An onslaught of West Coast storms caused dangerous flooding and severe mudslides on Sunday, with homes, highways, vineyards and cars slipping underwater in parts of California and Nevada.
In Yosemite National Park, the roaring Merced River threatened to reach 11.8 feet deep by Sunday evening, according to the park service. Avalanche warnings were in place near the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe Basin.
The West Coast is at the start of a two-week-long barrage of fierce winter weather, which is projected to bring crippling ice storms to western Oregon, flash flooding in California and winter storms around the Rocky Mountains.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has warned millions of people from the San Francisco Bay area to Lake Tahoe to prepare for the worst flooding in more than a decade.
NWS meteorologists said an “energetic upper-level pattern” is sending moisture-laden, low-pressure systems from the Pacific Ocean over the West Coast.
Northwestern California was first in line to see heavy rains, with the threat of flash flooding lasting through Tuesday, the NWS in a Sunday advisory at 3:15 p.m. EST.
Weather forecasters warned that Tuesday’s bout of heavy rain could cause flooding in northern California and Nevada similar to problems in 2005 and 2006, which sent 5 feet of water into warehouses in Sparks, Nevada, and caused hazardous waste barrels to float away, Associated Press reported.
Farther inland in California, widespread snow from the Sierras was expected to slam the Great Basin and Intermountain regions Sunday night, before spreading into the northern and central Rockies by Monday, according to NWS.
California’s interior valleys will likely see freezing rain on Monday. Then a strong jet stream may push the moisture eastward and cause rapidly spreading snow Monday night in the Great Lakes.
Authorities urged West Coast motorists to stay off the roads, although plenty of drivers didn’t heed that advice. State emergency responders in California rescued a number of stranded drivers who tried and failed to navigate the flooded streets.
Residents who live near waterways were told to evacuate and seek safer ground. Onlookers in cities like Reno were urged to move away from swelling rivers and “stop taking selfies.”
Despite the dangerous deluge, this week’s storms won’t be enough to end California’s six-year drought.
The Golden State will still need several more significant storms to start filling the state’s long-term deficit in precipitation.
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