Powerful Storm Threatens California With More Flooding: Weather Updates

SACRAMENTO — Bands of rain swept across California on Wednesday morning as the state braced for another powerful storm, which forecasters said would bring more flooding, landslides and damaging winds just days after another “atmospheric river” drenched the West Coast.

Usually, rainfall amounts like those expected over the next couple of days would not have a significant impact. But the rain over the weekend left the ground across much of California saturated, like a wet sponge, forecasters said, making the state more susceptible to flooding and rapid runoff.

That has left officials up and down the coast bracing for another round of deluges — in a state that, at other times of the year, has become increasingly vulnerable to droughts and wildfires.

Storm preparations were in full swing across the state. By Wednesday morning, San Francisco had already run out of sandbags to provide to residents; city officials said they expected to have more later in the day. In Northern California, several parks were closed because of the threat that strong wind gusts would topple trees.

Flood warnings were in place from Wednesday evening to Thursday north of San Francisco, and flood watches were in effect across Southern California. Rainfall was forecast to start slow, then get heavier throughout Wednesday, accompanied by strong winds and thunderstorms.

“Don’t let your guard down,” the Weather Service warned.

Meteorologists suggested preparing for flooding, downed trees and power outages, and said that traveling by road would be difficult or impossible in certain areas. The office of Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Twitter that the state’s operations center was at its highest emergency level on Wednesday.

As the storm approached Tuesday night, a mandatory evacuation order was issued in the flood-prone city of Watsonville and other parts of Santa Cruz County, south of San Francisco. The city of San Jose declared a local emergency, as did the adjacent counties of San Mateo and Santa Cruz.

In Sacramento, where forecasts called for up to three inches of rain in a region that was already inundated by a storm on New Year’s Eve, homeowners were bracing on Wednesday morning for a fresh round of power outages and flooded streets.

Ramona Saunders, 64, shivering in a pelting rain outside a hardware store near her home in Carmichael, said, “I’m here to buy flashlights and batteries.”

She added, “I’m just going to go up and down the aisles because I feel like maybe I’ve forgotten something important.”

Ms. Carmichael, a retired government worker, said that a California pepper tree outside her house had already blown over in the New Year’s Eve storm, and she was worried that the maple in her front yard would be next.

“I keep thinking, ‘Please don’t let this be the storm,’” she said. “I just don’t want to be on the 6 o’clock news.”

In flood-prone San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, many students were asked to head home early on Wednesday and to not return to school on Thursday. South San Francisco Unified School District and San Mateo Union High School District canceled Thursday classes because of the severe weather.

The new storm is expected to bring up to four inches of rain and winds of up to 40 miles an hour to California’s inland valleys over the next couple of days, and gusts of 60 to 80 m.p.h. in the coastal hills, according to the National Weather Service.

Heavy snow is also expected in the mountains. Water officials announced on Tuesday that surveys and readings showed the statewide snowpack was at 174 percent of the average for the date — a silver lining to the storm pummeling drought-stricken California.

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range supplies about 30 percent of the state’s water, according to the Department of Water Resources. The snowy mountain caps act as crucial water storage until the snow melts during drier, warmer months, sending fresh water into the state’s rivers and reservoirs.

Still, water experts have cautioned that no matter how much precipitation there is in coming days, residents should still plan to conserve. They have pointed to the fact that in 2021, significant December snowfall gave way to the driest January, February and March on record, leaving Californians to navigate increasingly dire warnings and water-use restrictions throughout the summer.

The situation underscores California’s water conundrum: The state desperately needs a very wet winter, but any time it is drenched by a big storm, there is also a risk of damage and chaos.

“This is a prime example of the threat of extreme flooding during a prolonged drought as California experiences more swings between wet and dry periods brought on by our changing climate,” Karla Nemeth, the department’s director, said in a statement.

The latest storm is part of a series of atmospheric rivers — channels of moisture from the tropical Pacific Ocean — that meteorologists expect will continue until mid-January. “The message to convey is resiliency, as this is not a ‘one and done’ storm,” the Bay Area office of the Weather Service said Wednesday morning.

The heavy rain and snow have brought a measure of relief to drought-plagued California, especially for its agricultural industry. “This is really a godsend, just to see these storms lining up and hitting California dead-on,” said Don Cameron, whose Terranova Ranch grows produce on 8,500 acres in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

But rising waters have also swamped streets and flooded homes in parts of the state. Streets and basements were still draining on Wednesday in downtown San Francisco, one of the areas expected to be hardest hit by the approaching storm.

An atmospheric river that drenched the West Coast on Dec. 26 killed at least five people. Another storm system soaked California again before barreling east across the country on Tuesday, spawning strong tornadoes, thunderstorms and flooding in parts of the Plains, Upper Midwest and South after dropping snow on Utah and Arizona.

That storm was expected to decrease in intensity by Wednesday night as it moves toward the East Coast, the National Weather Service said. More rounds of heavy precipitation are expected to hit California on Saturday, and again on Monday.

Shawn Hubler reported from Sacramento. Derrick Bryson Taylor, Jill Cowan, Christine Hauser, Soumya Karlamangla and Judson Jones also contributed reporting.

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