Heavy winds pummeled the Sacramento region late Saturday night, toppling trees and knocking out power for more than 300,000 customers, as California braced for yet another series of storms this week that could bring additional flooding, more outages and tree damage, as well as dangerous mudslides and mountain snow.
Wind speeds topped out at nearly 70 miles per hour on Saturday night and early Sunday morning in the Sacramento area. At least one person was killed, a homeless woman struck by a falling tree, the Sacramento Fire Department said.
By Sunday evening, about 62,000 customers remained without power. A spokesperson with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District said that the company had dozens of crews on the ground working but that extensive damage from the storm meant that some customers would be without power through the night.
Parker Wilbourn, fire captain with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, said they were responding with an “all hands on deck” approach. Saturday night’s storm was particularly devastating, he said, coming on the heels of the rain, outages and flooding the city has already suffered.
The storm followed a week of downpours across California that caused widespread flooding and felled countless trees. Six people were killed, including a toddler struck by a tree that crashed into his home in Sonoma County.
“Each one of these storms really just compounds on the previous storm,” Mr. Wilbourn said. The worry now, he said, is what happens when more rain hits in the coming days. “Our soils are already saturated. So it would just take, you know, a couple more inches of rain and we could potentially see another catastrophic event.”
The state is being hit by a family of atmospheric rivers—huge plumes of water vapor in the sky—in rapid succession. The most potent is expected to arrive Monday through Tuesday, renewing concerns from meteorologists of widespread damage.
“The West Coast remains under the target of a relentless parade of cyclones that form and intensify over the Pacific Ocean while moving directly toward the North American continent,” forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center said on Sunday morning.
Heavy snow and rain fell in Northern and Central California over Saturday night but began to clear in many places by Sunday.
In San Francisco, the sun shone amid scattered clouds in the morning, and residents took advantage of the third weather there. More than 50 volunteers gathered at Manny’s, a café and civic gathering space in the heart of the city’s Mission District, for a disco-themed trash pickup. Music blared in the café as volunteers of all ages, clad in glimmering orange construction vests and disco ball necklaces, gathered gloves and gear before fanning out on the surrounding blocks.
Though a group gathers every Sunday to help beautify the neighborhood, the organization did extra outreach to get more volunteers for storm clean-up. “Everyone was extra pumped up today to hit the ground running and gather after everyone’s been alone in their house during the rainstorms,” said Rosamand Carr, a 26-year-old financial analyst who attended the clean-up.
Even so, she is readying herself for the next batch of storms. “I have my puzzles, I have my book,” she said. She has filled up several water bottles with water, and has candles and flashlights on hand if she loses power. “Other than that, we’re mentally preparing to hunker down inside,” she said.
A day earlier, Elijah Kaplan, a 29-year-old video editor who lives in the Presidio neighborhood, was resigned to waiting longer to make major repairs on his apartment, which sits beneath a hill and where water has continued seeping into the walls each day. He has taken to strapping on hiking boots and wading through knee-deep mud to dig a trench to redirect water away from his home, but he knows that more storms are coming.
“It’s been a huge pain and disruption to all of our lives, but we also acknowledge that we’ve been living through a drought,” Mr Kaplan said. “Even this torrental amount of rain is still just a drop in the bucket for what California needs.”
On Monday morning, what some forecasters in the Los Angeles weather office are calling the “main show” begins. A potent atmospheric river will begin in the northern part of the state on Monday before moving south through the day and into Tuesday.
According to the Weather Prediction Center, many areas could see an amount of precipitation that occurs only once every five or 10 years.
Rain totals could reach two to four inches over most areas and could be more than eight inches along the coast and coastal ranges and along the western slope of the Sierra.
“The longevity and intensity of rain, combined with the cumulative effect of successive heavy rain events dating back to the end of December, will lead to widespread and potentially significant flood impacts,” the Weather Prediction Center said Sunday morning.
The forecasters said to expect minor to isolated major river flooding, with potentially record river levels.
Forecasters also expected damaging winds of up to 60 mph Monday through Tuesday, which could lead to more widespread power outages across the region. Thunderstorms could include a brief tornado along or near parts of the central California coast.
In a news conference on Sunday afternoon, Gov. Gavin Newsom emphasized the danger this storm presented. “These floods are deadly, and have now turned to be more deadly than even the wildfires here in the state of California,” he said.
He and other officials said that the state had set up resources to deal with the coming rain and flooding including rescue helicopters, deep water vehicles and temporary shelters.
In higher regions of the Sierra, the threat involved extreme snow that could exceed five feet. “The heavy snow loads will increase the threat of avalanches and damage to infrastructures,” the Weather Prediction Center forecasters said.
Across the Sierra, the winter storm severity index is at its highest level, meaning travel is not advised and extensive and widespread road closures and disruptions to infrastructure may occur.
This storm system will be warmer than some of the previous ones. The snowfall will start at 5,000 feet but will rise above 6,500 to 8,000 feet throughout the day, meaning that areas with fresh snow will see rain, allowing it to melt and increasing the amount of water entering creeks and rivers. The rising snow levels raised concerns of flooding, the Sacramento National Weather Service office said.
This storm system should begin to wane on Tuesday. On Wednesday, another system will begin, though it is expected to be weaker than the previous one. Any precipitation, however, will fall on a region susceptible to additional rainfall and could exacerbate swollen rivers and creeks.
There may be a brief break before another atmospheric river forecast for the weekend, which would bring more heavy rainfall and threats of flooding.
Forecasters in the San Francisco Bay Area office of the National Weather Service say that there is a 60 percent to 80 percent chance that the weather-than-normal pattern will continue for the next couple of weeks.