Another atmospheric river sweeps through storm-ravaged California, fueling more evacuation warnings and flooding concerns


Another atmospheric river is creeping into storm-ravaged California, pounding communities with even more rain and prompting new evacuation warnings as Residents are still working to recover from the storm that flooded neighborhoods just last week.

More than 30 million people across the state were under flood warnings as the West’s 11th atmospheric river of the season rushed into northern California and headed toward central and southern California on Tuesday, pounding ground already saturated with water from the latest round of rain and swollen rivers overflowing their banks .

The storm comes on the heels of another deadly atmospheric river – a long, narrow band of moisture that can carry saturated air thousands of miles like a fire hose. This round could bring up to 8 inches of rain in some areas, with rainfall falling as fast as 1 inch per hour.

Evacuation notices are scattered across several counties, including Monterey County where residents along the Salinas River were ordered to evacuate. Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties issued evacuation warnings Monday night ahead of the atmospheric river’s arrival south, with Santa Barbara officials saying the warnings would become orders in the morning.

“The upcoming storms raise concerns about localized flooding impacts on already damaged infrastructure and increased potential for debris flows and mudslides,” the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management said in an email to CNN.

Already, over 600 Californians have taken shelter in 32 shelters in 13 counties and California National Guard troops are assisting with rapid water rescues from flooded roads. Many roads across the state are closed and a river dam has been breached.

“We didn’t expect it to be as bad as we’re seeing it,” Monterey Mayor Tyler Williamson told CNN on Monday.

Forty of the state’s 58 counties are now under a state of emergency ordered by California Governor Gavin Newsom, and crews across the state are preparing for more overflowing rivers, flooding, mudslides and impassable roads.

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rose says the storm is now predicted to be much more significant than first thought.

“We will wait to see how the tension develops before authorizing any evacuations,” Rose said in an email. “We feel prepared, but we will maintain a high level of vigilance.”

The “high impact” atmospheric river was expected to hit southern california on tuesday afternoon before beginning to recede during wednesday, according to the national weather service, which is warning that another round of major and life-threatening flooding is possible along much of the coast of California, the Central Valley and the Sierra foothills.

Meanwhile, as California gets hammered by rain, another major winter storm is bearing down on the Northeast, where widespread heavy snowfall is possible from northeastern Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey, through much of New York state and New England .

As heavy rains pound California, the National Weather Service is warning that creeks and streams could burst their banks and fuel widespread street flooding.

“Lingering effects from last week’s flooding are likely to worsen with this second storm,” the National Weather Service said in a forecast message.

Parts of Monterey County — including Salinas — could be cut off by flooding on the Salinas River, officials said. Those at risk “can and should seek shelter” with family or friends or at one of the county’s evacuation shelters, county officials said.

The Salinas River is “looking to breach one of the major highways that people use to get to the peninsula and so we’re just concerned about Highway 68,” Williamson said.

The storm also added more urgency to repairing a levee in Monterey County that was breached around midnight Friday by the swollen Pajaro River, forcing thousands to evacuate as water rushed and flooded the nearby community of Pajaro.

“It was 120 feet when the dam originally broke and now it’s extended to 300 feet,” Williamson said of the breach, calling it “a major issue.”

Crews are scrambling to shore up the breach with a temporary wall of rock and sand to slow the flow of water into the Pajaro. “A permanent fix will be made once this crisis has passed,” Monterey County officials said.

“The situation is dynamic and evolving,” said Flood Division Director Jeremy Arrich, as construction crews work to stabilize the levee and engineers focus on short- and long-term fixes. The flood department is proactively reaching out to other levee managers across the region to ensure safety and stability in preparation for the coming rain.

The recent atmospheric rivers are just the latest to flood California after an onslaught of similar storms in December and January also led to deadly flooding – and it’s not stopping here.

After this latest atmospheric river sweeps California by Wednesday, the state will have only a few days of relief from heavy rainfall before another atmospheric river arrives next week, according to the National Weather Service.

Snow melt water from mountains burned in the 2021 French Fire on March 12, 2023 near Wofford Heights, California.

With this new wave of storms hitting areas already buried by heavy snowfall over the past two weeks, forecasters have warned that melting snow will play a role in prolonging flooding in the coming days.

Melting snow at elevations below 5,000 feet could make flooding especially worse in the Sierra, where accumulations of 3 to 5 feet are likely above 7,500 feet, the National Weather Service said.

“Heavy rain absorbed into particularly deep snow in the Sierra Nevada along with heavy snow above 7,500 feet will further exacerbate ongoing impacts and snow load problems,” the National Weather Service said.

This does not necessarily mean that the rain will completely melt the snow.

During the last storm, the deep snow mostly absorbed more water than it melted, said UCLA scientist Daniel Swain.

“There is more snow water in the southern and possibly central Sierra than there has ever been this time of year and probably at any point in the year, especially in the southern Sierra. So there’s a whole hell of a lot of water up there right now stored in the snow,” Swain said.

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