Flooding, heavy snowfall hit California during atmospheric storms
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — Evacuations were ordered Friday in Northern California after a new atmospheric river brought heavy rain, thunderstorms and high winds, swelled rivers and creeks and flooded several major highways during the morning drive.
In Santa Cruz County, a rain-blown creek destroyed part of Main Street in Soquel, a city of 10,000, isolating several neighborhoods. Crews were working to remove trees and other debris and find a way for people to cross the creek. city officials said.
The provincial government asked the residents of the city to stay indoors. In the Southeast, in Watsonville, officials ordered people in low-lying areas to evacuate.
Heather Wingfield, a teacher who runs a small urban farm with her husband in Soquel, said she and her neighbors were trapped in their homes for the time being as Bates Creek raced down what was once Main Street.
“It’s horrible,” she said. “Hopefully no one has a medical emergency.”
Wingfield said her neighbors’ water infrastructure was also washed away, but her family’s well would keep them from running water. She said the floods have so far not affected their farm, where families in the area pick pumpkins, pumpkins and sunflowers every summer.
Wingfield said living near Soquel Creek means being aware there could be flooding, but “never did I think it would wash away a culvert.”
In the San Francisco Bay Area, flooding blocked sections of several major highways, including Interstate 580 in Oakland, disrupting travel.
As the storm approached, Governor Gavin Newsom declared emergencies in 21 counties in addition to previous declarations for 13 counties. He requested a presidential emergency declaration to approve federal aid.
Known as a “Pineapple Express” because it brought warm subtropical moisture across the Pacific from near Hawaii, the atmospheric river melted lower portions of the massive snow pack built into California’s mountains by nine atmospheric rivers. early winter and later storms fueled by a gust of arctic air.
The high-altitude snow pack is so massive that it was expected to absorb the rain, but slush was expected at elevations below 4,000 feet (1,219 meters), forecasters said.
The California Department of Water Resources has also activated the flood operations center.
Flood control water releases were underway or planned for some reservoirs that had been depleted during three years of drought and have filled with the extraordinary rains and snowfalls of winter.
Release was expected to begin late Friday morning from the state’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, which collects water from the Feather River in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada in the northern Sacramento Valley.
The lake level has risen about 178 feet since Dec. 1. The outflow is intended to ensure that there is room for heavy runoff.
Ted Craddock, deputy director of the State Water Project, expressed confidence Thursday in the 1960s Oroville Dam, where thousands of people had to evacuate in 2017 after heavy runoff collapsed the main spillway and began to erode the spillway.
“The spillway has been reconstructed to modern standards and we are confident that it will be able to pass the streams entering Lake Oroville,” he said.
Forecasters warned that mountain travel could be difficult to impossible during the latest storm. At high altitudes, the storm was predicted to dump heavy snow, up to eight feet, over several days.
The snowpack of California’s Sierra Nevada, which supplies about one-third of the state’s water supply, is more than 180% of the April 1 average, when it is historically at its peak.
Yet another atmospheric river is already in the forecast for early next week. State climatologist Michael Anderson said a third appeared to be forming over the Pacific and possibly a fourth.
California appeared “well on track for a fourth year of drought” before the early winter storms, Anderson said. “We’re in a very different state now,” he said.
So much snow has fallen in the Sierra and other mountain ranges that residents are still struggling to clear snow days after previous storms.
In the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, a storm reached blizzard status in late February. Roofs collapsed, cars were buried and roads were blocked.
This week, firefighters and paramedics began delivering prescription drugs to residents who are still unable to leave their homes, said Fire Chief Steve Concialdi, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Emergency Department.
On the far north coast, Humboldt County authorities staged an emergency response to feed starving cattle stranded by snow.
Cal Fire and U.S. Coast Guard helicopters began dropping hay bales for cattle in remote mountain fields over the weekend, which is when the California National Guard was called in to expand the effort.
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed.