SAN FRANCISCO – Heavy rains, high winds, power outages and evacuations rolled across California on Thursday as a second massive storm in a week overwhelmed parts of the state and was blamed for at least two deaths.
The storm began to lessen Thursday morning in the San Francisco Bay Area, though rain still fell. It dumped precipitation over most of the state and was expected to continue into Thursday afternoon.
Then the area gets a short rest before another storm – part of a series that could last into next week – hits on Friday.
Rain totals for the area were lower than the highest predicted but still high. Especially rain-prone areas could have had up to 10 inches of rain but in the end places like the Big Sur coastline and the Santa Cruz mountains got more in the 5 to 6-inch range, said Brayden Murdock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service San Francisco Bay office.
GRAPHICS:Atmospheric river soaking California
The storm caused significant damage throughout Santa Cruz county south of San Francisco. Piers in popular beach towns including Capitola and Seacliff were heavily damaged, the county said.
San Francisco recorded the wettest ten-day period since 1871, with 10.33 inches of rain falling between Dec. 26 and Jan. 4, the National Weather Service said.
The rain was an enormous amount of precipitation in America’s most populous state, which typically enjoys a dry, mostly Mediterranean climate. The deluge on the drought-parched ground led to fears of mudslides; winds that could down weakened trees; and runoff that could overwhelm urban areas with flooding.
Flood advisories were in effect in six San Francisco Bay area counties Thursday as the rain that hit higher elevations Wednesday made its way downhill.
“Some places really far downstream are finally getting those flood waters today,” said Brayden Murdock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service San Francisco Bay office.
The pattern of atmospheric river events along the West Coast is likely to continue for an additional week, the weather service warned Thursday.
“This pattern is expected to continue throughout week 1 (January 6-12) and is likely during week 2 (January 13-19), as several more impactful atmospheric river events are expected,” the weather service said in an update Thursday.
With ongoing hazardous winds, snow, and rain, the weather service said flooding risks are likely to be exacerbated across portions of the West Coast, specifically in parts of California. There is a moderate risk of heavy rain for California and parts of southern Nevada and Arizona.
High winds are also possible over parts of coastal California and Oregon, according to the weather service.
A week’s more worth of storms were backed up out over the Pacific and will begin hitting coastal California Friday night. While each will be less intense than the storm on Wednesday and New Year’s Eve, they will still bring water to already saturated soil and full waterways.
“It’s just a conveyer belt of these low-pressure systems,” Burdock said. “A lot of this next week is going to be watching rivers and streams for flooding.”
“Rain rates over 1 inch per hour may lead to rapid water rises and mud (and) rock slides,” Weather Prediction Center forecaster Paul Ziegenfelder said Thursday
The “bomb cyclone” – a storm intensified by a quick drop in atmospheric pressure – swamped large swaths of the state Wednesday and into Thursday morning, bringing much-needed rain to San Diego all the way up well past Marin County.
Major problems were caused by the strong winds that accompanied the storm, which toppled trees and power lines. By Thursday night, more than 73,000 homes and businesses were without power — a decrease from the over 180,000 customers that were left in the dark Wednesday, according to PowerOutage.us.
Wind gusts in excess of 100 mph were reported in Placer County’s Alpine Meadows, and gusts of up to 85 mph forced the cancelation of scores of flights at San Francisco International Airport.
Fallen trees delayed trains throughout the area, according to Caltrain.
Police in Fairfield, 50 miles northeast of San Francisco, said a woman died in a car crash on a flooded road. And in the Sonoma County town of Occidental, Fire Chief Ronald Lunardi told local media that a child was killed when a tree blew onto a family’s home.
The weather upheaval comes days after a New Year’s Eve downpour forced the evacuation of people in rural Northern California communities and rescues of motorists from flooded roads. A few levees south of Sacramento were damaged, and on Wednesday, authorities in south Sacramento County found a body in a submerged car – one of at least four victims of flooding from that storm.
BOMB CYCLONES:Here’s a visual breakdown of how they’re created
The storm caused flight disruptions across the Bay area’s three major airports in San Francisco, Oakland and San José. Multiple airlines offered travel waivers for flights disrupted by the storm:
- American Airlines posted a travel alert for those with flights to and from Fresno, Monterey/Carmel, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Rosa between Wednesday and Sunday. Travelers can rebook their flight before Sunday for a new travel date within a year of the original flight date for free, as long as it’s the same fare class.
- Southwest Airlines offered rebooking for flights scheduled for Wednesday, for flights to and from Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Jose. The rebooking must have the same city pairs and travel dates within 14 days of the original travel date.
- Delta Air Lines issued a travel waiver for flights scheduled on Thursday and Friday to or from San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, and Fresno. The fare difference will be waived when the rebooked travel takes place on or before Jan. 8.
‘RIVERS IN THE SKY’ Graphics show atmospheric river soaking California’s Bay Area
The storm, the second of several headed toward the California coast, is coming from across the Pacific Ocean. It’s what’s known as an atmospheric river – or a “Pineapple Express” because it originates near Hawaii.
These storms bring heavy rainfall and occur when a line of warm, moist air flows from near the islands across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast.
When it reaches the cooler air over the western landmass, the water vapor falls as heavy rain. Atmospheric rivers are long, flowing regions of the atmosphere that carry water vapor across a swath of sky 250 to 375 miles wide. They can be more than 1,000 miles long – and can carry more water than the Mississippi River.
Contributing: Kathleen Wong and Jorge Ortiz, USA TODAY; Evan Mealins and Alex Gladden, Montgomery Advertiser; The Associated Press