California state emergency officials are positioning crews across several counties to brace for more damaging floods as another atmospheric river is set to slam storm-fatigued California Tuesday, threatening to whip up hurricane force winds and deluge the state with more rain and snow.
“Now’s the time to make sure you and your family are prepared,” California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services tweeted Monday. “Gather supplies for a go-bag, prep for a power outage and if told by officials to evacuate, don’t wait!”
In southern California’s San Bernardino County, residents in the mountains were asked to limit travel as much as possible and maintain at least a two-week supply of food, water, medication and fuel ahead of the rapidly strengthening storm’s arrival.
Swift-water rescue teams, hand crews and bulldozers are stationed in counties throughout the state.
“This is going to be yet another challenging event – probably not an extreme storm individually by historical standards – but once again, another significant event that, on top of everything that has come before, it’s going to cause some major problems,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said in a video.
The state has already seen at least 11 atmospheric rivers this winter season that ravaged communities, displaced residents and prompted emergency declarations as floodwater inundated neighborhoods, swelled rivers, damaged roads and sent mud and rocks sliding down hills.
This new, colder storm system will swing toward the central California coast with potentially damaging wind gusts, heavy rain and heavy mountain snow, the National Weather Service said. But the heaviest impact will likely be felt in southern California.
Around 1 to 3 inches of rain could fall across the lower elevations and 2 to 4 inches across the foothills of southern California through Thursday. The Weather Prediction Center raised the flood threat to a moderate level Monday for areas of Southern California, where more than 15 million people are included in the category in coastal areas from Los Angeles to San Diego.
Soils are still overly saturated with water from last week’s storms, setting the stage for more flooding and rapid runoffs.
The powerful storm could also lash Southern California with maximum wind gusts near 75 mph, adding the dangers of fallen trees and powerlines to the mix of hazards Californians are facing this week. More the 25 million people are under alerts for strong winds from California into Nevada and Arizona.
In the Sierra Nevada and Southern California mountains, as much as 3 to 4 feet of snow could be piled on top of already buried communities, likely straining infrastructure and making travel difficult, the weather service said.
Already, thousands have been evacuated from two small central California towns, Alpaugh and Allensworth, in Tulare County, where there have been multiple breaches in waterways and repair efforts were “unsuccessful with the amount of water,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said.
“That water completely encompassed and circled the communities of Alpaugh and Allensworth,” Boudreaux said. Officials worried roads could become impassable and isolate residents, and deputies went door-to-door before dawn Monday asking people to flee.
But as officials in Tulare County focus on saving lives, they say they know the storms have had a devastating impact on farms in the area.
“What we are seeing is devastating impacts to our agricultural community and farmland,” Boudreaux said.
So far, seven structures were destroyed and more than 680 were damaged by floods in Tulare County, according to Cal Fire.
Crews prepare for mudslides and mountain snow
Amid fears over mud and debris flows from the El Dorado and Apple fire burn scars in San Bernardino County, an evacuation warning was issued for the communities of Oak Glen, Forest Falls, Mountain Home Village, Angelus Oaks and Northeast Yucaipa.
With more rain on the way, protecting people near vulnerable wildfire burn scar areas is among the top concerns for crews readying for the storm – especially in a state where hundreds of thousands of acres burn in wildfires each year.
Scorched soil can’t absorb rain at a normal rate, making it unstable, explained Yucaipa Fire Chief Grant Malinowski, who is part of the operations group keeping watch over the El Dorado burn scar.
The fear is that mud and debris could slide down, make roads impassable, damage homes and strand people, Malinowski told CNN.
Firefighters across the state have been stationed around burn scars each time an atmospheric river menacingly takes aim at the state – and they’ve been doing it a lot this winter season.
“It’s kind of like almost like fire season right now,” Malinowski said, describing thousands of firefighters and crew members from Cal Fire and the National Guard throughout the state responding to recent storms.
But unlike with wildfires, residents could have less time to get away from mudslides.
“It’s not like a fire where they can see the fire building and getting closer. This is instantaneous. It just happens and It’s too late for you to react to it,” Malinowski said.
And preforming rescues in mudslides is no easy task – so it’s important for residents to follow evacuation orders if they’re issued, Malinowski said.
“We don’t take it lightly. There’s a lot of focused effort that goes into calling those so we understand the gravity of asking people to voluntarily leave their homes, but it’s also weighed with the ability for us to rescue people, knowing that it’s going to be a very difficult – if not impossible – task to get through just tons of tons of dirt and debris where we just literally can’t make access,” Malinowski said.
Up in the mountains, the concern was the heavy snow stranding people.
“The storm is expected to peak on Tuesday and Wednesday and dump as much as three feet of additional snow on mountain communities that were hit with as much of 10 feet of snow during storms in late February and early this month,” San Bernardino County officials said.
The county said it is activating public works employees for 24-hour snow plowing and storm patrol, having County Flood Control District crews active on split shifts during the storm and adding additional sheriff deputies to routine patrols for the next two weeks.