After a powerful New Year’s storm triggered landslides, power outages and road closures across California, residents coped with the aftermath Sunday as forecasters warned of even more rain in the coming days.
Strong wind and downpour left tens of thousands of Northern California homes without power for much of Sunday, while floodwaters from the Cosumnes River near Sacramento reached record levels and wreaked havoc, breaching three levees and flooding the zone.
Flash flooding on Highway 99 and other highways south of Sacramento submerged dozens of cars near Wilton, where floodwaters breached levees. Search-and-rescue teams on boats and helicopters rushed to pick up the trapped motorists.
“I don’t want to use the term apocalyptic, but it was ugly,” Sacramento County spokesman Matt Robinson said by phone from a stretch of Highway 99 that he described as looking like a huge lake. “We have a lot of cars stuck.”
Downed power lines and trees crashing into homes created more problems, said Capt. Parker Wilbourn of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.
“It was a very busy night,” he said.
The county warned Sunday afternoon that floodwaters were rising around the 5 Freeway near the southern edge of suburban Sacramento.
Late in the afternoon, as the waters of the Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers rose, authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for the community of Point Pleasant, south of Elk Grove.
“Please get out of the area and off the roads while it is still light to reasonably see any danger,” Sacramento authorities wrote in a message on Twitter. “Take the ‘5 P’ with you: People, Pets, Medicines, Documents and Photos”.
An evacuation center was set up at Wackford Center on Bruceville Road in Elk Grove. “Flooding in the area is imminent,” authorities warned. “Flood waters become incredibly dangerous after sunset.”
Some sunny skies offered much of the state a respite Sunday from downpours, but another atmospheric river cut through the western Pacific and was poised to drench California in the coming days.
Northern California took the brunt of the weekend. Oakland experienced its wettest day since 1970 on Saturday, with 4.75 inches of rain. A mudslide east of Oakland blocked part of the 580 Freeway.
In San Francisco, 5.46 inches of rain fell, making Saturday the city’s second-wettest day in more than 170 years, the National Weather Service reported.
The 101 Freeway in south San Francisco was closed by flooding just as New Year’s Eve revelers were coming out to celebrate, but it reopened a few hours before midnight.
In the northern California city of Davis, many residents were still without power after winds uprooted trees the night before. Residents awoke to windswept blue skies, streets blocked by fallen branches, and Christmas reindeer and inflatable Santas strewn about like toys thrown by a giant.
In much of the area, power was still off, with no indication from PG&E when it might be back on. Some residents flooded into the small town center looking for a hot cup of coffee, a hot meal or a place to charge their phones. However, most of the businesses were closed due to lack of electricity.
The few lucky enough to have power were full of people talking about when the power would come back on and what to do until it did.
“We’re here because we can’t open the fridge,” said Nancy Gibbs, 67, who was with her family at Burgers and Brew, a restaurant next to the city’s Central Park. She said that she and her family had just finished dinner the night before when the power went out.
While California’s drought is far from over, the rains that shut down 2022 have allowed at least some of the state’s major reservoirs to exceed their historical average water supply.
Water releases from the Folsom and Nimbus dams prompted state parks officials to warn of safety risks at Lake Natoma, as rapidly rising water levels create dangerously strong currents.
The weekend storm benefited ski resorts. Mammoth Mountain and Lake Tahoe ski resorts recorded up to 42 inches of new snow.
In Los Angeles, where it rained heavily on New Year’s Eve, forecasters expect rain again Monday afternoon or evening, followed by a strong Pacific storm with torrential rain and high winds late Wednesday and Thursday.
In the 48 hours before the rain stopped before dawn Sunday, 1.1 inches fell in downtown Los Angeles and 5.7 inches in the San Gabriel Mountains.
It was a relatively warm storm, so the snow level was mostly around 7,000 feet, with 3 inches falling on Mt. Baldy, said David Sweet, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Oxnard.
A weaker storm will drop up to an inch of rain in the Los Angeles area Monday night and Tuesday, he said, and then a much stronger one – another atmospheric river – is expected late Wednesday and Thursday.
“This is an extremely powerful system,” Sweet said.
Between 2.5 and 5 inches of rain is expected in the lower areas, and between 5 and 7 inches in the mountains below the snow line, around 6,000 feet, he said.
The storm could also bring winds of 50 to 70 mph, with gusts especially strong north of Los Angeles.
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