Second atmospheric river in days churns through California, knocking out power and flooding roads

About 1.4 million people in the Los Angeles area, including the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills, were under a flash-flood warning Monday morning

Atmospheric river weather event in Santa Barbara, California 2024
A man crosses a flooded street during an atmospheric river weather event in Santa Barbara, California USA, 04 February 2024.ERICK MADRID (EFE)

The second of back-to-back atmospheric rivers took aim at Southern California early Monday, unleashing mudslides, flooding roadways and knocking out power as the soggy state braced for another day of heavy rains.

About 1.4 million people in the Los Angeles area, including the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills, were under a flash-flood warning Monday morning. Up to 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain had already fallen in the area, with more expected, according to the National Weather Service, which called the flash flooding and threat of mudslides “a particularly dangerous situation.”

In Northern California, the storm inundated streets and brought down trees and electrical lines Sunday across 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.

Just to the south in San Jose, emergency crews pulled occupants out of the windows of a car stranded by floodwaters and rescued people from a homeless encampment alongside a rising river.

The storm then moved into Southern California, where officials warned of potentially devastating flooding and ordered evacuations for canyons that burned in recent wildfires that are at high risk for mud and debris flows.

“We’ve had flooding, we’ve had gusty winds, we’ve had the whole gamut here,” said Todd Hall, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service near Los Angeles.

“I’ve been doing damage reports all night, so I’ve seen a fair amount of damage, and of people being evacuated from homes due to mudslides,” Hall said.

Classes were canceled Monday for schools across Santa Barbara County, which was devastated by mudslides caused by powerful storms in 2018.

Further down the coast, strong winds and heavy rain brought treacherous conditions to the city of Ventura, said Alexis Herrera, who was trying to bail out his floodwater-filled sedan. “All the freeways are flooded around here,” Herrera said in Spanish. “I don’t know how I’m going to move my car.”

More than 543,000 customers were without electricity statewide on Monday morning, according to poweroutage.us.

Palisades Tahoe, a ski resort about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, said Sunday it was anticipating the heaviest snowfall yet this season, with accumulations of 6 inches (15 centimeters) per hour for a total of up to two feet (60 centimeters). Heavy snow was expected into Monday throughout the Sierra Nevada and motorists were urged to avoid mountain roads.

Much of the state had been drying out from the atmospheric river 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.

Atmospheric rivers are relatively narrow plumes of moisture that form over an ocean and can produce torrential amounts of rain as they move over land.

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.

Evacuation orders and warnings were in effect for mountain and canyon areas of Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsay Horvath urged residents near wildfire burn areas of Topanga and Soledad canyons to heed orders to get out ahead of possible mudslides.

“If you have not already left, please gather your family, your pets, your medications and leave immediately,” Horvath said at a Sunday briefing. The county set up shelters where evacuees could spend the night.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services activated its operations center and positioned personnel and equipment in areas most at risk.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, said its schools will be open Monday morning, with the exception of Topanga Elementary Charter School and Vinedale College Preparatory Academy.

The weather service forecast up to 8 inches (20 cm) of rainfall across Southern California’s coastal and valley areas, with 14 inches (35 cm) possible in the foothills and mountains. Heavy to moderate rain is expected in Southern California until Tuesday.

“The storm will actually sit on top of us for today,” Hall said. “There’s really no relief, unfortunately, because this band is just stalled right over us and it’s going to dump moderate to heavy rain on us all day.”

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