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'Atmospheric river' triggers evacuations in Southern California

It's called an "atmospheric river" -- basically ...

Posted: Mar 22, 2018 5:25 AM
Updated: Mar 22, 2018 5:25 AM

It's called an "atmospheric river" -- basically a river in the sky -- that could unleash catastrophic amounts of rain.

And the major storm is barreling right toward the fire-scarred regions of Southern California, with a potential to trigger flash flooding, mudslides and significant debris flow.

The season's strongest storm brings a risk of flash flooding and debris flows in recent burn areas

Evacuations are ordered in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties

The heaviest rainfall is expected Wednesday afternoon through Thursday, and officials have already ordered mandatory evacuations in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Up to 1.5 inches of rain have fallen in the burn scar areas since late Tuesday.

"That's a concern when you put in the heaviest rainfall anywhere in the United States and put it right over Southern California, directly over burn scars," CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said.

"Some of the areas could see 6 inches of rainfall over 36 hours. That's six to eight months of rainfall in 36 hours, right over what would be a significant Thomas Fire burn scar region," he said.

The Thomas Fire, the largest fire in California's modern history, ignited in December and burned about 281,900 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Santa Barbara County officials have issued a mandatory evacuation order affecting about 30,000 people in extreme and high-risk debris flow areas ahead of the strongest storm of the season in that region. The mandatory evacuation there was effective from noon Tuesday for burn areas near the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier fires.

The amount of rain and the intensity are enough to cause flooding even without the impact of the recent fires.

"We could experience localized flooding and road closures, which are not isolated to the burn areas. The threat of rock falls, mudslides and debris flow is high," said Rob Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.

Mandatory and voluntary evacuations also took effect at noon Tuesday in Ventura County.

Los Angeles County officials ordered evacuations in areas affected by the recent Creek and La Tuna Canyon fires starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and warned other residents living in areas affected by recent fires to prepare for evacuations and street closures.

The large and powerful storm system across the eastern Pacific Ocean is expected to bring periods of moderate to heavy rain through late Thursday or early Friday.

Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow channels that transport water vapors outside the tropics. The one that's saturating California is known as the Pineapple Express, because it brings moisture from the tropical Pacific near Hawaii and can wallop the West Coast with rain and snow.

The National Weather Service predicts rainfall rates between a half to three-quarters of an inch per hour, with rain totals of 5 to 10 inches in the foothills and mountains. This total is significantly more than during the January 9 debris flow, when there were 3 to 6 inches of rainfall across the region.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 310885

Reported Deaths: 6955
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles1274393744
Riverside24765537
Orange22650412
San Diego18863420
San Bernardino18275304
Imperial7759132
Fresno762787
Alameda7485147
San Joaquin627968
Kern619597
Santa Clara5863166
Tulare5678152
Sacramento515279
Contra Costa446088
Stanislaus436450
San Francisco431650
Ventura409353
Santa Barbara386829
San Mateo3846112
Marin336430
Kings285539
Monterey241918
Solano207528
Merced179312
Sonoma156114
Placer102111
San Luis Obispo9054
Madera8578
Yolo83928
Santa Cruz5373
Napa4774
Butte3384
Sutter3374
San Benito3112
El Dorado3070
Lassen2610
Shasta1766
Humboldt1654
Glenn1640
Nevada1631
Yuba1633
Lake1081
Mendocino1070
Colusa1030
Tehama981
Calaveras670
Tuolumne640
Del Norte600
Mono491
Siskiyou410
Amador360
Inyo341
Mariposa311
Plumas170
Alpine20
Trinity20
Sierra10
Unassigned00
Chico
Clear
97° wxIcon
Hi: 103° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 97°
Oroville
Clear
97° wxIcon
Hi: 104° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 97°
Paradise
Clear
97° wxIcon
Hi: 96° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 97°
Chester
Clear
89° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 89°
Red Bluff
Clear
98° wxIcon
Hi: 105° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 98°
Willows
Clear
97° wxIcon
Hi: 107° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 97°
A hot week will transform into an even hotter weekend over northern California as high pressure stays in control of our weather. No rain is in the forecast, but it will cool a bit by late next week.
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