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California Weather: More Evacuations Ordered as Storm Pummels Central California

May 20, 2023May 20, 2023

The central part of the state bore the brunt of the winter storm, an atmospheric river that delivered rain and snow to previously hard-hit areas. Dozens of counties have declared emergencies.

Eliza Fawcett, Corina Knoll and Viviana Hinojos

WATSONVILLE, Calif. — Evacuation orders were in force, announced late on Thursday through social media posts and over speakers used by the local police department. Another storm was approaching. Residents needed to get to safety.

As he had done during the previous storm, Cesar Leon, 39, the director of the Salvation Army shelter in the small agricultural city of Watsonville, helped bus his patrons to an emergency setup at the nearby fairgrounds.

This time around, though, the sentiment was different, he said: "They didn't want to leave, because they just did it a month ago."

It has been a brutal winter for much of California, where areas beleaguered by a succession of atmospheric rivers — storms named for their long narrow shape and the immense amount of water they carry — have grown weary of living under the constant specter of flooding.

Yet another powerful storm system pummeled the state on Friday, particularly the central region. The storm stranded residents, washed away portions of roads, turned snow into icy sludge, prompted evacuations, caused power outages and contributed to at least one death. President Biden approved an emergency declaration request from Gov. Gavin Newsom, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts in more than 30 counties.

In places like Watsonville, a city of about 50,000 in Santa Cruz County accustomed to fog and cool temperatures, there has been a shudder of "not again" every time inclement weather approaches.

"People start panicking this time of year," said Alex Lopez, 54, who is employed at a local farm that harvests lettuce and broccoli. "It's time to work, not be at home. People are losing money."

Mr. Lopez, who grew up in the area, recalled that when storms would hit a few decades ago, he would play in the water, floating down the river in an inner tube.

The onslaught of recent storms over the last few months has taken a toll on crops and on the labor force. The wet winter has meant that farmers’ fertilizing and harvesting schedules have been thrown off. Mr. Lopez has noticed that the lettuce is growing too slowly.

"The last two floods, it was all over the fields and all of the roads," he said. "You couldn't go through."

The latest storm began Thursday night with heavy rain in the Bay Area, and was believed to have been a factor in the collapse of the roof of an Oakland warehouse used by Peet's Coffee. One male employee died and a female employee was injured.

Nancy Ward, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said that about 9,400 people across the state were under evacuation orders, and more than 54,000 utility customers were without power.

Monterey, a onetime fishing town now better known for its sunbathing California sea lions and famed aquarium, had been off line since Thursday evening, with no working traffic lights and only dark windows at businesses and homes. Intense rain and howling wind brought down some trees and branches there overnight.

Palisades Tahoe, a popular ski resort north of Lake Tahoe where the 1960 Winter Olympics were held, announced on Twitter that it would close on Friday "due to high avalanche danger and flooding." The resort said that ridge-top winds had reached 139 miles an hour, and that there was rain falling at elevations as high as 8,500 feet — evidence of the atmospheric river's warm precipitation, after weeks of blizzards in the region.

Crews in South Lake Tahoe have spent the week clearing snow from roads, but for a while on Friday, they had to focus on removing the snow and ice that was blocking storm drains and causing flooding around the city.

When the storm moved south, residents of an enormous swath of the central region of the state were on high alert for flash flooding.

In the tiny coastal town of Soquel, hundreds of residents were trapped when a creek overflowed and washed away part of a main road that was the only access route for a mountain community.

About 150 miles inland in Fresno County, dark skies extended over fields drowned in torrents of rain. Farm crews worked to pump water away from the crops. An R.V. park was evacuated because of flooding from the rapidly moving Kings River.

Planada, a small town in Merced County that suffered some of the worst flooding from California's storms in January, was also under an evacuation order. Two months ago, hundreds of houses and cars in the small farmworkers’ community were destroyed during an atmospheric river.

"Everybody is afraid right now," said Rodrigo Espinosa, a county supervisor who represents Planada, nine miles east of Merced. "They don't want it to happen again."

