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A New Atmospheric River Threatens California With More Flooding

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A CalTrans vehicle drives through floodwaters that closed a portion of Highway 1 on Sunday. (Shmuel Thaler/The Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP)
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Wet, miserable weather continued across huge swaths of California on Sunday as an atmospheric river that caused major flooding flowed eastward, while a new storm threatened another onslaught of rain, snow and gusting winds as soon as Monday.

The National Weather Service said the next system could exacerbate severe flooding that overwhelmed and prompted evacuations in some areas in recent days.

“A brief break in widespread precipitation will end today, with another atmospheric river moving into the area today through Wednesday,” forecasters at the NWS Hanford office posted online early Monday morning.

“This continued precipitation will exacerbate high flows that rivers and streams are already experiencing, and will create additional flooding concerns for areas along these rivers and streams and in low lying areas,” forecasters said.

Monday’s incoming rain and snow is expected to extend from Central California to Oregon and northern Nevada. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph are expected in some places and could damage power lines and snap tree branches.

But the new storm is moving fast, meaning it won’t have time to dump as much rain.

Over the past two days, more than 20 inches of snow fell at a measuring station in the Sierra Nevada, and more is expected. The snowpack is now nearly twice the average, and the highest in about four decades, according to UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab.

The snowpack stores much-needed water for a state seeking to emerge from a three-year drought.

As much as a foot of rain fell in the Big Sur area of the state over a two-day period, weather data.

Across Monterey County, more than 8,500 people were evacuated Saturday, including roughly 1,700 residents — many of them Latino farmworkers — from the unincorporated community of Pajaro.

“We are still in disaster response mode,” said Monterey County spokesman Nicholas Pasculli on Sunday. He said the county is staging high water rescue teams around the county and opening more shelters in anticipation of more flooding.

Parts of Highway 1 Closed

Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, is closed at several points along Big Sur as well as near Pajaro due to flooding.

The atmospheric river, known as a “Pineapple Express” because it brought warm subtropical moisture across the Pacific from near Hawaii, was melting lower parts of the huge snowpack in California’s mountains.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared emergencies in 34 counties in recent weeks, and the Biden administration approved a presidential disaster declaration for some on Friday morning. President Joe Biden spoke with Newsom on Saturday to pledge federal support for California’s emergency response, the White House said.

This week’s storm marked the state’s 10th atmospheric river of the winter, storms that have brought enormous amounts of rain and snow to the state and helped lessen drought conditions. State reservoirs that had dipped to strikingly low levels are now well above the average for this time of year, prompting state officials to release water from dams to assist with flood control and make room for even more rain.

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