California braces for massive flooding from atmospheric river storm

California braces for massive flooding from atmospheric river storm

California is facing a major flood threat as a powerful storm system, fueled by an atmospheric river, is expected to unleash heavy rain and snow across the state. The storm could bring up to 10 inches of rain to some areas, along with strong winds and possible thunderstorms.

The National Weather Service has issued flash flood watches and warnings for parts of Northern and Central California, as well as coastal and mountain regions. The storm could also cause mudslides, debris flows, and power outages, especially in areas burned by recent wildfires.

A satellite image of the storm system that's closing in on the West Coast, which CIRA noted Saturday was "packed with lightning" as it moved over the Pacific. Photo: CIRA

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The storm is driven by an atmospheric river, which is a long and narrow band of moisture that transports water vapor from the tropics to higher latitudes. Atmospheric rivers can produce intense precipitation and are responsible for most of the West Coast’s annual rainfall.

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However, they can also cause extreme weather events and flooding when they are too strong or last too long. According to the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, this storm is classified as a category 4 or 5 atmospheric river, meaning it has the potential to create major or exceptional impacts.

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The storm is expected to peak on Tuesday and Wednesday, before moving eastward by Thursday. The rain and snow will provide some relief to the state’s drought conditions, but also pose significant risks to life and property.

Residents are advised to prepare for possible evacuations, avoid driving through flooded roads, and stay alert for changing weather conditions. The storm is also likely to affect travel and transportation, as several roads and bridges may be closed or damaged.

The California Department of Transportation has urged drivers to check road conditions before traveling and to carry chains and emergency supplies if necessary.

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