Officials said that flood control dams on major creeks near Planada were expected to reach their maximum capacity by Friday evening.

The compounding of inclement weather in a drought-riddled state led to Mr. Newsom announcing an executive order on Friday that would take advantage of California's enormous snowpack and at least two more atmospheric rivers that are expected to arrive in the next few days. By easing state rules, the order allows local water agencies to more easily redirect floodwater to replenish the state's severely depleted groundwater supplies.

The move comes after criticism that California had flushed trillions of gallons of water out to sea during repeated deluges of rain this winter. Water agencies and experts say that the state's strict rules limiting who can take water from streams and creeks have prohibited local agencies from capturing the excess flows, even though stored water is desperately needed to prepare for the state's next dry period. The executive order took effect on Friday and will last through June 10.

In Southern California, the rain had many residents of the San Bernardino Mountains bracing for what it might do to the thick blankets of snow that covered rooftops. A historic amount of snow fell in the mountains over the past two weeks, clogging roads and trapping residents. Homeowners spent part of the week attempting to clear off what they could before the rain added weight to the rooftop snow, potentially causing collapses.

By Friday afternoon, the rainfall had eased up in Watsonville, where sandbags lined garage doors and many people had stayed home despite the evacuation order. There was an air of calm in the town, and even some curiosity, with residents appearing at the edges of levees to take a peek at the roiling floodwaters.

On the outskirts of the city, some farmers had emerged to begin sweeping away the mud and debris blocking the roads that lead to their strawberry farms and apple orchards.

The fields, lined with furrows, had once again become vast pools of water.

Soumya Karlamangla, Jesus Jiménez, Holly Secon, Vik Jolly, Jill Cowan, Alex Hoeft and Judson Jones contributed reporting.

Ang Li

Larissa Martinez, the owner of a souvenir shop in a three-story building in downtown Truckee, was surprised to see broken glasses and snow inside her store Friday morning when she came to work. For a second, she thought her shop had been broken into. Then she realized the culprit: The snow atop the building tumbled down and blew through the store's windows. "I didn't expect it at all," Ms. Martinez said.

The store is now closed for the third time in two weeks. She said the shop has lost an "exorbitant" amount of sales because many tourists could not visit because of inclement weather. "It's been a big struggle," she said.

Soumya Karlamangla and Jill Cowan

As another round of heavy storms battered California, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that he would ease state rules to allow local water agencies to more easily redirect floodwaters to replenish the state's severely depleted groundwater supplies.

The move comes amid criticism that California has flushed trillions of gallons of water out to sea during this winter's repeated deluges. Water agencies and experts say the state's strict rules that limit who can take water from streams and creeks have prohibited the local agencies from capturing the excessive flows, though California desperately needs to bank water for its next drought.

In an executive order, Mr. Newsom lifted a requirement that water agencies seek state permits to divert water during flood conditions, an effort "to accelerate groundwater recharge, and to reduce the risks of local and regional catastrophic flooding."

The measure, which went into effect on Friday and lasts through June 10, aims to take advantage of the state's enormous snowpack and at least two more atmospheric rivers that are expected to hit the state in the coming days, said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources.

"We certainly want to make sure we’re capitalizing on the opportunities that are being provided to us this year, which I don't have to tell you are very significant," Ms. Nemeth told reporters during a news briefing on Friday.

Water officials emphasized that such opportunities are becoming rarer in a warming climate.

Philip Bachand, an environmental engineer who works on groundwater projects, called Mr. Newsom's order a welcome first step toward making California more nimble in responding to its cycles of drought and deluge.

Mr. Bachand said he hoped that the state would permanently loosen its rules to allow more groundwater diversion, even when flooding risk wasn't as widespread or extreme.

"That's a more liberal standard," he said. "It's more flexible, and it would enable you to do this for longer periods of time."

California's groundwater aquifers, many of which are severely depleted after years of drought, can hold as much as 12 times the amount of water as all of the state's major reservoirs combined. Groundwater accounts for 41 percent of the state's water use in an average year, and approximately 85 percent of public water systems rely on groundwater as their primary source, according to Mr. Newsom's office.

Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the state water resources board, said that the new order prohibits water agencies from diverting floodwater to dairy lands or agricultural fields where fertilizer has recently been applied. The restrictions are meant to protect water quality, especially in areas such as the Central Valley, where communities have struggled with contaminated drinking water that comes from the ground.

Kelley Gage, the San Diego County Water Authority's director of water resources, said that making it easier to quickly divert water to refill California's underground reservoirs is just one of a range of ways water managers are trying to integrate science — which has made it possible to much more accurately forecast weather — into a byzantine water bureaucracy designed for eras long past.

"Many current guidelines and practices were developed before satellites and advanced models," she said.

For instance, Ms. Gage said that limits on how much water can be in a reservoir to ensure it doesn't get dangerously full have long been dictated by historic precipitation averages. As a result, reservoir managers may be forced to preemptively release more water than necessary to err on the safe side. But in a climate where swings between wet and dry are becoming more extreme, those averages don't mean much.

Still, Ms. Gage said that tools for things like predicting atmospheric rivers are helping water managers make better decisions about how much water must be released from a reservoir in order to make room for rain.

Take Lake Oroville, which on Friday opened its spillway gates for the first time since 2019.

"I can't even believe the change in events that have happened in the last four months," she said. "Some agencies were doing water contingency plans, to now we’re releasing water from Oroville."

Flow of atmospheric water vapor since March 12

March 12






March 12








Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Note: The animation shows data from the GOES-18 satellite, which uses an infrared wavelength that detects water vapor in the upper troposphere, from 3 a.m. on March 12 to 6 a.m. on March 22, Pacific time.

By Scott Reinhard and John Keefe

Eliza Fawcett

In Soquel, the storm washed out a portion of North Main Street, stranding residents who live on dead-end roads branching off it that wind into a forested, mountainous region above the town. "There's a lot of people up there," said Steve Skewis, 80, who lives on the street and had emerged to view the damage.

Alex Hoeft

With several feet of snow piled atop homes around Lake Tahoe — and more snow falling, and on the way — residents are reporting quotes of up to $20,000 to remove it from roofs, Placer County officials said. Price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal in California.

Viviana Yvonne Hinojos

Flooding from the Kings River has forced the evacuation of Pierce's RV Park in Sanger. The landowner, Joe Pierce, said he hasn't seen water as high as it is now since the 1960s. It left residents like Ashley and Joshua Fields, who spent three days preparing to evacuate their RV, looking for new lodgings. "It's sad and it sucks because we have to relocate," Ms. Fields said.

Vik Jolly

Heavier rain is moving into Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and flood watches are in effect for the mountains in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, according to the National Weather Service in San Diego. The next storm, expected to arrive in Southern California late on Tuesday, is currently "trending down a bit," but that could change, said a meteorologist, Samantha Connolly.

Alex Hoeft

A blend of snow and rain is falling in Truckee, a town in the Lake Tahoe region where officials had warned residents to be prepared for a dangerous storm. So far, Truckee appears to have fared better than anticipated. "It doesn't have a crazy storm vibe," said Jess Steinfelds, who works in a downtown retail store.

Soumya Karlamangla and Viviana Hinojos

Merced County officials have issued an evacuation warning for Planada, a small, low-lying farming town in the Central Valley that endured some of the worst flooding from California's storms in January, when hundreds of homes and cars were destroyed during atmospheric rivers.

As another atmospheric river brought more heavy rains in California on Friday, residents of Planada were on edge.

"Everybody is afraid right now," said the Merced County supervisor, Rodrigo Espinosa, who represents Planada, which is nine miles east of the City of Merced. "They don't want it to happen again."

Flood control dams on major creeks near Planada are expected to reach their maximum capacity by 9 p.m. local time on Friday, officials said. They asked residents to gather documents, medications and other important items in case evacuations became necessary.

Erika Bedolla, 35, and her husband and three children were relocated to nearby migrant camps in January after their home was inundated with floodwaters and almost everything in it destroyed. This week, she packed her belongings into bags yet again.

