Energy & Environment

Atmospheric river forces evacuations, leaves 2 dead in California

A car is surrounded by floodwaters in Watsonville, Calif., Friday, March 10, 2023. More than 9,000 California residents were under evacuation orders Friday as a new atmospheric river brought heavy rain, thunderstorms and strong winds, swelling rivers and creeks and flooding several major highways during the morning commute.(AP Photo/Nic Coury)

Storms stemming from an atmospheric river have forced thousands of evacuations and killed at least two people in California, state officials said Friday. 

Nancy Ward, the director of the California Office of Emergency Services, said at a press conference that 9,400 people were under evacuation orders, while 54,000 people had lost power and the coroner’s office had confirmed two storm-related deaths so far. 

The National Weather Service (NWS) forecast that onshore flow, when air moves from over the sea to over land, will produce coastal rain and snow at high elevations in California through Monday. Heavy rain and melting snow will continue “widespread” flooding at elevations under 5,000 feet along the state’s central coast, San Joaquin Valley and southern Sierra Nevada foothills through early Saturday. 

The NWS said the rain at lower elevations and snow at higher elevations will shift toward the northern half of California, northwest Nevada and Oregon through Monday, though the intensity will be somewhat less. 

The agency issued a slight risk of excessive rainfall over these parts of California that is active through Sunday morning. It said flash flooding will remain mostly localized, and urban areas, roads, small streams and burn scars will be the most vulnerable. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) requested a state of emergency declaration from the White House for 34 counties for assistance with the storms, which President Biden granted Thursday. 

The emergency declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts. 

The storms are being brought by an atmospheric river, a relatively long, narrow region in the atmosphere carrying a massive amount of water vapor. Atmospheric rivers often release the water vapor as rain or snow when they make landfall. 

California has been battered with storms recently that have brought record-low temperatures and ice and snowfall. The state has received so much precipitation recently that nearly half of it has been brought out of its ongoing drought. 

But the storms have caused tens of thousands to lose power and stranded some in their homes as they did not have time to shovel themselves out of the snow that came. 

In the most recent storms, one person died and another was injured after a warehouse roof partially collapsed in Oakland on Friday likely as a result of the weather, CNN reported

Almost 35,000 people remained without power as of Saturday morning, according to the power outage-tracking website Most of the outages, almost 19,000, were in Monterey County in central California. 

The NWS said heavy rain will continue over Northern California on Monday, causing the agency to issue a slight risk of excessive rainfall in these areas from Sunday to Monday morning. The rain is expected to create localized areas of flash flooding.

Tags atmospheric river California storms evacuations Gavin Newsom Joe Biden National Weather Service

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