California braces for flooding again as another wet winter storm hits

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The latest in a series of wet winter storms gained strength in California early Monday, with forecasters warning of possible flooding, hail, strong winds and even brief tornadoes as the system moves south over the next few days.

Gusts topped 30 mph (48 kph) in Oakland and San Jose as a mild cold front late Saturday gave way to a more powerful storm on Sunday, said meteorologist Brayden Murdock with the National Weather Service office in San Francisco.

“The winds are here and getting stronger, and the rains will follow quickly,” he said Sunday afternoon.

California’s central coast is at risk of “significant flooding,” with up to 5 inches (12 cm) of rain predicted for many areas, according to the weather service. Isolated rain totals of 10 inches (25 cm) are possible in the Santa Lucia and Santa Ynez mountain ranges as the storm heads toward greater Los Angeles.

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California Gets Pummeled: Gov. Gavin Newsom Declares State Of Emergency as Powerful Storm Wallops SoCal

Newsom previously issued an emergency declaration in Northern counties

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency throughout most of Southern California on Sunday and Monday over the large atmospheric river event that is currently bringing massive amounts of rain and flooding to the region.

Photo: gov.ca.gov

The storm, which first made landfall in Northern California on Saturday, quickly became a statewide issue on Sunday following expected flooding, high winds, and inches of rain suddenly falling. However, Southern California received the brunt of the storm on Sunday and Monday, with the worst of it hitting coastal areas. Parts of Santa Barbara County underwent a rare evacuation order because of the expected damage. As of Monday, the National Weather Service still has 38 million being covered by some sort of flood alert and 3 people already dead because of branch falling incidents related to the event.

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In the midst of this, Governor Newsom also declared a state of emergency in Southern California, covering the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura. According to Newsom, these 8 counties will receive emergency assets as soon as possible over the high winds, damaging rain and heavy snowfall in the area. The announcement came after a similar one also by Newsom on Friday, promising “8,300 boots on the ground” ahead of the next atmospheric river event. In addition California activated its State Operations Center, Flood Operations Center, Caltrans Emergency Operations Center and the Medical Health Coordination Center in preparation, with Newsom declaring a Northern California state of emergency in Humboldt, Imperial, Monterey, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties just before the weekend.

“California: this is a serious storm with dangerous and potentially life-threatening impacts. Please pay attention to any emergency orders or alerts from local officials,” said Newsom on Sunday. “California is ready with a record number of emergency assets on the ground to respond to the impacts of this storm.”

In addition, the state of emergency proclamation  goes as far as to allow Newsom to mobilize the California National Guard, and waiving certain licensing and medical requirements to allow hospitals and health care facilities to remain operational during the storm.

“The California National Guard may be mobilized under Military and Veterans Code section 146 to support disaster response and relief efforts, as directed by the Office of Emergency Services, and to coordinate with all relevant state agencies and state and local emergency responders and law enforcement within the impacted areas,” said Newsom’s state of emergency. “In order to ensure hospitals, clinics, and other health facilities remain open, the Director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) may waive any of the licensing requirements of [certain chapters] of the Health and Safety Code and accompanying regulations with respect to any hospital, clinic, other health facility, home health agency, or hospice agency identified in the Health and Safety Code that is impacted by the early February 2024 storms.”

Meanwhile, counties in SoCal made similar emergency declarations, as did more local leaders including Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.

“With unprecedented rain came unprecedented preparation, and now comes unprecedented response,” said Bass on Monday, who later visited flood struck areas of the city with emergency workers. “All through the night, firefighters, police officers, street repair crews, traffic engineers, parks and recreation staff and the entire city family have worked to address this storm. To help facilitate this response, this morning I have signed a declaration of a local emergency, which will help our response and ensure that the city has the required resources to respond to the storm now, but also in the recovery period.”

Several emergency workers, during break moments, told the Globe on Monday that the states of emergency have so far been effective, but that they hoped that lawmakers  would not go into danger areas just yet.

“Like all the states of emergency we had last year with those storms, this year has had everyone be in business mode,” explained emergency worker Terry Campbell to the Globe on Monday during a break in the field. “For a lot of people, the best they could do is stay inside and not go out unless absolutely necessary. Well, ok, some of the guys have gotten coffee from some people and little things like that. We appreciate that. And by far the vast majority of people have been compliant.”

