 8 inches (20 cm) in foothill areas. High surf was expected through Tuesday, with large waves on west-facing beaches.

Since Dec. 26, San Francisco has received more than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, while Mammoth Mountain, a popular ski area in the Eastern Sierra, got nearly 10 feet (3 meters) of snow, the National Weather Service reported.

Click here to read the full article in AP News