California weather: Another atmospheric river hits the state with heavy rains, swollen rivers

More than 9,000 California residents were under evacuation orders on Friday as a new atmospheric river it brought heavy rain, storms and high winds, swollen rivers and creeks and flooding of several major highways during the morning commute.

In Santa Cruz County, a rain-swollen creek destroyed part of Main Street in Soquel, a city of 10,000 people, cutting off several neighborhoods.

Crews were working to remove trees and other debris and find a way for people to cross the creek, county officials said.

County authorities have asked city residents to stay at home. Heather Wingfield, a teacher who runs a small urban farm with her husband in Soquel, said she and her neighbors were, for the time being, trapped in their homes as Bates Creek rushed down what was once Main Street .

“It’s horrible,” he said. “I hope no one has a medical emergency.”

Wingfield said her neighbors’ water infrastructure was also washed out, but her family’s well kept them with running water. She said the flooding so far has had no impact on her farm, where neighborhood families harvest pumpkins, squash and sunflowers every summer.

Wingfield said living near Soquel Creek meant being aware that there could be flooding, but “I never imagined it could wash out a culvert.”

A washed-out road in Santa Cruz as an atmospheric river hits California on March 10, 2023.

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Evacuations were ordered in nearby Watsonville, where creek water overflowed and filled streets with several feet of water, threatening dozens of homes with flooding. In one house, chickens in a backyard coop are hung on a bar near the roof to avoid water.

In some lower-elevation counties in Northern California, torrential rain fell on top of snowdrifts.

“It’s already stressing the buildings, and then when you start putting rainwater on top, especially heavy rains, that makes the threat even worse,” El County Fire Protection District Chief Dorado, Tim Cordero, told CBS News on Friday in Camino, a small. city ‚Äč‚Äčabout 50 miles east of Sacramento.

The roof of a building directly across from the firehouse had been completely blown away by the snow.

On Thursday, a security camera captured footage of the roof of Ruth’s Dolls and Memories, a Camino doll museum, completely collapsing. The owner, Marlene Ruth, was not there at the time, but told CBS News that she had been building her collection since 1972.

“This is just stuff,” Ruth said. “It’s just stuff. It’s not my life. But it would have killed me.”

Meanwhile, Folsom Dam in Sacramento County was releasing 30,000 cubic feet of water every second Friday to prevent flooding.

In Central California, the Tule River burst its banks and flooded many homes. Videos posted on social media showed a handful of homes and cars under a few feet of water and at least one street washed away in the town of Springville by the rushing river.

Several public parks, including Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, were closed to visitors due to the ongoing heavy rain.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, flooding blocked portions of several major highways, including Interstate 580 in Oakland, disrupting travel. And Peet’s Coffee, a chain based in California, said that after a severe storm, an investigation is underway to determine the cause of a roof collapse that killed a worker at a distribution center leased by the company in Oakland.

A truck drives through a flooded road after an atmospheric river storm system in Hayward, California, on March 10, 2023.

Reuters/Nathan Frandino

The storm marked the state’s 10th atmospheric river of the winter, storms that brought huge amounts of rain and snow to the state and helped to alleviate drought conditions that have dragged on for three years. State reservoirs that had dropped to shockingly low levels are now well above average for this time of year, prompting state officials to release water from dams to help with flood control and make room for even more. rain

State transportation officials said Friday that they cleared so much snow from the roads in February that it would be enough to fill the iconic Rose Bowl 100 times.

Democratic governor Gavin Newsom has declared emergencies in 34 counties in recent weeks, and the Biden administration. approved a presidential declaration of disaster for some on Friday morning, a move that will bring more federal assistance to the state.

Emergency officials warned people to stay off the roads if they can and to pay close attention to flood warnings.

The atmospheric river, known as the “Pineapple Express” because it carried warm subtropical moisture across the Pacific from near Hawaii, was melting the lower parts of the huge snowpack built up in the California mountains. Snow levels in the Sierra Nevada, which provide about a third of the state’s water supply, are more than 180% of the April 1 average, when it is historically at its peak.

California could see major flooding, forecast shows

The high-altitude snowpack is so massive it was expected to absorb rain, but snow below 4,000 feet could begin to melt, potentially contributing to flooding, forecasters said.

In some lower-elevation towns, torrential rain fell on snow-covered rooftops, CBS News correspondent Carter Evans reports.

“It’s already stressed the buildings,” El Dorado County Fire Chief Tim Cordero said. “And then when you start putting rainwater on top, especially heavy rains, that just compounds the threat even more.”

Lake Oroville – one of the most important reservoirs in the state and home to the tallest dam in the nation – has so much water that officials on Friday plan to open the dam’s spillways for the first time since April 2019. The reservoir’s water has risen 180 feet since then. December 1. Of the state’s 17 major reservoirs, seven are still below their historical average this year.

Despite record rainfall in January, Newsom worried it would stop raining and asked state water regulators to temporarily suspend some environmental rules to allow the state to draw more water from rivers and streams to store for longer. late But it has rained so much since then that Thursday regulators reversed their previous order to allow more water to stay in the rivers.

Forecasters warned that travel to the mountains could be difficult to impossible during the latest storm. At higher elevations, the storm was expected to dump heavy snow, up to 8 feet over several days.

However, another atmospheric river is already in the forecast for the beginning of next week. State climatologist Michael Anderson said a third appeared to be taking shape over the Pacific and possibly a fourth.

California appeared to be “well on its way to a fourth year of drought” before the first round of winter storms, Anderson said. “We are in a very different condition now,” he added.

So much snow has fallen in the Sierra and other mountain ranges that residents are still struggling to dig out days after the earlier storms.

On the north coast, Humboldt County authorities organized an emergency response to feed hungry cattle torn by the snow.

Cal Fire and US Coast Guard helicopters began hauling hay bales to cattle in remote mountain camps last weekend, and then the California National Guard was called in to expand the effort.

“We’ve had unprecedented weather the last two weeks and we’ve received several reports of cattle dying because ranchers can’t get to their cows because of impassable roads,” said Sheriff William Honsal. “These cattle are an economic engine, they are hungry and they are gone now. So all these things need some drastic measures.”

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