Another atmospheric river is making its way toward storm-battered California, where residents are still contending with flooded roadways, collapsed bridges, overflowing rivers, inundated neighborhoods and a levee breach that forced hundreds to evacuate.
The new storm is expected to hit the state Monday, bringing heavy rain, mountain snow and threatening even more flooding to northern and central California just as the first atmospheric river is winding down, according to the National Weather Service. Atmospheric rivers consist of long, narrow bands of moisture that carry warm air and water vapor from the tropics.
About 15 million people remain under flood watches in California and Nevada as the storm approached early Sunday.
More flooding could make for a dire situation in some neighborhoods, where torrential walls of rain in recent days turned streets into rivers and damaged roadways, stranding people and prompting numerous rescues. At least two people have died as a result of the storms, officials said.
Among the hardest hit areas is Monterey County, where the swollen Pajaro River breached a levee at around midnight Friday, sending water gushing uncontrollably into the nearby community of Pajaro and forcing residents to flee – the “worst case scenario” for the community, said Luis Alejo, chair of the Monterey County board of supervisors.
Some people weren’t able to evacuate before the floodwater arrived and crews were still out performing high-water rescues Saturday, Cal Fire Capt. Curtis Rhodes told CNN.
Many Pajaro residents are farm workers who may not only lose property, but also not be able to make a living for some time if the continued flooding impacts the agriculture, Alejo told CNN.
“These are the folks who can least afford this type of hardship,” Alejo said.
As residents crowd emergency shelters, efforts to stop the flooding from the breach are complicated by the approach of the second atmospheric river.
“This weekend is a very brief respite,” said David King with the National Weather Service. “The weather will turn, expected Monday night.”
While eyes were on the Pajaro River, the Salinas River to the south was also overflowing, prompting more evacuation orders in Monterey County. The rising river water had already flooded homes and businesses around the community of San Ardo.
Emergency crews have rescued more than 90 people in Monterey County, according to Sheriff Tina Nieto. “We even rescued a man floating down one of the areas in a tube with his pet on top of him,” she added.
To the north, as Friday’s heavy rains pummeled Santa Cruz County, about 700 residents in Soquel got trapped after a pipe failure led to severe flooding and the collapse of the one road linking the community to the rest of the region, according to Steve Wiesner, the county’s assistant public works director. Residents will remain isolated until a new crossing can be created – which could take days, Wiesner said.
“We are now an island,” resident Molly Watson told CNN.
Another hard hit area was Tulare County, where evacuation orders were expanded to include the community of Teviston as well as parts of Cutler and Exeter when river flow increased, the county sheriff’s office announced Friday night. Officials urged residents to stay clear of waterways and avoid all unnecessary travel.
Video from Springville in Tulare County 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 – which can carry moisture thousands of miles like a fire hose – are the latest to bedevil the state after an onslaught of similar storms in December and January also resulted in deadly flooding.
Compounding the impacts of the current storms, however, is the fact that the severe rainfall is now pummeling areas already buried by heavy snowfall from the past two weeks. Melting snowpack will play a role in prolonging flooding over the upcoming days, forecasters have said.
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.
Meanwhile, Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo expanded a state of emergency to include additional counties due to flooding associated with the same storm.
“As this severe weather continues to impact more residents across northern Nevada I again urge all Nevadans to stay safe, travel cautiously, and to follow all local guidance. State and federal partners will continue to monitor local damage and will work quickly to assess needed repairs across northern Nevada,” Lombardo said in a statement.