A powerful storm that swept through California this week has set rainfall records and helped douse wildfires. But it remained to be seen how much of a dent it made in the state’s drought., causing mudslides that closed roads in the San Bernardino Mountains northeast of Los Angeles.
In the northern part of the state, drenching rains caused widespread flooding and rock slides over the weekend. Strong winds knocked down trees and even toppled two big rigs on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge near San Francisco. Pacific Gas & Electric reported that 380,000 homes and businesses lost power, though most had it back Monday.
Despite the problems, the rain and mountain snow were welcome in Northern California, which is so dry that nearly all of it is classified as either experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. The wet weather also greatly reduces the chances of additional wildfires in a region that has borne the brunt of another devastating year of blazes in the state.
The National Weather Service called preliminary rainfall totals “staggering,” including 11 inches (28 centimeters) at the base of Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais and 4 inches (10 centimeters) in downtown San Francisco, the fourth-wettest day ever for the city.
“It’s been a memorable past 24 hours for the Bay Area as the long talked-about atmospheric river rolled through the region,” the local weather office said Monday. “We literally have gone from fire/drought conditions to flooding in one storm cycle.”
A rainfall record was shattered in Sacramento. Northeast of San Francisco, 5.44 inches (13.82 centimeters) fell on downtown Sacramento, shattering the one-day record for rainfall that had stood since 1880.
Interstate 80, the major highway through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Reno, Nevada, was shut down by heavy snow early Monday. In California’s Colusa and Yolo counties, state highways 16 and 20 were shut for several miles because of mudslides, the state Department of Transportation said.
The same storm system also slammed Oregon and Washington state, causing power outages that affected tens of thousands of people. Two people were killed when a tree fell on a vehicle in the greater Seattle area.
Christy Brigham, chief of resource management and science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said the rain was a huge relief after the Caldor Fire torched an unknown number of the giant trees in the park, along with thousands of pines and cedars. “This amount of rainfall is what we call a season-ending event,” Brigham said. “It should end fire season, and it should end our need — to a large degree — to fight this fire.”
The impact of the nor’easter was centered across the entire New England region. A storm offshore of the Mid-Atlantic explosively intensified Monday night, and enveloped the Northeast with strong winds and flooding rains as it comes up the coast. Flash flood watches are up from northern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania into most of southern New England. Up to five inches of rain are possible, falling on soils that are largely saturated following an exceptionally wet summer. Parts of New Jersey have already seen more than 4 inches, with rainfall rates topping an inch per hour.
“We know how quickly these storms can escalate, so everyone, especially those living in basement apartments, should plan accordingly,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) tweeted Monday.
Wind advisories also stretch from the nation’s capital to the coastline of Maine, with a high-wind warning up for the shorelines of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where gusts could top 70 mph. The nor’easter is the first of two sprawling storm systems that will bring inclement weather to the East Coast this week. Its rate of intensification is expected to qualify it as a “bomb cyclone,” or a storm that strengthens with unusual haste. High water rescues, numerous road closures and rising rivers have been reported in the region, the weather service said, including rescues reported in New Jersey’s northern Monmouth County.
A state of emergency was declared in New Jersey and New York on Monday due to the anticipated storm hazards. New York City issued a travel advisory through Wednesday morning, advising commuters to allow extra travel time and use mass transit.