Powerful storm and mudflow batters Southern California

Published on : Monday, October 25, 2021

A powerful storm barrelled toward Southern California after flooding highways, toppling trees and causing mudflows in areas burned bare by recent fires across the northern part of the state.

The torrential showers and strong winds accompanied the weekend’s arrival of an atmospheric river — a long and wide plume of moisture pulled in from the Pacific Ocean. The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office warned of “potentially historic rain.”

The flooding was reported across the San Francisco Bay Area, closing streets in Berkeley, inundating Oakland’s Bay Bridge toll plaza and overflowing rivers in Napa and Sonoma counties. Power poles were downed and tens of thousands of people in the North Bay were without electricity.

Mount Tamalpais just north of San Francisco had recorded a half foot (15 centimeters) of rainfall during the previous 12 hours, the weather service said.

The same storm system also slammed Oregon and Washington state, causing power outages affecting tens of thousands of people. Two people were killed when a tree fell on a vehicle in the greater Seattle area. Eastside Fire & Rescue responded to the scene of the fatalities near Preston, Washington, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Seattle.

In California’s Colusa and Yolo counties, state highways 16 and 20 were shut for several miles due to mudslides, the state Department of Transportation said.

Burn areas remain a concern, as land devoid of vegetation can’t soak up heavy rainfall as quickly, increasing the likelihood of flash flooding.

South of San Francisco, evacuation orders were in effect in the Santa Cruz Mountains over concerns that several inches of rain could trigger debris flows in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burn scar when the storm moves through early Monday. Further south, parts of western Santa Barbara County saw evacuation warnings upgraded to orders in the area burned by this month’s Alisal Fire.

The strong winds were also expected, with gusts of up to 60 mph (97 kph) at the windiest spots in Northern California. Elevations above 9,000 feet (2,745 meters) in the Sierra Nevada could get 18 inches (46 centimeters) of snow or more from Sunday until Monday morning.

The recent storms have helped contain some of the nation’s largest wildfires this year. But it remains to be seen if the wet weather will make a dent in the drought that’s plaguing California and the western United States. California’s climate is hotter and drier now and that means the rain and snow that does fall is likely to evaporate or absorb into the soil.

The California’s 2021 water year, which ended September 30, was the second driest on record and last year’s was the fifth driest on record. Some of the state’s most important reservoirs are at record low levels.

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