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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Atmospheric river brings more rain and flooding to California

A flooded road in Goleta, Calif., Feb. 19, 2024. Parts of California were being pounded with another wave of rain on Monday, the latest storm to test the state, two weeks after a deadly deluge caused widespread power outages and destructive mudslides. (Mark Abramson/The New York Times)

By Sarah Mervosh, Vik Jolly and Orlando Mayorquin

Much of California was pounded by another wave of rain earlier this week in the latest storm to test the state after a deadly deluge caused widespread power outages and destructive mudslides two weeks ago.

An atmospheric river, a type of storm in which Pacific winds blow narrow, intense bands of moisture over the West Coast, brought heavy rain to Southern California in the morning and then severe thunderstorms and wind gusts to the Bay Area in the afternoon. A map of the state from the National Weather Service lit up with warnings forecasting flood, hail and possible tornadoes.

“It’s just a huge swath of moisture,” said Rich Thompson, a meteorologist with the weather service in Los Angeles.

Atmospheric rivers often cause California’s heaviest rain, snow and floods. Monday’s storm did not appear to be as damaging as the one earlier this month. But more rain is expected over the next few days, with flood watches in effect for millions of people, mostly in California, through Wednesday.

On Monday afternoon, as a storm moved into southwestern San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, forecasters warned of a possible “land spout” — a weak tornado likely caused by a waterspout reaching land. Around the same time, a line of thunderstorms swept over the northern Central Valley, with forecasters predicting hail and possible flooding.

Southern California bore the brunt of the storm early Monday. As much as 10 inches of rain had fallen in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, with the highest totals in the foothills of the mountains, according to the weather service. The airport in Santa Barbara shut down Monday and was to remain closed “until further notice” because of flooding on the airfield.

Thompson said there were many reports in the morning of “roadway flooding, some rocks and debris across roadways, road closures.”

“The soil is so saturated from the previous storm that this rain has nowhere to go,” he said.

Midmorning Monday, steady rain pelted Los Angeles, and the California Highway Patrol cleared vehicle crashes. Northwest of Los Angeles, at the beach in Ventura, a few hardy kite surfers braved the elements.

Flash flood warnings were in effect through Monday evening for the Santa Monica Mountains, Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills.

Farther north, the San Francisco Peninsula, which includes San Francisco, was expected to receive up to 2 1/2 inches of rain. Rainfall of 3 to 5 inches was expected in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and 3 to 6 inches along the Big Sur Coast.

Much of the Sacramento Valley was put under a wind advisory through Tuesday morning. A man who was camping near a creek in El Dorado Hills, east of Sacramento, was rescued from surging floodwaters early Monday, KCRA-TV reported.

Officials in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties issued evacuation warnings for certain vulnerable communities. On Monday morning, authorities in Santa Barbara found a woman’s body in Mission Creek. A Santa Barbara Police Department spokesperson, Sgt. Ethan Ragsdale, said it was too early to tell whether her death was related to the storm, but the police said no foul play was suspected.

Mission Creek can turn into a raging river during heavy rainfall; during the storm two weeks ago, the creek overflowed its banks, prompting some home evacuations.

Under a light drizzle Monday afternoon in Santa Barbara, Mark Maslan and his wife, Ann Cumming, walked by the swollen creek. They have lived in town since 1990 and near the creek for about two decades.

“We’re glad that the reservoirs are filling and it’s good for drought conditions, but I wonder about the resiliency of the infrastructure,” said Maslan, an English professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “This creek overflowed once and it seems like it’s becoming a regular threat.”

In Los Angeles, Mayor Karen Bass had implored residents over the weekend to prepare.

In the city’s hilly neighborhoods on Sunday, homeowners and workers prepared sandbags and laid plastic tarps over muddy hillsides that still bore the scars of the last storm.

Some residents, including Staci Broussard, 58, took care to reinforce their properties soon after the previous storm. Broussard’s home in Baldwin Hills Estates, a neighborhood overlooking South Los Angeles, was damaged by the previous atmospheric river to rip through the city.

The slope behind Broussard’s home crumbled, knocking down a portion of her backyard iron fence, bringing mud and vegetation down the hill from her neighbor’s home on a hill above.

Broussard and her neighbor staked down tarps over the hillside to prevent more mud from sliding down.

“As you can see, we have tarps all over because this is happening all over this neighborhood, unfortunately,” Broussard said Sunday.

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