SAN DIEGO — Thirty-six million Californians from Sonoma County to the U.S.-Mexico border are under weekend flood watches as the state faces the more potent of two early February storms.
The front’s rain and snow will be boosted by an atmospheric river, a firehose of precipitation, forecasters say. This atmospheric river is drawing from tropical climes, making it a “Pineapple Express.”
“All Californians in the storm’s path — especially those in Southern California — should prepare now,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement Friday.
Dangerous flooding across the state was possible through Tuesday, forecasters said, with 6 inches or more of rain possible along the Central Coast and into the Los Angeles County coast.
If the upper end of those estimates are reached, they could break rainfall records for the date and even monthly precipitation records, according to NBC News forecasters.
The storm was expected to hit the Bay Area as early as Saturday, then work its way down the coast, impacting San Diego last.
The Bay Area could also be affected by damaging winds. The National Weather Service office in Monterey said gusts of nearly 70 mph could whip the Central Coast community of Big Sur.
The upper-level low pressure system could stall over California once it gets to the coast late Saturday, forecasters say, making its flood potential more perilous.
On Friday night, Santa Barbara County officials issued evacuation warnings for two areas, including one affected by brush fires and another within the city of Santa Barbara. The warnings mean residents should be prepared to get out at a moment’s notice and should consider leaving as soon as possible, the county said in a statement.
Flood watches, issued when conditions are favorable for flooding, will cover the coast in Sonoma, Marin, San Francisco, Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties, and all of Southern California’s coast. Some of the watches start Saturday and last at least through the end of the weekend.
The University of California, San Diego’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes predicts the atmospheric river will rate as a 3 — described as “strong” — on its scale of 1-5, which mimics the one used for hurricanes.
It said there’s a 40% chance of flash flooding along the central coast.
Newsom’s office said 8,300 state workers were prepared to respond to storm-related emergencies and damage. Twenty teams of swift-water and urban-search-and-rescue personnel were staged up and down the state.
‘When in doubt, stay home’
The forecast for the Los Angeles area included life-threatening flooding, damaging winds and heavy mountain snow, the National Weather Service office in Oxnard said.
“Many roads/freeways will be completely flooded. Many trees will be down. Power outages likely. There is still time to prepare,” the office said in a post on X.
The city of Los Angeles is prepared for serious flooding, Mayor Karen Bass said at a Friday evening news conference. “This is an all-hands-on-deck effort,” she said.
Police, fire and rescue personnel will be on standby, extra emergency and homeless shelters will open Saturday evening, street crews were preparing for rapid clearing of trees and branches, and water and power crews were ready to respond to outages, Bass said.
Perhaps the most impactful preparation was in the hands of residents, she said: “When in doubt, stay home.”
In the central Sierra Nevada mountain range, 2 to 3 inches of snowfall per hour was expected by Sunday, according to the National Weather Service, which issued an avalanche watch.
“Avoid all travel on Sunday,” the weather service office that covers the Lake Tahoe area said.
Another system could hit Southern California on Thursday, National Weather Service senior meteorologist Alex Tardy said in a video briefing Friday.
Wet start to the year
The state has barely had time to dry out, after storms in January and this week brought strong rain and some flooding to Southern California.
The hammering began in earnest Jan. 22 with the wettest January day on record for San Diego, which experienced rare and damaging flooding in urban neighborhoods away from the coastline. The county’s medical examiner reported that three January deaths were being investigated as possibly storm-related.
A front late this week brought 6 to 9 inches of snow to Southern California mountains, federal forecasters said, and it flooded a street in Long Beach, stranding at least four motorists who were rescued, authorities said.
A stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach was closed by flooding Thursday and reopened Friday morning, according to the California Department of Transportation. To the south, parts of the community of Leucadia in the city of Encinitas were flooded by the first of the two fronts.
Nearly 3 inches of rain fell in some parts of San Diego County, a rare amount for the relatively dry southwestern corner of the state.
San Diego surpassed the normal rainfall amount for this time of year when nearly an inch was recorded Thursday, Tardy said, with most of two of the rainiest months of the year — February and March — still ahead.