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Another atmospheric river, a column of airborne moisture, has hit California


Hurricane-force winds and heavy rain downed trees and left more than 100,000 northern Californians without power last night. The storm's origin - another atmospheric river.


That's the technical term for a column of airborne moisture like a river in the sky. Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and so did local officials in San Jose, Oakland and elsewhere. San Francisco's mayor, London Breed, spoke from the city's emergency operations center.


LONDON BREED: The biggest issue for us in terms of addressing challenges around floods, which we've been doing all day, cleaning out storm drains and other issues, is making sure that people are not caught in these various floods in other areas in a situation that requires rescue. We want to keep the public safe.

MARTÍNEZ: Climate editor Kevin Stark from member station KQED is in San Francisco right in the middle of this. Kevin, where do things stand now?

KEVIN STARK, BYLINE: Yeah, well, the storm prompted evacuation warnings across the northern part of the state. It triggered landslides. It closed roads really all over the place. The winds were particularly strong - were gusting up to 85 miles per hour in some parts of the Bay Area. One city issued a shelter-in-place order because of all the downed power lines. Rain was just really coming down in sheets. It was like a fire hose at its peak, you know, dropping more than an inch per hour in some places. A gas station roof actually collapsed south of San Francisco. And school districts across the region have canceled school. And, remember, this storm is coming on the heels of another really bad atmospheric river that blanketed the region on New Year's Eve. Really, it's like the third significant storm system we've had since Christmas.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, it has been wet in California. So what are the biggest things to worry about today?

STARK: Well, the weather service is warning that flash flooding in a number of places around the northern part of the state. I'd say the region, you know, is caught a little bit off guard on New Year's Eve. It was worse than officials had anticipated. And the flooding in cities and from small creeks and streams was really bad. You know, restaurants flooded, major highways shut down, all of it. We saw a correction in advance of this storm. There was a lot of prep work and early warning, that kind of thing, really across the region. And that's because the ground was so saturated that increases the chances of landslides. And emergency officials were really worried about some of the bigger rivers flooding. Meteorologists are warning that the Russian River could flood in the North Bay area, for example, during this storm. And we've had a number of big wildfires in recent years in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Point Reyes down in Big Sur. These burn scars can wash out and create slides that are filled with rocks and mud and trees. It can really be quite dangerous.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Kevin, once the faucet or the hose gets turned off, I mean, what challenges is the region facing?

STARK: First, the cleanup. You know, we're assessing how bad the damage is, trying to figure out how people can get the power back on, when that's going to happen. The dollar figure for the damage from these winter storms continues to tick up. We don't know exactly how much yet. One city that's been hit hard is Santa Cruz. It's already estimating damages there, you know, up over $10 million. That's not a huge city. That's a signal that economic damage is going to be considerable. Meteorologists here sometimes talk about what they call the storm parade, which refers to us having, you know, a series of these atmospheric rivers back to back to back. That's really what's happening right now. We're looking at having another series of big storms this weekend and even into next week.

MARTÍNEZ: That's climate editor Kevin Stark from member station KQED in San Francisco. Kevin, stay dry.

STARK: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Kevin Stark
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