The second day of spring brought more harsh wintry weather to storm-weary California on Tuesday with excessive rain, heavy mountain snow and hurricane-force wind gusts expected.
Forecasters warned the storm, the 12th atmospheric river on the US west coast since December, would hit southern and central California the hardest. A vast stretch of the region, including most of the greater Los Angeles area, was under flood watches due to the extreme weather, which was expected to spread across the south-west and into the central Great Basin and Rockies by late Tuesday.
The National Weather Service warned conditions would lead to difficult driving conditions, power outages and downed trees. Flooding prompted officials in southern California to close portions of the Pacific Coast highway Tuesday morning.
The NWS issued an excessive-rainfall notice for much of the southern California coast while high-wind warnings and advisories were in effect from the Mexico border through Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay area. The high mountains, still blanketed in white from a storm heavy winter, could see as much as 5ft of snow.
The latest storm comes as California continues to grapple with the effects of an extreme winter, including widespread flooding and mountain towns buried in snow. The atmospheric river storms that have hit the state in recent months have dumped 30tn gallons of water across California, forcing entire towns to evacuate and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power.
In Tulare county, including the historic black town of Allensworth, thousands of people are still under evacuation orders due to flooding after a levee breach.
The rainfall has been beneficial for some of California’s aquifers. In some parts of the state, farmlands have been used to capture water and recharge groundwater. The state’s governor recently signed an executive order waiving permit requirements for groundwater recharge in some areas.
Tuesday’s storm was driven by a Pacific cyclone swirling around an intense low-pressure system, drawing up vast quantities of moisture and steering it at the coast, according to William Churchill, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center.
Unlike many of the earlier atmospheric rivers, the latest storm has a cooler load of moisture, meaning more of it will fall as snow in the higher coastal mountains and Sierra Nevada range. The weather service warned that the additional snowfall would heighten avalanche hazards in those areas.
The Sierra Nevada has already seen massive amounts of snow this season, which is the second snowiest in the 77 years of record-keeping at the Central Sierra Snow Lab with more than 56.4ft. The weather has made life in the region particularly challenging – schools have closed for days, roofs have collapsed under heavy snow and officials have closed a major highway in the region several times.
With the latest storm, forecasts called for howling winds across much of the state, and gusts expected to reach nearly 75 miles per hour in southern California’s mountains and deserts, and 55 miles per hour along coasts and through inland valleys.
Sustained winds blowing at or near gale force were predicted throughout the storm zone, Churchill said.
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