The end of the storms is near, but California is bracing for two more atmospheric rivers


By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – California’s parade of atmospheric rivers may be nearing its end, but not before there are at least two more of the downpours that drench the waterlogged state on Saturday, forecasters say.

A series of atmospheric rivers rarely seen in such frequent succession has ravaged the state since Dec. 26, killing at least 19 people and causing flooding, power outages, mudslides, evacuations and road closures.

The storms have dropped half the average annual rainfall on the agricultural Central Valley and as much as 15 feet (4.5 m) of snow in the mountains.

The six-day forecast called for 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) more rain in northern California and 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm) in the south, the state’s water supply department said Friday.

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At least seven waterways have been officially flooded, it added.

The latest storm, the eighth of the season, is expected to begin bringing heavy rain across California early Saturday, the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center said.

The series’ ninth and final atmospheric river will come ashore on Monday and will last a few days.

One waterway of concern was Northern California’s Salinas River which flooded roads and farmland on Friday as 24,000 people were urged to evacuate.

In Southern California, officials will release water Saturday from Cachuma Lake, which provides drinking water near Santa Barbara, as the chronically low lake fills up.

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The storms eased, but did not solve, drought in the region.

“You can have floods and droughts at the same time, because drought is prolonged drought,” said David Roth, a meteorologist at the Weather Prediction Center.

“You need a long period of precipitation to lift a drought, even though some areas have had the equivalent of 30 inches of fluid.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday revised its assessment to move virtually the entire state out of extreme drought or exceptional drought, the two worst categories, though much of it is still considered to be suffering from moderate or severe drought.

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“There’s also the danger that if we get too hot temperatures later on, we get evaporation, the snow evaporates, the water evaporates, and we’re back to where we were,” said Roger Bales, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of California. .

Excess snow has been both good and bad for the ski industry, likely leading to a long season but also causing disruptions from power outages, road closures and delays at some resorts, said Ski California president Michael Reitzell.

“It was a bit challenging, but we will do everything we can,” added Reitzell, whose industry association represents 35 resorts.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)