California hit by widespread flooding, power outages amid back-to-back storms

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The second consecutive atmospheric river hit California on Sunday, flooding roads, knocking out power to more than 845,000 people and triggering a rare warning of hurricane-force winds as the state braced for what could be days of heavy rain.

Atmospheric rivers are river-like storms in the sky that dump huge amounts of rain and can cause flooding, trigger mudslides, and result in loss of life and enormous property damage.

Sunday’s storm flooded streets and brought down trees and power lines throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, where winds topped 60 mph in some areas. Gusts exceeding 128 km/h were recorded in the mountains.

Just south, in San Jose, California, emergency crews pulled occupants from the windows of a car stuck in floodwaters and rescued people from a homeless encampment along a river in flood.

In Southern California, authorities warned of potentially devastating flooding and ordered the evacuation of canyons that burned in recent wildfires and are at high risk of mudslides and debris. The U.S. National Weather Service office in Los Angeles warned that “all systems are operational for one of the most dramatic weather days in recent memory.”

People with umbrellas watch a storm quickly cause a body of water to sink.
People stand on the banks of the Los Angeles River on Sunday as it carries stormwater downstream. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

Nearly 846,000 customers were without power across the state as of Sunday evening, with most outages concentrated in coastal regions, according to poweroutage.us.

Six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area were at low risk of waterspouts coming ashore and developing into tornadoes, the Storm Prediction Center said. The last time the center forecast a tornado risk in the area was February 2015, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The winds caused delays of several hours at San Francisco International Airport. As of 2:30 p.m. Sunday, 155 departing flights were delayed and 69 had been canceled, according to tracking site FlightAware.

Much of the state has dried out from the system that exploded last week, causing flooding and welcome dumping of snow in the mountains. The latest storm, also called the “Pineapple Express” because its plume of moisture extends across the Pacific to near Hawaii, arrived off the coast of Northern California on Saturday, while most of the The state was under some sort of wind, wave or flood watch.

Fallen trees and power lines block a road.
Fallen trees and power lines block a road in Pebble Beach, California, on Sunday. (Ryan Sun/Associated Press)

The weather service issued a rare “hurricane force wind warning” for the Central Coast on Sunday, with wind gusts up to 90 mph from the Monterey Peninsula to the northern part of San Luis Obispo County.

Meanwhile, Southern California was at risk of significant flooding starting Sunday evening because of the slow-moving system, said Ryan Kittell, a meteorologist with the Los Angeles Area Weather Service office.

“The core of the low pressure system is very deep, it’s moving very slowly and it’s very close to us. And that’s why we have these very strong winds. And its slow-moving nature really gives us the highest precipitation totals and the risk of flooding,” he said during a press briefing on Sunday.

Workers clear a tree that has fallen on a house.
Workers clean up a tree that fell on a San Jose home Sunday. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)

Evacuation orders and warnings were in effect for mountain and canyon areas of Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsay Horvath urged residents near the Topanga and Soledad canyon burn zones to heed orders to get out ahead of possible mudslides. The county set up shelters where evacuees could spend the night.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties on Sunday. The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services activated its operations center and positioned personnel and equipment in the highest risk areas.

The storm was expected to move along the coast and bring heavy rain, possible flash flooding and mountain snow to the Los Angeles area Sunday evening, before hitting Orange and San Diego counties Monday .

The weather service predicts up to 8 inches of precipitation in coastal areas and valleys of Southern California, with 14 inches possible in the foothills and mountains. Heavy to moderate rain is expected in Southern California through Tuesday.

Paramedics load a person on a stretcher into an ambulance as a fallen tree lies on the ground.
Paramedics assist a person who was struck by a fallen palm tree in San Francisco on Sunday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

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