Back-to-back atmospheric rivers that have battered California in recent weeks have dropped staggering amounts of rain on the state and left dozens of highways unusable — and more rain is on the way.
At least 40 state roads were closed across the state Wednesday night, state Department of Transportation spokesman Will Arnold told CNN.
“We ask the public, if you don’t need to be on the roads, please stay home and avoid non-essential travel,” Arnold said.
In 16 days, swathes of California received 50 to 70 percent of the amount of precipitation they would usually receive in an entire year, according to the National Weather Service. Isolated areas, especially in the mountains near Santa Barbara, received more than 90% of their annual precipitation.
At least 18 people have died in storms over the past two weeks as the deluge flooded streets and toppled trees, among other hazards. More than 100 National Guard members were in San Luis Obispo County searching for 5-year-old Kyle Doan, who disappeared after being swept away by floodwaters on Monday – and more troops are arriving to help Thursday, said the county sheriff.
The series of storm systems resulted in swollen rivers, flooded streets, sinkholes, collapsed roads, damaged homes, gushing sewage and forced thousands to flee their homes.
And the evacuations are still ongoing. In Solano County in the Bay Area, an evacuation warning was issued Wednesday for 1,600 people amid fears Lake Curry could flood downstream.
“We’ve had six storms in the past two weeks,” California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis said Wednesday. “That’s the kind of time you would have in a year and we compressed it into two weeks.”
Although much of the state is enjoying a respite from the rain on Thursday, the dam is not yet complete.
Three other atmospheric river events — long, narrow regions of the atmosphere that can carry moisture for thousands of miles — are expected to hit California over the next 10 days.
“This, literally, is the calm between – not before – storms,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a Facebook video, standing near a pier that was wiped out by a recent storm.
Several additional rains are expected to impact the state over the next few days. Heavier rains will return to central California on Friday and spread south across much of the state on Saturday.
Since the relentless parade of atmospheric rivers began battering California on Dec. 26, rainfall totals have been immense.
Between Dec. 26 and Jan. 10, downtown San Francisco received 13.59 inches of rain, Napa 11.21 inches, and downtown Sacramento 9.58 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Oakland recorded 12.90 inches of rain during this period – it is the wettest 16-day period in the city’s history and represents 69% of their annual average during this period.
Atmospheric rivers will continue to impact California well into next week, according to the Storm Prediction Center. Here’s what to expect:
- Thursday: Heavy rain will be confined along the northern California coast and into Oregon and Washington through Thursday evening, with a slight chance of excessive precipitation in effect for northwestern California.
- Friday: The atmospheric river will likely move eastward, hitting northern California and the central California coast on Friday. Winter storm watches will begin to take effect throughout the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
- Saturday: A second system will set in on Saturday and the precipitation will spread south and begin to impact the entire state. Threats of excessive precipitation are likely to be issued for central California. Heavy snowfall could lead to dangerous mountain travel conditions Friday and Saturday at elevations above 5,000 feet and in the passes of northern and central California.
- Sunday: Moisture will move to the western inland states, specifically bringing drought relief to the Four Corners region. The west coast will continue to see precipitation and mountain snow.
- Monday: Another wave of humidity will impact Southern California and bring more moisture to the Four Corners, which will last through Tuesday. Meanwhile, Northern California will experience a hiatus.
- Tuesday: A new wave of humidity will begin to impact the Pacific Northwest and northern California, which will continue through Wednesday. Central and Southern California could see a break.
While none of the upcoming storms are individually expected to have as severe an impact as the most recent ones, the cumulative effect could be significant in a state where much of the ground is already too saturated to absorb more rain and streets are still flooded. previous storms.
“With saturated conditions already in place, limited flooding impacts are expected in northern and central California through next week,” the storm prediction center said.
Recent storms, dropping snow since late December, brought more than 10 feet of snow to parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, according to the National Weather Service.
While the snow could be treacherous and shut down major roads, it could benefit the drought-stricken state’s water supply.
Snow accumulation in the Sierra Nevada represents 30% of California’s freshwater supply in an average year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
Current snowpack in the Sierra is 184 to 269 percent of normal at this point in the season, according to the agency.
Still, it’s important to remember that “these storms did not end the drought,” the California Department of Water Resources said.
“Storage at the main reservoirs remains below average and conditions could turn dry again this winter, offsetting recent rains and snow,” state water officials said. “State of California reservoir storage is currently only 82% of average for this time of year. Lake Oroville storage is 88% of average for this date and the largest State tank, Shasta, is only 70% of average for the date.