Enjoy the clear skies and fresh powder in the mountains while you can Californians, because another “atmospheric river” is on the way next week, with additional storms lined up behind it.
Following more than a week of heavy rain and snow that flooded rural towns and roads, cut off mountain passes and ski resorts and contributed to at least four deaths, forecasters say there’s no sign that the momentum for the state’s wettest year in recent memory is slowing.
“Atmospheric rivers happen every year. And for whatever reason, they have been missing California for the last several years,” said Tom Dang, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento. “And they are just aimed at us one right after another this year.”
Communities are only beginning to recover from the most current series of storms, but another atmospheric river — a warm weather pattern that dumps lots of rain but snow only at the highest elevations — is expected by Wednesday.
“Taking any kind of action to be prepared is better than taking no action and just thinking about it,” said Brad Alexander, spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services. “If people were impacted by these last storms … they need to quickly get their emergency plans together. This last one is proof that you need to have one right in front of you.”
At least 20 towns, cities and counties have declared states of emergency as a result of the most recent set of storms, Alexander said. Some communities in the northern Sierra Nevada were left without power for more than a day after tree branches weighed down by snow snapped and took out power lines with them.
Rural residents in the Napa and Sacramento valleys were flooded out of their homes when heavy rain and snowmelt overwhelmed local rivers.
Major highways that were damaged by rock- and mudslides or flooded may be eligible for federal aid, Alexander said. State officials are going door to door to assess the damage but will have their work slowed by next week’s storms.
“It would be like one major fire series happening right after another major fire series,” Alexander said.
But with the biggest storm in a decade under their belt, Californians may be better prepared for what’s in store next week, forecasters and public safety officials say.
The massive bed of snow across the Sierra Nevada — which was at 163% of its historical average Friday with nearly 20 feet of snow accumulated at Mammoth Mountain — will act like a sponge for the upcoming rain, limiting the runoff that flooded foothill and valley communities this week.
The atmospheric river could bring as much rain as this most recent storm but is moving at a faster clip, said Shane Snyder, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Reno. Another storm is lined up behind it, but it’s too early to tell how big or cold it will be.
California’s water year — which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 — started off remarkably, with four times October’s average rainfall, according to the Department of Water Resources. Though November lagged behind, storms in the last two months have helped the northern half of the state bounce back from years of drought.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s report released Thursday, more than 40% of California is out of drought conditions, all of it in the northern half of the state. Southern California’s conditions have also improved, but it would take at least another year of above-average rainfall to replenish reservoirs and groundwater basins, officials said.
Southern California could receive up to 2 inches of rain with next week’s storms, forecasters say.