Two Atmospheric Rivers Headed for California

The groundhog likely won’t see his shadow, at least not in California.

No matter where you are in California, big storms are headed your way over the next several days. Forecasters are warning of back-to-back atmospheric rivers that could lead to flooding, mudslides and road closures between today and Tuesday.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning today for Northern California coastal areas, including the Bay Area.  A flood watch is in effect for the Bay Area and Central Coast through Friday morning. The weather service forecast for San Jose features rain for at least the next two weeks.

“We could very well receive February’s total normal precipitation within the month’s first five days,” forecasters from the National Weather Service wrote on Monday.

California needs the rain to stave off drought. The state has gotten only about 81 percent of the total average rainfall expected by this time of year, and the snowpack is just 32 percent of average, according to state data.

Water levels at reservoirs are still above average for this time of year because of the bounty of rain we received last winter, but they are not nearly as high as they were a year ago.

The first storm reached the California coast Tuesday night, and it is expected to bring widespread rainfall and gusty winds to Northern California today before tapering off a bit and moving into Southern California tomorrow.

It will pack a greater punch in the north than in the south, forecasters said.

Parts of Marin, Sonoma and Napa Counties are expected to get two to four inches of rain, and the Santa Cruz and Santa Lucia Mountains may get six inches, according to Nicole Sarment, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Bay Area office. The North Coast is expected to get up to five inches of rain today and tomorrow.

Flooding is expected in low-lying areas because the soil is already saturated from earlier storms, experts say. Heavy winds may knock down trees and power lines.

Between late Wednesday and Thursday, the Sierra Nevada mountains are expected to get one to three feet of snow, which could force the closures of Interstate 80 and Highway 50.

“Mountain travel for that time frame is highly discouraged,” said Katrina Hand, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office.

The storm is predicted to be a moderate atmospheric river, and not anywhere near as severe as the series of storms last winter that led to widespread flooding and historic amounts of snow in the region.

The first of the two storms this week isn’t expected to do much damage in Southern California, said Mike Woffard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Oxnard. Rain will arrive in Los Angeles on Thursday morning, but forecasters aren’t “expecting really anything more than just typical rainy-day kind of stuff,” he told me.

But the second storm could be more intense. Forecasters with the Weather Prediction Center said it was “increasingly likely” that a strong weather system, possibly a “significant atmospheric river event,” would affect California late this weekend and early next week.

That storm, Woffard said, will probably yield four to eight inches of rain in the Santa Monica Mountains and San Gabriel Mountains, and is likely to cause flooding, mudslides and rockslides.

  • Track the atmospheric rivers hitting California.

Soumya Karlamangla is a reporter for California Today, The New  York Times. Copyright 2024, The New York Times.

One Comment

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