Drought-stricken areas of northern California could experience “excessive precipitation” – up to 8 to 10 inches of rain – when an extreme weather system hits the West Coast this weekend, the National Weather Center warns.
Millions of people in northern California were at risk of flash flooding on Sunday due to the system, known as the “Atmospheric River,” the Weather forecast center said Saturday. Meanwhile, residents of a small part of coastal Santa Barbara County have been urged to clear out Friday due to landslide issues.
The weather system is expected to start hitting the coast on Saturday night. Some areas may experience a “bomb cyclone,” a weather phenomenon where atmospheric pressure drops rapidly as the storm intensifies explosively.
Separately, a weather system currently brewing in the central United States is expected to shift east in the coming days, affecting millions of people in the Midwest. The powerful system is expected to bring excessive precipitation to most of Missouri and parts of Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa.
But experts say heavy rains in the drought-stricken west, while welcome, present dangers – especially in areas that have already burned down in wildfires.
The evacuation warning applies to part of the California coast of Gaviota about 30 miles west of Santa Barbara that burned down in the Alisal fire, which erupted on October 11 and destroyed 12 structures . The blaze is now 97% under control and is expected to be extinguished by the falling rain, said Mike Eliason, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Eliason said the evacuation order impacted around 200 homes, which are threatened by debris that could fall from steep slopes onto properties or onto roads that could then be blocked off for weeks.
âIn the canyons there are a lot of rocks ready to come down the hill,â Eliason said. “So people who are both in their path to these rocks and those living above them could be affected.”
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Concerns about the flooding are not as serious as they could be, experts said.
Historically dry soils are expected to absorb much of the rain, and large rivers are not expected to be affected by flooding, said Marty Ralph, director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the University of California at San Diego.
âFor the most part there will be a lot of benefits coming out of this storm,â said âThere will be damage I’m sure, but it will curb the drought and end the big fire seasons in the Northern California area. “
Ralph said the public should watch their local media stations and the National Weather Service for updates on conditions, which can never be fully predicted.
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“This is the kind of storm you have to watch out for,” he said.
Justin Mankin, assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College used a different analogy to put this weekend’s weather into perspective:
âIt’s really a drop in the bucket,â Mankin said.
Mankin, who is also a co-head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s drought task force, said the wild weather conditions are emblematic of California’s increasingly erratic climate due to climate change.
The weekend rains will do nothing to replenish the historically low Colorado River’s water supply, Manking said. Nor will they do much for the decline of the state’s groundwater supplies.
âWhile it is absolutely true that a storm like this is welcome, it would be better if it weren’t for such a deluge,â he said. “It would be much better from a drought management perspective if this rain was spread over months.”
In order for California to fully recover, what the state really needs is high elevation precipitation that then builds up as a mass of snow, Mankin said. That, combined with a cooler-than-usual spring and summer in 2022, could have a real impact on drought.
âEven then, you will probably need another rainy winter next year as well,â he said.
Contribution: The Associated Press