By Steve Gorman and Julia Harte
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) -The latest in a series of atmospheric river storms soaked California on Tuesday, bringing another deluge of rain to the already-saturated state, while a Nor’easter swirling over New York and New England prompted emergency orders and closed roads.
Several inches of rain was forecast in some areas of California, while as much as 3 feet (0.9 m) of fresh snow was expected in high-mountain elevations where snowdrifts already reach rooftops, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
Along California’s coast and lower inland areas, the heavy rain and melting alpine snow triggered renewed flooding from rain-swollen rivers and streams, compromising levees. Forecasts warned of widespread uprooting of trees and downed power lines from winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour (113 km per hour).
Nearly 370,000 homes and businesses were without electricity on Tuesday, mostly along California’s central coast and the San Francisco Bay area, according to data from PowerOutage.us.
In anticipation of the “atmospheric river” — an airborne current of dense, tropical moisture from the Pacific streaming over the landscape — emergency crews filled sandbags and patrolled levees and riverbanks around the clock.
A previous spate of nine atmospheric rivers lashed California in rapid succession from late December through mid-January, triggering widespread flooding, levee failures, mudslides and punishing surf. At least 20 people perished.
Another such storm drenched much of the state on Thursday night and Friday, causing levee failures along the Pajaro River in Monterey County and flooding entire communities made uppredominantly of migrant farm workers.
Even as the 11th atmospheric river of the season soaked the region once more on Tuesday, emergency crews scrambled to patch the Parajo’s earthen levee with rocks and fill.
Some 21,000 people in the flood zone remained under evacuation orders or warnings, and other rivers were flooding tracts of farmland elsewhere in the county, officials said.
High winds posed a bigger problem in neighboring Santa Cruz County, knocking down numerous power lines and trees, including a large redwood that fell over a creek and crashed through the roof of a memory care facility for elderly residents in Corralitos, according to county spokesperson Jason Hoppin.
Nobody was hurt. A fire department captain had warned the day before that the tree, perched on the edge of a bluff, could fall atop the building, prompting staff to move all 20 patients to the opposite side of the facility, where they were safe when the captain’s prediction came true, Hoppin said.
Mandatory evacuation orders because of flood hazards remained in effect for residents in 10 California counties on Tuesday, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The recent onslaughts of precipitation, capping four years of prolonged drought, heat waves and heightened wildfire activity, was a reminder of weather extremes California and other parts of the U.S. now face in an era of human-induced climate change, experts say.
NORTHEAST ALSO HIT
In the Northeast and New England, a Nor’easter storm had already dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut, and 8 inches had fallen in Albany, New York, with more still to come late on Tuesday and Wednesday.
As many as 267,000 electricity customers were without power in New York and New England, PowerOutage.us reported.
Supplies of rock salt and snow shovels were flying off shelves on Tuesday at Rocky’s Ace Hardware in Worcester, Massachusetts, west of Boston, said the manager, Joshua Rivera.
“It’s getting pretty bad out there, but we’re going to try to stay open,” Rivera said. About 5 inches of snow had dropped in the city by noon and it was still coming down hard as the day wore on.
Farther west in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, police urged motorists to stay off the streets altogether.
“We have wires down everywhere. We have trees down everywhere, and it’s not going to get any better,” the agency said on its Facebook page.
In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency on Monday night for 37 counties covering Albany, central New York and the mid-Hudson and North Country regions.
Heavy snow could fall at a rate of 2 inches an hour in some areas of upstate New York with high winds, making travel impossible, the NWS said.
Michael Schichtel, lead forecaster of the NWS Weather Prediction Center, said the storm could amount to one of the biggest snowfall totals ever in Massachusetts.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Julia Harte in New York; Additonal reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Nathan Frandino in Monterey County, California; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Lisa Shumaker and Jamie Freed)