‘Atmospheric Rivers’ Will Continue to Plague CA, Threatening Epic Floods

Catastrophic flooding continues to wreak havoc in California, but all that water could benefit the state in the long run

Much of California will continue to be pummeled this week by heavy rain and snow as strong weather cycles make their way across the west coast. After one person was found dead during last weekend’s storm—which continues to cause catastrophic flooding in Northern California—forecasters are encouraging preparation as the new weather system settles in, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The most severe weather will continue to hit Northern California and the Sierras but Southern California will also see rain and falling temperatures. Parts of SoCal will see two to four inches, while a small sliver north of Los Angeles could be getting four to eight inches, with heavy rains presenting an immediate danger to area residents.

“There’s going to be a lot more activity in Northern California, North of L.A., when it comes to atmospheric river conditions,” Marty Ralph, a meteorologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego told LAMag. “Not that it won’t rain, it’ll still rain in L.A., it just won’t be as heavy.”

The National Weather Service issued a High Surf Advisory for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County beaches until 4:00am on Thursday. Waves as high as eight to 12 feet are expected along with dangerous rip currents. The Los Angeles County Health Officer issued a Cold Weather Alert for Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week for Lancaster, Thursday and Friday for Mount Wilson, and Saturday for Santa Clarita Valley.

“Children, the elderly, and people with disabilities or special medical needs are especially vulnerable during cold weather. Extra precaution should be taken to ensure they don’t get too cold when they are outside,” L.A. County Health Officer Muntu Davis said in the press release. “There are places where people can go to stay warm, such as shelters or other public facilities. We also want to remind people not to use stoves, barbecues or ovens to heat their homes due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

The intense weather is due to an “atmospheric river”—a long and narrow weather system carrying massive amounts of water vapor that are unleashed as rain and snow when they make landfall, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The incoming storms will hit California after what was a tragic new year for many areas in the state. Highway 99 near Sacramento saw devastating floods, causing a shelter-in-place order to be issued for Wilton due to an “imminent levee failure,” SFGate reported. Point Pleasant, Glanville Tract and Franklin Pond were told to evacuate.

The Bay Area was also hit with flooding and power outages, and is expected to see further rainfall come Wednesday.

“Tuesday, that’s kind of like your last day for basic preparation. Sandbagging, preparing for power outages,” meteorologist Ryan Walbrun told the Los Angeles Times. “I think we can use what we saw on New Year’s Eve as a baseline and expect similar impacts with this Wednesday, Thursday storm.”

Even in the greater Los Angeles area, flooding forced rescues over the weekend in Orange and San Bernardino counties, NBC Los Angeles reports. Three people were rescued in Lytle Creek and five in Tustin.

All that water, however, may present a hopeful reprieve in the long-run for a state that has been parched bone-dry by record-breaking droughts in recent years. Now, several of California’s reservoirs are near or above historic levels, with some seeing large increases over the past two months. The Cachuma Reservoir near Santa Barbara rose 26 percent since November, reaching 77 percent of its average level, while the Comanche Reservoir near Sacramento jumped 47 percent to 118 percent.

California’s snowpack is also well above average for this time of year, with the state as a whole hitting 174 percent across its three regions. Southern California is at 206 percent. A strong snowpack is vital for ensuring that California’s reservoirs and rivers will be well-fed, potentially easing the severe impacts of California’s drought come summer.

Andrew Schwartz, the lead scientist at the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, says the forecast is strong for next week but that it’s anyone’s guess whether the snowpack will continue to build for the rest of the season.

“Fortunately, for the foreseeable future, our storm cycle is continuing and hasn’t shut off like it did last January,” Schwartz told LAMag. “It looks like we’re in for another seven to ten days of some pretty significant snowfall—so far it’s looking like it’s going to be different from last year, which is super positive.”

In late December 2021, California saw the snowpack rise above normal but by the end of January, it had dropped significantly as further snowfall failed to materialize.

As far as the impact on California’s drought, Schwartz says it’s still too early to know.

“The most important measurement of the snowpack happens on April 1, with the snow surveys,” he explained. “That’s because by that point you’ve basically gotten the vast majority of your snowfall and those measurements correlate the best with what ends up in the reservoirs.”

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign for our newsletters today