Sunday, January 8, 2017

West Coast Nightmare: Floods, Ice, Snow, Wind

Some people in California are comparing the current
storm to the great flood of 1997, pictured  here.
I doubt things will get nearly as bad as 1997 in the current
storms, but serious flooding is still a good bet
over the next few days in California and Nevada.
Now that the East Coast storm has gone out to sea, we turn our attention this busy weather month to the West Coast, which, as expected, is really getting hit hard by a variety of bad, and in some cases extreme weather.

This includes the flooding in California, which has been anticipated for days, a very serious ice storm in a heavily populated area of Oregon, strong winds, and incredible mountain snows.

If you look at the National Weather Service home page map, the western United States is a kaleidoscope of colors, which is never a good thing. That means there's a wide variety of weather warnings in effect.


The big problem in Oregon is freezing rain. Lots of it. An ice storm warning was in effect this morning for most of the Willamette Valley, which includes bigger cities like Portland and Eugene.

Some areas are expected to see ice accumulate to three quarters of an inch. Combined with winds gusting to 35 mph, that's more than enough to bring down plenty of trees and power lines.

The freezing rain will probably go over to plain rain in the western parts of the Portland metro area by early afternoon, but eastern areas of the metro area closer to the Columbia Gorge might stay as freezing rain into tonight, which isn't good

Power failures are likely, and not surprisingly, people are being told not to bother driving.

Eugene, Oregon and surrounding areas suffered a terrible ice storm around three weeks ago and hasn't fully recovered from that. Now they're getting another one. Today's ice storm might not be quite as bad as the one in December, but it will cause more trouble for sure.

In southwestern Oregon a flood watch is up as they will be on the northern fringe of the California atmospheric river, which I'll get to in a moment. In this part of Oregon, relatively heavy rain will combine with snow and ice melt to raise river and stream levels.

On top of that, many creeks are clogged with broken branches and trees from recent ice storms. That debris can form dams that can back up water and cause flooding, then these "dams" can break loose and cause downstream flash flooding.

Kind of a mess if you ask me.


The atmospheric river of subtropical air and heavy rains has moved into California as expected.

Flood watches have been upgraded to flood warnings in a huge swath of California's central valley and the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada.  Many areas here have already seen three to seven inches of rain in the 24 hours ending early this morning, and it's still raining hard.

Flooding is also a problem in western Nevada, including the Reno area. This is a very warm pattern, so it's raining at elevations as high as 9,000 feet. The rain and warmth is melting Sierra snows, which is creating additional runoff and just making the situation worse.

There's even a chance that downtown Reno could become flooded with this.  Carson City, Nevada could also see some serious flood damage.

A state of emergency has been declared in Nevada and people are being warned to stay away from the rising Truckee River

It's not good near the California coast, either. Flash flood warnings were already up Sunday morning north of San Francisco, including the Sonoma area. Making things even worse, many areas near the coast, especially in the hills, are also under a high wind warning.

The Weather Channel says there have been numerous water rescues in California as of midday Sunday as waters rise across roads and freeways. There is an increasing number of mudslides, too as heavy rains continue.

Flooding will be a worry in the west for the rest of the week as several more storms are due to come in off the Pacific. Snow levels in the Sierra will drop some, so areas the highest elevations that are getting unwelcome rain will switch over to more seasonable snow.


The California storms, and the weather pattern that's bringing them, isn't good for Vermont if you're into winter sports and if you want the winter tourism industry to thrive.

As has been the case since mid-December, this pattern favors storms crossing the country and then moving northeastward through the Great Lakes, putting Vermont in the warm, rainy side of these systems.

Such is the case with the storms that will form in the middle of the nation this week, using the California storms as seeds for their birth. Two storms, one Tuesday night, the other Thursday, will go by west and north of New England.

Mixed precipitation Tuesday night will change to rain. The next storm Thursday will also come in the form of rain.

The storms after that are question marks, since they're so far down the road. There's always a chance these subsequent storms could go further south and give us snow, but we'll have to wait and see.

In any event, despite the cold today, expect a big January thaw this coming week in Vermont.

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