Southern California faces a “high risk” of heavy rain and flooding
Parts of Southwest California braced Sunday for heavy rain — possibly up to an inch per hour — that could lead to life-threatening flooding and “one of the most dramatic weather days in recent memory,” forecasters said.
The intensifying coastal storm surge will strengthen the atmospheric river that will flow warm tropical moisture into California. A rare forecast of life-threatening flooding, hurricane-force winds, water cannons, tornadoes and heavy snowfall has been issued across California Sunday into Monday.
“This major storm will bring several dangerous weather conditions to the area,” the National Weather Service in Los Angeles said Sunday morning.
The Weather Prediction Center issued a rare “high risk” forecast of heavy rain for an area including Santa Barbara, Ventura and Oxnard, saying eight inches or more of rain could fall within a 24-hour period.
Over the past decade, some of the deadliest and most destructive floods have occurred in areas that forecasters said were at that level of risk, a category they rarely use.
About half the time a major hazard is issued, there is at least one death or injury, and about two out of every three times, there is at least $1 million in damages, according to data from the Weather Prediction Center.
Saturday night, the National Weather Service said that “rainfall totals continue to look very impressive” — at least three to six inches across coastal areas and six to 12 inches in the foothills and mountains.
Rain has already started falling across California on Saturday evening. The storm was expected to intensify during the day, with near-constant rain falling over the next 48 hours as the storm system slows across Southern California.
The storm is also expected to bring heavy snow to the mountains and widespread gusty winds, Eric Schoening, an emergency response specialist with the National Weather Service, said during a news conference on Saturday.
“The most significant rainfall for this event is expected across the Central and South Coast, including the Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas,” Mr. Schoening said.
He added that these devastating floods will pose a threat to lives and property. He said the conditions were caused by an atmospheric river event.
The governor’s office said it was preparing for the storm with 21 rapid water rescue teams on standby and the California State Guard ready to deploy quickly if requested.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District announced Friday that all schools and the district office will be closed Monday due to the storm. Santa Barbara City College said on its website that its campus will have distance learning on Monday.
The National Weather Service has posted a high wind warning for parts of southwestern California from Saturday evening through Sunday evening at 10 p.m. local time.
Winds were expected to range from 30 to 45 mph, with damaging gusts up to 65 mph. Forecasters predicted it could take down trees and utility lines, leading to power outages.
Winds may become stronger in the mountains and coastal waters. A rare hurricane force warning has been issued for some coastal waters along California’s central coast, where winds could reach hurricane force, 74 mph or higher.
For many Californians, the days when officials stood at the edge of nearly empty reservoirs pleading with residents to save water or let their lawns die may now seem like a lifetime ago.
But as 2022 draws to a close, meteorologists are beginning to predict that storms driven by atmospheric rivers will bring heavy rain and snow, finally providing a respite from the drought that has plagued the state since 2020.
In the months since, Californians have seen the other side of the oscillation between weather extremes — fluctuations that have become wider as climate change has made droughts hotter and rain cycles more intense.
Last year’s winter and spring were so inconsistent and deadly that when a hurricane appeared to be on track to hit Southern California in August, officials issued dire warnings.
What became Tropical Storm Hillary caused less catastrophic damage than expected. But now, as another atmospheric river flows toward California, forecasters and officials are urging residents to take the warnings seriously.
Jill Cowan, Judson Jones And John Keefe Contributed to reports.