“I wish some mayors and other politicians would just hunker down like everyone else and help direct things from their homes and offices rather than go out now and survey areas. It pulls a lot of the guys away to make they have things like clear paths or making sure they’re going to an area that isn’t dangerous. Most wait until the danger is minimal to go out and to not tie all of us up, but there have been a few today, and they have been, I guess a nice way to say it is disappointing.”

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Powerful Hurricane Hilary Heads for Mexico’s Baja. Rare Tropical Storm Watch Issued for California

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico (AP) — Hurricane Hilary churned off Mexico’s Pacific coast Friday as a powerful Category 4 storm threatening to unleash torrential rains on the mudslide-prone border city of Tijuana before heading into Southern California as the first tropical storm there in 84 years.

Forecasters warned the storm could cause extreme flooding, mudslides and even tornadoes across the region.

Hilary grew rapidly in strength early Friday before losing some steam, with its maximum sustained winds clocked at 130 mph (215 kph) in the evening, after falling from 145 mph (230 kph). Nevertheless, it was forecast to still be a hurricane when approaching Mexico’s Baja California peninsula on Saturday night and a tropical storm when approaching Southern California on Sunday.

Hilary was already disrupting life.

Major League Baseball rescheduled three Sunday games in Southern California, moving them to Saturday as part of split-doubleheaders. The National Park Service closed Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve to keep people from becoming stranded amid flooding. Cities across the region, including in Arizona, were offering sandbags to safeguard properties against floodwaters.

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California Snowfall is ‘Once in a Generation,’ Meteorologists Say

Portland, Oregon received nearly a foot of snow in a single day in what proved to be its second-snowiest day in history.

Mountainous areas of California experienced nearly unprecedented snowfall accumulations – more than 40 feet since the start of the season. 

At the airport in Flagstaff, Arizona, 11.6 feet have fallen this season, second only to the winter of 1948-49. Even Phoenix suburbs woke up on Thursday to a dusting of snow that covered cactuses and lush golf courses.

What is going on with all the snow?

“This rain and snow bucked the trend and it’s highly unexpected,” said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist and former NOAA chief scientist. “It’s like once-in-a-generation.”

Meteorologists say the explanation for the robust winter season is not so simple.

The current La Niña pattern does have an influence on global weather, but Maue said that is only one factor.

Bianca Feldkircher, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said a persistent blocking pattern over the Pacific Ocean plus cold air migrating south from the Arctic have created the conditions for widespread snowfall along the West Coast.

“Not only were you getting significant snowfall in areas that already see snow, you were also seeing snowfall on lower elevations in Southern California, which is super rare,” said Feldkircher.

For example, the forecast on March 1 warned of snowfall for parts of Phoenix, which Feldkircher said is “super unusual” for this time of year. And last week, Portland saw abnormally high snowfall rates and recorded nearly 11 inches (28 centimeters) — the second-snowiest day in the city’s history.

With respect to human-induced climate change, meteorologists say it’s challenging to nail down what part it is playing in the West Coast’s peculiar winter season.

But increasingly extreme weather is expected as global temperatures rise. “Heat produces moisture, moisture produces storms, and heat and moisture bind to produce even more severe storms,” Feldkircher said.

Forecasting technology keeps getting better. So much better, it may even soon be able to forecast extreme events with higher accuracy. “In the near future, I do not think climate will cause issues with our weather forecasting capabilities,” said Maue.

Although many regions struggled with the challenging winter conditions, some are welcoming the much-needed moisture.

The recent precipitation is a blessing for ameliorating the drought that has persisted in the Southwest.

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Los Angeles Area Still Blanketed by Snow in Rare Heavy Storm

A powerful winter storm that swept down the West Coast with flooding and frigid temperatures shifted its focus to southern California on Saturday, swelling rivers to dangerous levels and dropping snow in even low-lying areas around Los Angeles.

The National Weather Service said it was one of the strongest storms to ever hit southwest California and even as the volume of wind and rain dropped, it continued to have significant impact including snowfall down to elevations as low as 1,000 feet (305 meters). Hills around suburban Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, were blanketed in white, and snow also surprised inland suburbs to the east.

Rare blizzard warnings for the mountains and widespread flood watches were ending late in the day as the storm tapered off in the region. Forecasters said there would be a one-day respite before the next storm arrives on Monday.

After days of fierce winds, toppled trees and downed wires, more than 120,000 California utility customers remained without electricity, according to PowerOutage.us. And Interstate 5, the West Coast’s major north-south highway, remained closed due to heavy snow and ice in Tejon Pass through the mountains north of Los Angeles.

