Still reeling from storms that inundated neighborhoods, forced rescues and damaged roads, storm-battered California is bracing for another atmospheric river that threatens even more flooding Monday.
More than 17 million people remained under flood watches across California and Nevada early Monday morning as the storm made its menacing approach – the 11th atmospheric river to hit the West this winter season.
The new storm, arriving on the heels of another atmospheric river, could exacerbate the flooding and damage in some areas. Already, those in the central and northern parts of California are crowding into shelters and contending with flooded neighborhoods, mudslides, dangerous rushing rivers, collapsed bridges and unusable roads.
At least two people have died as a result of the storms, officials said.
This atmospheric river event will first bring rain and snow to much of Oregon and Washington before sinking south into California Monday. Rainfall totals up to 8 inches are possible across parts of northern and central California.
The approaching atmospheric river is already complicating efforts to repair a levee breach that happened around midnight Friday on the swollen Pajaro River in Monterey County, one of the hardest hit areas in the state.
Water rushed uncontrollably through the more than 120-foot break and into nearby Pajaro, forcing thousands to flee as crews performed high-water rescues in the flooded area.
There have already been close to 200 rescues due to flooding in the area, Monterey Sheriff Tina Nieto said.
Many Pajaro residents are farm workers who may not only lose property, but also the ability to earn a living for some time if the continued flooding impacts agriculture, said Luis Alejo, chair of the Monterey County board of supervisors.
“These are the folks who can least afford this type of hardship,” he said.
With more rain on the way, Monterey County officials are now looking into expanding evacuation orders around the Pajaro River, where more than 5,000 residents already have been impacted by evacuation warnings and orders.
More than 480 people are at 30 shelters across 12 counties, the majority in hard-hit Santa Cruz County, just north of the Monterey area, according to a Sunday update from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
President Joe Biden has approved a state of emergency declaration requested by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The move frees funds for the millions of residents who have been hit with severe weather since the beginning of the year.
Newsom on Sunday expanded the declaration to include six additional counties, including Calaveras, Del Norte, Glenn, Kings, San Benito and San Joaquin.
Images from throughout the state show neighborhoods that look like lakes from the severe rainfall that pummeled California over the past few days and sent rivers and creeks overflowing.
The Salinas River is already rising as it moves through the Salinas Valley and Monterey County officials warn it will feel the impacts of our next atmospheric river storm event.”
California Highway Patrol used a helicopter to help rescue someone who was trapped in the Salinas River in King City, the agency said in a Facebook post.
“The rising river washed a driver and his car away but the driver was able to escape the vehicle and get to an island in the middle of the flooded Salinas River,” the post said.
Similar rescues have played out throughout the state, with California National Guard troops also responding with highwater vehicles to help people stuck in floodwaters.
In parts of Kern County – where several evacuation orders remain – the flooding was so bad that one resident described seeing a shed, a hot tub, and several full-size trees with their root balls floating down the Kern River in Kernville.
“The river is now surrounding some RVs and mobile homes. It’s really unbelievable,” said Danny Housh, who has been working in Kernville for 17 years and said he’s never seen anything like this before.
To the north, as Friday’s heavy rains pummeled Santa Cruz County, about 700 residents in Soquel got trapped after a pipe failure collapsed the only road linking the community to the rest of the region, said Steve Wiesner, the county’s assistant public works director.
“We are now an island,” resident Molly Watson told CNN.
Another hard hit area was Tulare County, where video from Springville showed devastating damage after Friday’s severe flooding.
“It’s quite heartbreaking,” Hatti Shepard told CNN. “Many hard-working people displaced with losses of home and possessions.”
The recent atmospheric rivers are the latest to inundate the state after a barrage of similar storms in December and January also resulted in deadly flooding and widespread damage.
Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow bands of moisture that can carry saturated air thousands of miles like a fire hose.
This new wave of storms is bearing down on areas already buried by heavy snowfall from the past two weeks. Melting snowpack will also play a role in prolonging flooding over the upcoming days, forecasters say.
Despite uncertainty on the timing of this system, forecasters know it’ll bring yet another round of heavy precipitation, as well as heavy snowfall for the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada.
The National Weather Service’s prediction center issued a Level 3 out of 4 risk for excessive rain across northern California on Monday and across portions of the central California coast and Sierra Nevada on Tuesday.
The rain is expected to start intensifying late Monday and the heavy rainfall, combined with the snowmelt, is forecast to fuel more flooding from Tuesday into Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
The National Weather Service warned of “considerable flooding impacts” below 5000-foot elevations across large portions of central California into Tuesday.
“In addition, heavy rain and snowmelt may lead to renewed (more widespread) flooding from Monday to Tuesday, particularly in low elevations and shallow and warming snowpack areas,” the National Weather Service said.
Creeks and streams, already overflowing, are expected to continue to be vulnerable to flooding from additional rain and snowmelt.
In Southern California, peak rain rates of up to an inch per hour are expected over the mountains and foothills.
The weather service office in Los Angeles said residents could expect shallow mud and debris flows in recent burn areas, downed trees and powerlines and travel delays due to flooded road and mudslides.