SAN FRANCISCO – Hurricane-strength winds, surging waves and torrential rain from a powerful “atmospheric river” hit California on Thursday, cutting power to tens of thousands of people, causing flooding and killing at least two people. A child whose house was hit by a fallen tree.
Authorities on Wednesday ordered evacuation of high-risk coastal areas and warned residents to shelter in their homes in case of flooded roads, fallen trees and landslides.
The state was gearing up for wetter and stormier weather this weekend, even though the rain was expected to ease off on Thursday. This is the latest in a series of rapid atmospheric rivers. This is the “Pineapple Express” that originated near Hawaii and was pulled toward the West Coast by a rotating region of rapidly declining pressure known as the “Bomb Depression”.
According to poweroutage.us, the storm caused power outages to more than 180,000 homes and businesses in California.
In Sonoma County, Occidental Volunteer Fire Chief Ronald Lunardi said a boy believed to be under the age of two died Wednesday night after a tree fell on his home, Press Democrat reported. In Fairfield, a 19-year-old woman died after her car hydroplaned on a flooded road and hit a utility pole, police said on her Facebook page.
The wave, predicted to be 25 feet high, hit the coastline of Santa Cruz County south of San Francisco, slamming into homes at the mouth of Soquell Creek in the seaside town of Capitola and part of a historic wooden pier. destroyed the The nearby Seacliff State Beach wharf was also heavily damaged.
Hurricane-force gusts of 101 miles per hour toppled buildings and roads, cut power lines, and blew off the roof of a gas station in South San Francisco. More than 70 flights have been canceled at San Francisco International Airport.
“It’s one of the highest I can recall,” said Warren Brier, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, of wind speeds recorded over the Marin County hills.
In Southern California, a helicopter crew pulled a man clinging to a bamboo branch from an island in the Ventura River Thursday morning, said Andy Vansyber, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the city was “preparing for war” after last weekend’s storm damage. City firefighters rescued a family after a tree fell on their car. The fire department reported that the wind likely blew windows from the Fox Plaza Tower, but no one was injured.
The storm is the latest of three atmospheric river storms in the last week to reach drought-stricken conditions. California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency to allow for a quick response and help clean up from another powerful storm that hit a few days ago.
Evacuation orders have been lifted in Santa Barbara County, beneath areas burned by three recent wildfires. Heavy rains were expected overnight in the area, threatening flooding and landslides. The evacuation zone included the town of Montecito. Five years ago, huge rocks, mud and debris rushed from the mountains through the town and onto the beach, killing 23 people and destroying over 100 homes.
Atmospheric rivers, named by researchers in the 1990s, occur all over the world, but are especially important on the U.S. West Coast, where they account for 30% to 50% of annual precipitation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Information for this article was provided by Janie Har, Sophie Austin, Terence Chea, Martha Mendoza, Stefanie Dazio, and John Antczak of AP.
Gallery: Evacuation ordered as California storm knocks out power