The first atmospheric river storm that hit this week foreshadowed a bigger storm that’s taking aim on California, with the potential for 24 to 36 hours of nonstop rain in coastal areas and blizzards piling up snow in the Sierra.
The second and larger storm — termed an “atmospheric river” because it’s a band of moisture fueled by the tropical Pacific — is forecast to dump 1.5 to 2 inches of rain in the Fresno area, 2 to 3 inches of rain in the Merced and west Valley areas, 4 to 6 inches of rain in the Sierra foothills, and as much as 5 to 6 feet of new snow to higher elevations in the Sierra, according to the National Weather Service in Hanford.
The storm is forecast to arrive Saturday night and depart Monday.
National Weather Service meteorologist Bill South said the Sierra foothills and lower elevation Sierra, with higher rainfall totals, could be subject to flash flooding, mudslides, and rockslides, “especially Sunday afternoon or Sunday night.”
If ever there was a weekend to stay home and hunker down, it’s this one, South said.
“That’s always the safest bet,” he said.
A stronger atmospheric river will come through our area beginning Sunday, bringing heavier rain and snow to our area. The majority of this precipitation is expected to fall from Sunday through Monday. Here are the forecasted totals for this period. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/Qcjni4ZxPi
— NWS Hanford (@NWSHanford) February 2, 2024
The storm is expected to hammer the entire state and includes excessive rainfall along the Central Coast and stretching south to Santa Barbara County starting Saturday night.
Here are the projected rainfall totals for the next storm. These are very high amounts. Life threatening and damage flooding is possible. Heavy snow accumulations for the higher mountain communities (above 6,000 feet) is possible. There is still time to prepare. #cawx #larain pic.twitter.com/Y2B8DUjq4a
— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) February 2, 2024
Snow, Wind Gusts Impact Travel in South Valley, Sierra
Snow could affect travel on the Grapevine on Interstate 5 and also the Tehachapi area on Highway 58. NWS Hanford is predicting extreme winter weather in the central Sierra above 5,000 feet and warning against all but emergency travel.
Snow and rain aren’t the only potential hazards — travelers will need to prepare for strong wind gusts that could top 65 mph along the I-5 corridor through the Grapevine and 45 mph along the Coastal Range and in the San Joaquin Valley throughout Sunday, NWS says.
San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego have been particularly hard hit by heavy rains that caused localized flooding. With the ground already saturated, additional rainfall will flood lower-lying areas.
The California Office of Emergency Services has activated numerous resources across the state in advance of this weekend’s major storm, including swift-water rescue teams in Fresno and Tulare counties and other personnel and equipment in those counties.
Rainfall totals for the Valley are still slightly below the annual average for the precipitation year starting Oct. 1, South said. But Sunday’s storm should wipe out that deficit.
Precipitation in California is expected to continue at least through Feb. 11, he said.