Another atmospheric river is creeping into storm-ravaged California, pummeling communities with more rain, prompting fresh evacuation alerts and putting rescue teams on notice as residents work to recover from last week’s flooding storm.
More than 30 million people across the state were under flood alerts as the West’s 11th atmospheric river of the season pushed into Northern California and aimed Tuesday toward central and Southern California, battering ground saturated by the last round of rain and overflowing rivers.
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 – falling as fast as 1 inch per hour – in some places, with melting snowpack due to worsen flooding.
And after this system, another atmospheric river is forecast next week, the National Weather Service said. From severe flooding to long droughts, water-related disasters have gotten more intense in the last two decades as global temperatures climbed to record levels, new research shows.
Now, evacuation alerts are in place across California, including in Monterey County, where residents along the Salinas River were ordered to flee. Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties issued evacuation warnings Monday night ahead of the atmospheric river’s arrival in the south, with Santa Barbara officials saying the warnings will become orders in the morning.
“The forthcoming rainstorms cause concerns of localized flooding impacts to 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.
Facing the latest storms’ one-two punch, over 600 Californians have taken refuge in 32 shelters across 13 counties, and California National Guard troops have been helping with swift-water rescues. Roads across the state are closed, and a key river levee has been breached.
“We weren’t expecting it to be as bad as we’re seeing it,” Monterey Mayor Tyller Williamson told CNN Monday.
Forty of the state’s 58 counties are under a state of emergency declaration ordered by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and crews positioned across the state are bracing for more overflowing rivers, floods, mudslides and impassable roads.
The storm is predicted to be much more significant than originally thought, Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse said.
“We will wait to see how the intensity plays out before authorizing any evacuations,” Rowse said in an email. “We feel prepared, but will maintain a high level of vigilance.”
The “high-impact” atmospheric river was expected to hit Southern California on Tuesday afternoon before beginning to taper off Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service, which warns another round of major and life-threatening flooding is likely along much of the California coast, central Valley and Sierra foothills.
As California is hammered with rain, another major winter storm is walloping the Northeast, where widespread heavy snowfall is likely from the northeast Pennsylvania and far northwest New Jersey area, through much of New York state and New England.
As intense rain wallops California, creeks and streams may rise out of their banks and fuel extensive street flooding, the National Weather Service warns.
“Lingering impacts from last week`s flooding is likely to get worse with this second storm,” the weather service said in a forecast message.
Parts of Monterey County, including Salinas, could get 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 leaders said.
The Salinas River “is looking at breaching one of the major highways that folks use to get to the peninsula and so we’re just concerned in regards to the highway 68,” Williamson said.
The storm also placed greater urgency on repairing a levee in Monterey County that was breached around midnight Friday by the swollen Pajaro River, forcing thousands to evacuate as water rushed into and flooded the nearby Pajaro community.
“It was 120 feet when the levee initially broke, and now it’s expanded to 300 feet,” Williamson said of the breach, calling it “a significant issue.”
Crews are racing to shore up the breach with a temporary rock and sand wall to slow the flow of water into Pajaro. “A permanent fix will be undertaken once this crisis has passed,” Monterey County officials said.
“The situation is dynamic and evolving,” said Flood Division Manager Jeremy Arrich, as construction crews work to stabilize the levee and engineers focus on short- and long-term fixes. The flood division is reaching out to other levee managers throughout the region to ensure safety and stability in preparation for the incoming rain.
With this new wave of storms pummeling areas already buried by heavy snowfall from the past two weeks, the melting snowpack will play a role in prolonging flooding over the upcoming days, forecasters have warned.
Snowmelt at elevations below 5,000 feet could particularly worsen the flooding 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 the particularly deep snowpack in the Sierra Nevada along with heavy snow, measuring in feet above the 7500 feet, will further compound ongoing snow load impacts and issues,” the National Weather Service said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the rain will fully melt away the snowpack.
During the last storm, the deep snowpack mostly absorbed more water than it melted, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said.
“There is more snow water in the southern and possibly central Sierra than there has ever been at this time of year and possibly at any point during the year especially in the southern Sierra,” Swain said. “So there is a whole hell of a lot of water up there right now stored in the snowpack.”