‘Atmospheric River’ Drops Heavy Rain, Snow Across California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A powerful storm ushered in the new year in California on Saturday, with much of the state witnessing torrential rain or heavy snow that snarled traffic and closed highways.

In the high Sierra Nevada, up to 0.6 meters of snow could accumulate from Saturday into early Sunday. The National Weather Service in Sacramento warned of hazardous driving conditions and posted photos on Twitter showing traffic on snowy mountain passes where vehicles were required to have chains or four-wheel drive.

The so-called atmospheric river storm pulled a long and large plume of moisture from the Pacific Ocean, and flooding and rockslides caused by the storm closed parts of roads in northern California.

The California Highway Patrol said a section of US 101 – one of the state’s main thoroughfares – was closed indefinitely south of San Francisco due to flooding. Videos on Twitter showed muddy water flowing down the streets of San Francisco, and a staircase in Oakland turned into a real waterfall due to heavy rain.

Weather Service meteorologist Courtney Carpenter said the storm could drop more than an inch of rain Saturday in the Sacramento area before moving south. A ski resort south of Lake Tahoe closed lifts due to flooding and operational problems and posted a photo on Twitter showing a lift tower and its empty chairs surrounded by water.

“We’re seeing a lot of flooding,” Carpenter said.

The Stockton Police Department released photos of a flooded railroad underpass and a car that appeared to be stuck in more than a foot (30 centimeters) of water.

The rain was welcome in drought-parched California, but much more rainfall is needed to make a significant difference. The past three years have been California’s driest on record.

A winter storm warning was in effect Sunday for the upper Sierra elevations from south of Yosemite National Park to north of Lake Tahoe, where up to 1.5 meters of mountaintop snow is possible, according to the National Weather Service. he said in Reno, Nevada.

A flood watch was in effect for much of Northern California until New Year’s Eve. Officials warned that rivers and streams could overflow and urged residents to pack sandbags.

Some rainfall totals in the San Francisco Bay Area exceeded 4 inches (10 cm).

The state transportation agency reported several road closures, including the 70 Freeway east of Chico, which was partially closed due to a landslide, and the northbound side of the 49 Freeway, east of Sacramento, which was closed due to flooding. In El Dorado County, east of Sacramento, a section of the 50 Freeway was closed due to flooding.

Humboldt County, where a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck on Dec. 20, also saw roads flood, according to the National Weather Service’s Eureka office. A bridge that was temporarily closed last week due to earthquake damage may be closed again if the Heli River, which it crosses, rises too high, officials said.

It was the first of several storms expected to hit California next week. The current system is expected to be warmer and wetter, while next week’s storms will be colder, reducing snowpack in the mountains, said Hannah Chandler-Cooley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

The Sacramento area could receive a total of 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 centimeters) of rain during the week, Chandler-Cooley said.

“Strong winds could damage trees and lead to power outages, and high waves in Lake Tahoe could capsize small boats,” the weather service in Reno said.

Avalanche warnings were issued for the backcountry around Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes south of Yosemite.

On the eastern front of the Sierra, flood watches and warnings continue through the weekend north and south of Reno, Nevada, where minor to moderate flooding was expected along some rivers and streams through the weekend.

In Southern California, moderate to heavy rain fell on Saturday. The area will begin to dry out in the New Year, and the January 2nd Rose Parade in Pasadena should avoid the rain.

Another round of heavy rain was forecast for Tuesday or Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Oxnard said.

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