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California braces for flooding from intense storms rolling across the state

A man rides his bicycle on a flooded roadway in Aptos, California on Monday. More storms are expected Tuesday and Wednesday.
Josh Edelson
/
AFP via Getty Images
A man rides his bicycle on a flooded roadway in Aptos, California on Monday. More storms are expected Tuesday and Wednesday.

Updated January 10, 2023 at 5:42 AM ET

Another powerful winter storm system is causing flooding, snow and mudslides in areas of California, where intense downpours have already wreaked havoc on communities earlier this month.

The National Weather Service says California is in the middle of two major episodes of rain taking place "in quick succession" into Tuesday. The first downpour hit the central California coast, which saw 3 to 5 inches of rain fall within 24 hours by Monday afternoon. Some areas saw 10 inches, according to the NWS.

Some parts of the Bay Area, such as Salinas and Santa Cruz, are under advisories for high wind speeds and a possible pea-sized hail, the Bay Area NWS tweeted Tuesday morning.

The downfall caused flooding, dangerous mudslides, power outages and downed trees in some areas. At least 14 people have died in the recent storms, The Associated Press reported, citing state officials.

A second deluge, on Tuesday, is predicted to mainly unload on Southern California. And Northern California will face a third batch of rain on Wednesday.

Sections of coastal Highway 101 were closed on Monday, with video showing it as a "moving river." Tens of thousands of people living in coastal areas were ordered to evacuate.

But it's not just rain that's a worry. More than six feet of snow is expected to pile on the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern California up until Wednesday — increasing the risk of avalanches. Video from California's department of transportation showed trucks slowed on a snowy I-80 near Lake Tahoe.

Cars are submerged in floodwater after heavy rain moved through the area on Monday in Windsor, California. The San Francisco Bay Area continues to get drenched by powerful atmospheric river events that have brought high winds and flooding rains.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Cars are submerged in floodwater after heavy rain moved through the area on Monday in Windsor, California. The San Francisco Bay Area continues to get drenched by powerful atmospheric river events that have brought high winds and flooding rains.

This week's storms come as California is already reeling from a streak of bad storms since Christmas. As of Monday evening, more than 85,000 customers were without power, according to utility companies' reports tracked by PowerOutage.US.

President Biden has declared an emergency in California and ordered federal assistance.

This week also marks California's fifth atmospheric river since Christmas. The phenomenon, which meteorologists call "rivers in the sky," can cause intense rainfall and flooding.

A sixth one is expected to reach California later in the week, between Thursday and Saturday, according to Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources.

What to expect in California

On Monday afternoon, the NWS warned of heavy rains moving from the state's north to south through early Tuesday.

"These heavy rains will pose the threat of flash flooding and mudslides from Los Angeles to San Diego, especially across burn scar regions where lessened vegetation increases the risks," the NWS Weather Prediction Center said.

A flash flood warning was in effect for large swaths of the Southern California coast, including Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara on Monday evening. Parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties had endured more than 10 inches of rain over two days by Monday evening. A giant sinkhole closed a road down in Santa Barbara, impacting 500 homes.

The weather service warned that "yet another batch of heavy precipitation will be moving into Northern California and the coastal Pacific Northwest on Wednesday," but said that storm will not make its way south.

Staff writer Ayana Archie contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.
James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.