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Powerful Storm Threatens California With More Flooding

SACRAMENTO — Rain lashed the Bay Area early Wednesday as Californians braced for another powerful storm, which forecasters said would bring more flooding, landslides and damaging winds just days after another “atmospheric river” drenched the West Coast.

Usually, rainfall amounts like those expected over the next couple of days would not have a significant impact. But the rain over the weekend left the ground across much of California saturated, like a wet sponge, forecasters said, making the state more susceptible to flooding and rapid runoff.

Storm preparations were in full swing across the state. The California National Guard was installing flood dams and sandbags in Sacramento, and several parks across Northern California were closed because of the threat that strong wind gusts would topple trees.

In flood-prone San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, many students were asked to head home early on Wednesday and not to return to school on Thursday. Both South San Francisco Unified School District and San Mateo Union High School District canceled Thursday classes because of the severe weather, while suspending after-school activities for Wednesday to reduce the number of people on the roads as the worst of the storm hits.

The office of Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Twitter that the state’s operations center was at its highest emergency level on Wednesday, and that the flood operations center was helping people stockpile sandbags and other storm necessities. Shelters were being opened, and employees were ready to be deployed to hospitals, officials said.

The new storm is expected to bring up to four inches of rain and winds of up to 40 miles an hour to California’s inland valleys over the next couple of days, and gusts of 60 to 80 m.p.h. in the coastal hills, according to the National Weather Service. Heavy snow is also expected in the mountains.

More on California

  • Storms and Flooding: A weather event known as an “atmospheric river” pounded the state with rain and snow, causing flooding and landslides. Northern California bore the brunt.
  • U.C. Employee Strike: Academic employees at the University of California voted to return to work, ending a historically large strike that had disrupted research and classes for nearly six weeks.
  • Wildfires: California avoided a third year of catastrophic wildfires because of a combination of well-timed precipitation and favorable wind conditions — or “luck,” as experts put it.
  • San Francisco’s Empty Downtown: Tech workers are still at home. The $17 salad place is expanding into the suburbs. Today San Francisco has what is perhaps the most deserted major downtown in America.

Flood warnings were in place from Wednesday evening to Thursday north of San Francisco, and flood watches were in effect across Southern California. Rainfall was forecast to start off slow, then get heavier throughout Wednesday, accompanied by strong winds and thunderstorms. “Don’t let your guard down,” the Weather Service warned.

As the storm approached on Tuesday night, a mandatory evacuation order was issued in the flood-prone city of Watsonville and other parts of Santa Cruz County, south of San Francisco. The city of San Jose declared a local emergency, as did the adjacent counties of San Mateo and Santa Cruz.

Meteorologists suggested preparing for flooding, downed trees and power outages, and said that traveling by road would be difficult or impossible in certain areas.

The latest storm is part of a series of atmospheric rivers — channels of moisture from the tropical Pacific Ocean — that meteorologists expect will continue until mid-January. “The message to convey is resiliency, as this is not a ‘one and done’ storm,” the Bay Area office of the Weather Service said on Wednesday morning.

The heavy rain and snow have brought a measure of relief to drought-plagued California, especially for its agricultural industry. “This is really a godsend, just to see these storms lining up and hitting California dead-on,” said Don Cameron, whose Terranova Ranch grows produce on 8,500 acres in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

But rising waters have also swamped streets and flooded homes in parts of the state. Streets and basements were still draining on Wednesday in downtown San Francisco, one of the areas expected to be hardest hit by the approaching storm.

An atmospheric river that drenched the West Coast on Dec. 26 killed at least five people. Another storm system soaked California again before barreling east across the country on Tuesday, spawning strong tornadoes, thunderstorms and flooding in parts of the Plains, Upper Midwest and South after dropping snow on Utah and Arizona.

That storm was expected to decrease in intensity by Wednesday night as it moves toward the East Coast, the National Weather Service said.

Shawn Hubler reported from Sacramento. Derrick Bryson Taylor, Christine Hauser, Soumya Karlamangla and Judson Jones also contributed reporting.

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