By Sandra Stojanovic
SAN CLEMENTE, Calif., (Reuters) – An atmospheric river dumped more torrential rain on California, forcing evacuations, power outages and road closures, while the remnants of a powerful Nor’easter blizzard buried much of upstate New York and New England under snow.
The West Coast is getting pounded by an usually wet season following two decades of drought, creating havoc on roads and endangering blufftop homes along the coast in southern California’s Orange County.
“It’s been fire to ice and no warm bath in between,” said Governor Gavin Newsom, referring to the state’s pivot from wildfires just a few months ago to one of the snowiest winters on record.
The governor has declared a state of emergency in 43 of California’s 58 counties. More than 130,000 homes and businesses remained without power on Wednesday, according to PowerOutage.us.
The 11th atmospheric river of the season prompted officials to warn of potential flooding and mudslides from heavy rain, melting snowpack, saturated soils and swollen streams.
By Wednesday afternoon the heavy rainfall associated with the atmospheric river in California had ended, with only light showers persisting in southern California, but forecasters warned of a possible 12th atmospheric river next week.
Atmospheric river describes airborne currents of dense, tropical moisture from the Pacific. A series of them lashed California in rapid succession from late December through mid-January, killing at least 20 people.
Four people have died in the most recent storm, Newsom said while touring flood damage in Pajaro, on the state’s central coast, where a levee broke on Saturday, forcing many of the town’s 2,000 people, most of them Latino farm workers, to evacuate.
“We’re tired. Everybody’s tired,” Monterey County Sheriff Tina Nieto told the same news conference where Newsom spoke. “It’s hard for some of our most economically impoverished neighbors.”
Monterey County reissued an evacuation order for a 25-mile (40-kilometer) stretch along the Salinas River and Highway 101, most of it low-lying farmland. Numerous coastal and inland roads were closed.
The Sacramento River, the longest in the state, was reaching flood stage just below Shasta Dam, the state’s largest reservoir, the National Weather Service said, issuing flood warnings to several towns along the river.
In Tulare County, a farm region in the San Joaquin Valley, the Success Lake reservoir reached its capacity, forcing officials to release water through the Schafer Dam spillway and ordering evacuations downstream.
While agricultural communities got pummeled in the north, wealthy coastal communities took the brunt of the storm in southern California.
In Newport Beach, an upscale Orange County enclave, a home with spectacular ocean views hung in the balance as the blufftop beneath it collapsed.
In nearby San Clemente, blufftop properties were evacuated due to landslides, including one where a backyard swimming pool was left dangling over the precipice.
“It sounded kind of like an earthquake,” said C.J. Smith, 41, whose home was affected. He acknowledged the dangers that come with living on a bluff above the beach. “The views are beautiful. To us it’s kind of worth the risk.”
Pacific Coast Highway was closed at several points along the Orange County coast.
SNOW IN THE EAST
In the Northeast, a late-winter blizzard dumped about 2 feet (60 centimeters) of snow in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut, and a foot or more in parts of New York’s Hudson Valley.
Across Massachusetts the accumulations left by the Nor’easter – a type of storm that affects the U.S. East Coast and is named after the direction of the wind – varied greatly. In Colrain, a town of 1,700 in the northwestern part of the state near the Vermont border, 3 feet (91 cm) of snow was on the ground, while Boston’s suburbs had about an inch.
Colrain town administrator Kevin Fox said he had no electricity or cell service at his home and had gone to his office, even though town hall was closed, so he could call his mother.
“I have no idea who has power or who doesn’t,” Fox said.