Second atmospheric river in days blows into California, knocking out power and flooding roads

LOS ANGELES — The second of consecutive atmospheric rivers ravaged California on Sunday, flooding roads and knocking out power to more than 355,000 people. This prompted a rare warning of hurricane force winds as the state braced for what could be days of heavy rain.

The storm flooded streets and downed trees and power lines in the San Francisco Bay Area, where winds reached 60 miles per hour in some areas. Wind gusts of more than 128 km per hour were recorded in the mountains.

In Southern California, officials warned of potentially devastating flooding and ordered evacuations for canyons burned in recent wildfires that are at high risk of mud and debris flows.

Customers called the Santa Barbara Home Improvement Center with questions about sandbags, flashlights and generators, said assistant manager Lupita Vital. Sandbags sold out Saturday, so people bought bags of potting soil and fertilizer instead, she said.

“People are trying to get anything that’s heavy to use as protection for their doors and stuff,” Vital said Sunday.

“This storm is forecast to be one of the largest and most significant in our county’s history, and our goal is to get through it without fatalities or serious injuries,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Saturday to reporters. Classes were canceled Monday for schools across the province, which was devastated by mudslides caused by powerful storms in 2018.

Strong winds and heavy rain made for treacherous conditions in the coastal city of Ventura, west of Los Angeles, said Alexis Herrera, who tried to save his sedan, which was filled with floodwaters. “All the highways here are flooded,” Herrera said in Spanish. “I don’t know how to move my car.”

Nearly 356,000 customers were without electricity statewide, with most outages concentrated in coastal areas, according to

Six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area were at little risk of waterspouts making landfall and becoming tornadoes, the Storm Prediction Center said. The last time the center predicted a tornado risk in the region was in February 2015, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Winds caused hours of delays at San Francisco International Airport. As of 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, 155 departing flights had been delayed and 69 canceled, according to tracking website FlightAware.

Palisades Tahoe, a ski area about 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, said it expected the heaviest snowfall yet this season, with accumulations of 6 inches per hour for a total of as much as 2 feet. centimeters). Heavy snow was expected across the Sierra Nevada until Monday and motorists were urged to avoid mountain roads.

Much of the state was drying out from the system that blew in last week, causing flooding and dumping welcome snow on the mountains. The latest storm, dubbed a “Pineapple Express” because its plume of moisture extends across the Pacific Ocean to near Hawaii, arrived off the coast of Northern California on Saturday as most of the state was under some sort of wind, surf or flood watch.

The weather service issued a rare “hurricane force wind warning” for the Central Coast on Sunday, with gusts up to 90 miles per hour possible from the Monterey Peninsula to northern San Luis Obispo County.

Rain forced organizers to postpone the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in Monterey County until Monday.

Meanwhile, Southern California was at risk of significant flooding that started late Sunday because of the system’s sluggishness, said Ryan Kittell, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Los Angeles office.

“The core of the low-pressure system is very deep, it moves very slowly and it is very close to us. And that’s why we have those very strong winds. And its slow nature actually gives us the highest rainfall totals and flood risk,” he said at a Sunday briefing.

Evacuation orders and warnings were in effect for the mountain and canyon areas of Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. LA County Supervisor Lindsay Horvath urged residents near wildfire-burned areas of the Topanga and Soledad canyons to follow orders to avoid possible mudslides.

“If you have not already left, please gather your family, your pets and your medications and leave immediately,” Horvath said during a Sunday briefing. The province set up shelters where evacuees could spend the night.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Sunday for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services activated its operations center and placed personnel and equipment in areas most at risk.

The storm was expected to move along the coast, bringing heavy rain, possible flash flooding and mountain snow to the Los Angeles area late Sunday before hitting Orange and San Diego counties on Monday.

“This is a dangerous system with significant risks to life and property,” the weather service’s LA office said. “Residents must follow any evacuation orders. Stay off the roads, especially highways, this afternoon through Monday morning.”

Organizers of the Grammy Awards in downtown Los Angeles hoped the show would end on Sunday night before the heaviest rain arrived.

On Sunday afternoon, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, said it planned to open schools as usual on Monday. The decision would be reevaluated at 6 a.m. Monday, Chief Inspector Alberto Carvalho said.

The weather service predicts up to 8 inches of precipitation in the coastal and valley areas of Southern California, with 14 inches possible in the foothills and mountains. Heavy to moderate rain is expected in Southern California through Tuesday.


Associated Press radio reporter Julie Walker contributed from New York.