Multiday precipitation totals as of Saturday morning included a staggering 81 inches (205 centimeters) of snow at the Mountain High resort in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles and up to 64 inches (160 centimeters) farther east at Snow Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Rainfall totals as of late Saturday morning were equally stunning, including nearly 15 inches (38.1 centimeters) at Los Angeles County’s Cogswell Dam and nearly 10.5 inches (26.6 cm) in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles.

“Quite a remarkable storm the last few days with historic amounts of precip and snow down to elevations that rarely see snow,” the LA-area weather office wrote.

The Los Angeles River and other waterways that normally flow at a trickle or are dry most of the year were raging with runoff Saturday. The Los Angeles Fire Department used a helicopter to rescue four homeless people who were stranded in the river’s major flood control basin. Two were taken to a hospital with hypothermia, said spokesperson Brian Humphrey.

In the Valencia area of north Los Angeles County, the roiling Santa Clara River carried away three motorhomes early Saturday after carving into an embankment where an RV park is located. No one was hurt, KCAL-TV reported, but one resident described the scene as devastating.

The storm, fueled by low pressure rotating off the coast, did not depart quietly. Lightning strikes shut down LA County beaches and scattered bursts of snow, showers and thunderstorms persisted.

Derek Maiden, 57, who lives in a tent in LA’s Echo Park neighborhood, collected cans in the rain to take to a recycling center. He said this winter has been wetter than usual. “It’s miserable when you’re outside in the elements,” he said.

Meanwhile, people farther east were struggling to deal with the fallout from storms earlier this week.

More than 350,000 customers were without power in Michigan as of early Saturday afternoon, according to reports from the the two main utilities in the state, DTE and Consumers Energy. Both said they hope to have the lights back on for most of their customers by Sunday night.

Brian Wheeler, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, said half an inch (1.27 centimeters) of ice weighed down some power lines — equivalent to the weight of a baby grand piano.

“People are not just angry but struggling,” said Em Perry, environmental justice director for Michigan United, a group that advocates for economic and racial justice. “People are huddling under blankets for warmth.”

She said the group will demand that utilities reimburse residents for the cost to purchase generators or replace spoiled groceries.

In Kalamazoo, Michigan, Allison Rinker was using a borrowed generator to keep her 150-year-old house warm Saturday after two nights in the cold and dark.

“We were all surviving, but spirits were low on the second day,” she said. “As soon as the heat came back and we were able to have one or two lights running, it was like a complete flip in attitude.”

After driving to a relative’s home to store food, Rinker, 27, compared the destruction of trees to tornado damage.

“The ice that was falling off the trees as it was melting was hitting our windshield so hard, I was afraid it was going to crack,” she said. “There’s just tree limbs everywhere, half of the trees just falling down. The destruction is insane.”

Back in California, the Weather Prediction Center of the National Weather Service forecast heavy snow over the Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada through the weekend.

The low-pressure system was also expected to bring widespread rain and snow in southern Nevada by Saturday afternoon and across northwest Arizona Saturday night and Sunday morning, the National Weather Service office in Las Vegas said.

An avalanche warning was issued for the Sierra Nevada backcountry around Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada border. Nearly 2 feet (61 cm) of new snow had fallen by Friday and up to another 5 feet (1.5 meters) was expected when another storm moves in with the potential for gale-force winds and high-intensity flurries Sunday, the weather service said.

In Arizona, the heaviest snow was expected late Saturday through midday Sunday, with up to a foot of new snow possible in Flagstaff, forecasters said.

Weekend snow also was forecast for parts of the upper Midwest to the Northeast, with pockets of freezing rain over some areas of the central Appalachians. The storm was expected to reach the central high Plains by Sunday evening.

At least three people have died in the coast-to-coast storms. A Michigan firefighter died Wednesday after coming into contact with a downed power line, while in Rochester, Minnesota, a pedestrian died after being hit by a city-operated snowplow. Authorities in Portland, Oregon, said a person died of hypothermia.

Much of Portland was shut down with icy roads after the city’s second-heaviest snowfall on record this week: nearly 11 inches (28 centimeters). While the city saw sunny skies and temperatures approaching 40 degrees Saturday afternoon, the reprieve — and thaw — was short-lived. More snow was expected overnight and Sunday.

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