California’s 11th atmospheric river storm of the season tore through a beleaguered state Tuesday, dropping more rain and snow and sending thousands of residents once again scrambling for higher ground.
At least 16 locations along major rivers were flooding their banks as the high-impact storm moved south into the state, including areas along the Salinas, Sacramento and Merced rivers. The Pajaro River, which suffered a levee breach from a similar storm last week, continued to pour water onto neighboring farmlands and communities.
At least 70 flood watches, warnings and advisories were in effect statewide, as were avalanche warnings for parts of Mono and Inyo counties and the Lake Tahoe area, according to the National Weather Service.
“The storm will create significant to locally catastrophic flooding impacts below 5,000 feet and is expected to move south along much of the California coast, Central Valley, and Sierra Nevada foothills.” Tuesday through Wednesday, the agency said.
More than 500 people took shelter from the storms at about 30 shelters affiliated with the American Red Cross Monday night, said Nicole Maul, a spokeswoman for the agency.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the storm was causing minor urban flooding, road closures, downed trees and wind gusts of up to 50 mph, according to meteorologist Eleanor Dhuyvetter. A ground stop was ordered at San Francisco International Airport Tuesday morning due to high winds.
In Monterey County, where a farming town has already been flooded by the Pajaro River, more than 10,000 residents were under warnings and evacuation orders due to the rising Salinas River. County officials feared that further flooding could lead to significant crop loss in the heavily agricultural region.
Up to 6 inches of rain could fall before midnight in the Santa Lucia Mountains, which includes part of the Salinas River basin, Dhuyvetter said.
“There is a chance that St. Lucia will still get a fair amount of rain, so we could still see some impacts along the Salinas River,” he said. “We’ll have to watch and see how much rain falls on those mountains.”
Evacuation warnings were issued Tuesday for the Watsonville area of Corralitos Creek and all schools in the area were closed.
In the Sacramento area, officials warned of high winds and heavy precipitation, with the heaviest rain likely in Shasta County and over the foothills and northern Sierra Nevada.
Farther inland, flood advisories were in effect. from Bakersfield to Yosemite, with a high risk of flash flooding east of the Fresno area, said Jim Brusda, a meteorologist with the weather service in Hanford. Up to 1.5 inches of rain is possible in much of the Central Valley.
“The ground just can’t absorb all the new rain that we’re going to get, and that’s the problem,” Brusda said. “The rain may be a little less than last week, but the impacts will be the same, if not more, because the rivers and streams are already very high and the ground is already saturated.”
Rivers of concern in the area include the Merced River at Stevinson, Bear Creek at McKee Road and the East Side Diversion of the El Nido River, all of which are “just at the flood stage,” he said.
Precipitation totals increase significantly east of the California 99 corridor, including up to 4 inches of rain in the southern Sierra and more than 2 feet of snow in mountainous areas around 7,000 feet, Brusda said. Areas at or above 8,000 feet could see more than 6 feet of snow.
The atmospheric river storm, which is drawing moisture from Hawaii in a phenomenon sometimes referred to as a “rapid pineapple,” was moving rapidly south, raising concerns of scorch-scarred flooding and more snow on the mountains. already covered in southern California.
flood watch are in effect in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties through Wednesday morning. Up to 4 inches of rain could fall in Santa Barbara and western Ventura County, said Ryan Kittell, a meteorologist with the weather service in Oxnard.
Santa Barbara County officials have issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents in areas around the burn scars from the Thomas, Alisal and Cave fires, advising residents to leave immediately. Burn scars are known to be waxy, water repellent, and highly vulnerable to debris flows and other hazards.
“The threat of significant flooding on highways and in small streams is high, so we would expect many significant highway delays and even some closures,” Kittell said. The worst of the storm is expected in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties Tuesday afternoon and evening, and in Los Angeles later Tuesday night.
There are moderate river flood threats in the region, including along the Ventura, Sisquoc and Santa Ynez rivers, Kittell said. The San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers “will definitely have a lot of flow, and that will generally result in swift water rescues, especially in homeless encampments.”
Meanwhile, residents of the San Bernardino Mountains braced for more rain and snow, even as some people remain trapped by previous snowstorms. At least a dozen people were found dead after those storms blocked roads and trapped people unable to leave their homes.
“Significant” rainfall totals are expected above 3,000 feet, said Philip Gonsalves of the San Diego Weather Service, which covers the San Bernardino area. “We’re looking at anywhere from 2.5 to locally 5 inches,” he said. Snow is expected around 8,000 feet or higher.
“The bad news is that this event will dump a lot of rain on top of the remaining snowpack, and melting ice will contribute to the threat of flooding, debris flows and rock slides and other things over the next 18 hours,” Gonsalves said. .
flood watch they are in effect in the San Bernardino, Riverside and Santa Ana mountains, as well as parts of the Inland Empire “very close to the foothills” and inland Orange County through Wednesday afternoon, he said.
“It has been an active season,” he added.
The storm comes amid near-record snowpack and one of California’s wettest winters in recent memory. Nine consecutive atmospheric river storms hit the state in late December and early January, and a tenth flooded the state last week.
Although conditions are expected to improve after the storm, the relief will be short-lived as another atmospheric river has set its sights on California next week, forecasters said, just in time for the first day of spring.
Times staff writers Susanne Rust and Terry Castleman contributed to this report.