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Huge Storm System Bringing Rain, Possible Flooding And A Blizzard Warning To NorCal

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo
Some people found the need for umbrellas as rain fell Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. The first in a series of Pacific storms brought rain to much of the state and snow in the mountains.

California is about to get hammered by a storm that could drop three inches of rain at low elevations and up to five feet of snow in the Sierra.

"It definitely is looking like the biggest storm that we've seen so far this winter … with heavy rain, strong winds and heavy mountain snow,” said Sacramento National Weather Service Meteorologist Corey Miller.

The storm is the result of what's known as an atmospheric river, sometimes called a Pineapple Express, and is usually a warmer and wetter weather pattern that acts like a hose dumping rain on California.

“If you look at the models it sort of looks like a river headed right into California,” Miller said. 

Around five inches of rain is expected to fall in Sacramento along with 50 to 60 mph in the region. Daniel Bowers, director of emergency management for the city of Sacramento says wind gusts “will likely produce debris which clog drains and may cause localized flooding.”

Warmer rain will push snow levels above 7,000 feet. “It'll likely add to the snowpack, but typically you want to see a lower snow level system to really make a difference,” Miller adds.

Despite that, a rare blizzard warning has been issued for much of the Sierra including Lake Tahoe starting Wednesday night. Winds could gust up to 110 mph over the ridge tops with high avalanche danger throughout the region.

Miller says the most rain should come Wednesday night and could affect burn scars from recent wildfires. Flash flood warnings are in place in the Bay Area for Wednesday. Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties have issued evacuation orders for those living in areas where flooding is a threat.

Butte County and the National Weather Service have also issued a flood watch, especially in areas impacted by the Camp Fire.

Miller says travelers should avoid mountain passes in the Sierra Wednesday through Friday as conditions could become blizzard-like.

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio