A flood watch covers nearly all of California amid severe storms


Nearly 26 million people in California were under a flood watch on Saturday, mostly between San Francisco and Los Angeles, as more rain and storms moved through the state, bringing more flooding, mudslides and traffic jams to areas exhausted by the bad time in recent weeks.

New emergency evacuations were ordered in some low-lying parts of Santa Cruz County, which was particularly hard hit by the rain waves. On Saturday, the Rio del Mar Esplanade along Seacliff State Beach flooded and more rain is expected, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.

Meanwhile, authorities urged the public to prepare for the next storm. The National Weather Service reported flooding, wind and high surf advices warning people across the state, from Sonoma to Tahoe to San Diego, of expected treacherous conditions Sunday.

In recent days, at least 5,800 people have been evacuated from their homes in a seven-county region, including Monterey County. Other parts of the state, including Sacramento County, were told to prepare to evacuate as the rain continued.

Although less rain fell Saturday than in recent days, that was little comfort to those in a state that has seen an estimated 24 trillion gallons of water released by multiple weather patterns known as atmospheric rivers since December. Blamed the storms for at least 19 deaths.

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State officials are urging residents to be cautious during the ongoing storms, which have caused destruction and widespread flooding for weeks. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” emergency manager Nancy Ward said during a press conference.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-D., asked the public to prepare for a ninth atmospheric river that is expected to hit Sunday night, moving into Monday. He added that erosion and damage to trees will continue even after the rains stop.

“Challenges may present themselves quite acutely over the next few days. Especially because everything is saturated, especially because the fields are congested,” Newsome said. “What may seem less significant in terms of rainfall may actually be more significant on the ground in terms of impact on land and flooding and debris flow.”

Newsom said he expects President Biden to sign a major disaster declaration for the state, which would unlock federal funding and other aid.

Late Saturday, Biden issued a disaster declaration for Merced, Sacramento and Santa Cruz counties.

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Newsom spoke to reporters during a visit to an emergency shelter in Merced, a city in California’s San Joaquin Valley that suffered record flooding from a local stream. Displaced families stayed on cots.

The California Highway Patrol asked people in the worst affected areas to avoid driving due to flooding, road closures and downed power lines.

Saturday’s storms dumped 1 to 3 inches of rain on the lowlands of Central and Northern California. In the highest parts of the Sierra Nevada, the rain changed to several feet of snow.

Heavy snowfall in the nearby mountains halted travelers headed to Lake Tahoe for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Interstate 80, a major access route to the ski slopes, was partially closed Saturday morning “due to multiple detours,” Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, said in a statement. The agency shared photos in near-whiteout conditions near Donner Peak, a mountain pass at just over 7,000 feet in the northern Sierra Nevada near the California-Nevada border.

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Three to six feet of snow is expected in the higher elevations of the Sierra by Monday, according to Saturday afternoon update from the National Weather Service.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass (D) declared a state of emergency on Friday as the storms hit the nation’s second-most populous city. About 0.5 to 1 inch is expected in Southern California from this second storm, with a little more in the mountains and hills.

Although the rain is easing, residents of the state will likely have to contend with the continued threat of mudslides due to saturated soil, officials said.

Mudslides closed a highway in Alameda County on Saturday. Amtrak warned for service delays from mudslides near its tracks in Contra Costa County.

Before this weekend, more than 14-1/2 inches of rain had fallen in San Francisco since Dec. 20, more than four times the average, officials said.

California is forecast to see less rain on Sunday, with the next storm arriving in the Bay Area around 10 p.m. But this next system will bring heavy rain to Central California that will continue into Monday or Tuesday.

“Precipitation totals are expected between 0.5-1.5 inches for the lower elevations of the region and 1-3 inches for the higher elevations,” the National Weather Service office serving the Bay Area wrote.

The system will continue to affect other states inland. The National Weather Service predicts heavy snow Monday through Tuesday will stretch from parts of southeastern Idaho to Arizona and over parts of the Central and South The Rocky Mountains.

Although some rain may continue into midweek, mainly in Northern California, much drier weather is expected in most areas – welcome weather after three weeks of storms.

Robert Klemko and Matthew Cappucci contributed to this report.

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