LOS ANGELES: Tens of thousands of storm-weary Californians were without power and under evacuation warnings on Wednesday as the latest storm packing wind-blown rain and snow threatened to bring more flooding to the rain-soaked state.
The "atmospheric river" storm could dump more than an additional 3cm of rain throughout the day in parts of the already-saturated Southern and Central California region, which has been hit hard by a relentless string of storms that began in late December.
High-wind warnings and advisories were in effect from the Mexico border through Los Angeles and up into the San Francisco Bay area, where gusts of up to 97 kmh were forecast for some spots.
Much of the region along with parts of Arizona and Nevada were under flood watches and advisories on Wednesday caused by the continued rain and snow melt, the National Weather Service said.
"Our rivers, streams and creeks are flowing at near capacity. Any more rain that we get today is only going to cause more flooding or worsen the flooding that is ongoing," said Bill South, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Hanford, California.
More than 14,000 people statewide were under orders to seek higher ground because of flooding, with evacuation warnings issued for another 47,000 residents, Diana Crofts-Pelayo, a spokesperson for the California Office of Emergency Services, said on Tuesday.
The bulk of evacuation orders, covering some 12,000 people, were in Tulare County, a flood-stricken region in the San Joaquin Valley, where high water from recent levee breaches has inundated a number of communities, Crofts-Pelayo said.
More than 100,000 homes and businesses in Central California were without power early on Wednesday after strong winds from the storm took down power lines and trees, according to utility tracking service PowerOutage.us.
"The system exceeded all expectations," the utility company Pacific Gas and Electric said in a statement on its website, noting that winds of 143 kmh were clocked in Santa Clara County.
The storm was also bringing heavy snow to higher elevations. Total snow accumulations of up to 1.22m and locally up to 1.52m, were in the forecast, the weather service said.
PARADE OF STORMS
The storm marked the 12th so-called atmospheric river since December to sweep the US West Coast, formed from an immense airborne current of dense water vapour carried aloft from the ocean and flowing overland in bouts of heavy rain and snow.
The rapid succession of Pacific storms during the past three months has created an abrupt reversal of fortune for a state preoccupied for the past few years by drought and wildfires - a swing in weather extremes that experts say is symptomatic of human-induced climate change.
California's harsh winter has caused widespread property damage and upheaval for thousands of residents, with more than 20 deaths attributed to the storms.
But the glut of precipitation has also replenished sorely depleted reservoirs and the state's mountain snowpack.