"I feel afraid and confused, not knowing what to do, if I should leave or stay," Ms. Bedolla said.

Fabi Cervantes also lives in Planada. Her mother, who lives next door, moved in with Ms. Cervantes after she was flooded out of her own house in the January storms.

Ms. Cervantes said on Friday afternoon that she was gathering clothes and other necessities, hoping they would not need to evacuate overnight. She said she was nervous about potential storm damage, especially after seeing how much money and labor people had put into repairing their homes in recent weeks.

"Pray for Planada," she said.

On Friday, Mr. Espinosa said he hoped county residents would be more prepared to deal with heavy rains this time. Residents of Planada and Merced, he said, have been asking for sandbags to safeguard their homes against flooding.

And a creek just outside Planada that overflowed and sent water and debris gushing into the town in January has since been cleared. The debris had prevented water from passing through the creek two months ago, he said, causing it instead to accumulate.

This time, he said, "I’m hoping the water just flows down."

Eliza Fawcett

As the rain tapered off in Watsonville, some low-lying streets near the Corralitos Creek remained closed due to flooding.

Jesus Jimenez

The National Weather Service office in the Bay Area said in an update that rain was beginning to taper off, and "some areas are seeing some blue skies." As water levels continued to recede in Pescadero Creek, the Weather Service said a flood warning for nearby San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties had been canceled. But there are several more days of rain in the forecast for the area.

📡Radar Update 12:45 PM - Good news - rain is tapering off and some areas are seeing some blue skies. A few showers may linger. However, the impacts from the heavy rain remains. 🚧 Heed all warnings and road closures. #cawx Turn around, don't drown.

Viviana Yvonne Hinojos

Some streets and agricultural fields are starting to flood in Fresno County, where the skies are dark and the rain has been non-stop. Farm crews are working through the storm to pump water away from the crops.

Jesus Jimenez

Crews in South Lake Tahoe have been clearing snow from roads throughout the day, but for a while on Friday, they had to focus on unclogging drains as snow and ice was causing flooding around the city. The clearing of "high-priority drains" was almost complete by Friday afternoon, the city said.

Snow operations are shifting to snowplowing to remove the excess snow and slush on the roads. the clearing of debris from the high-priority drains has almost been completed. Please remember to give snowplow drivers the right-of-way.

Holly Secon

A longtime employee was killed when part of a Peet's Coffee warehouse collapsed in Oakland early Friday as a powerful storm cut across California.

Nancy Ward, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, confirmed at a news conference that there had been two other deaths in recent weeks related to the series of storms besieging the state, but she did not offer any other details.

In Oakland, part of the warehouse's roof collapsed at 3:15 a.m., killing a male employee who had probably started his shift only 15 minutes earlier, according to Mary O’Connell, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area-based coffee company. A female worker was also injured. Neither was identified.

"He had been with us for 17 years, beloved, liked, well-respected," Ms. O’Connell said of the man who was killed. "He was a shift lead so he would have come in at 3 o’clock in the morning to get ready for the day."

Ms. O’Connell said she could not confirm that the collapse was directly caused by the storm, but she noted that it happened while the Bay Area was being pummeled by rain.

"We don't know absolutely what happened," she said. "Clearly structural failure, but caused by what?"

Most employees had not yet arrived for the day when the roof fell in, but Ms. O’Connell said that by the start of the 4 a.m. shift, as many as 70 people could have passed through the area of the warehouse.

"The break room is right in that area as well," she said. "It's where people started their day. He was there getting ready for the day. It's unbelievable."

An earlier version of this item referred incorrectly to two storm-related deaths confirmed by Nancy Ward at a news conference Friday. Ms. Ward's office clarified later in the day that those deaths had occurred earlier during the series of recent storms, not on Friday, and did not include the death at the warehouse in Oakland.

How we handle corrections

Jill Cowan

For the first time in four years, the gates of Oroville Dam's main spillway are set to open on Friday, sending water flowing out of California's second-largest lake to help ensure that nearby communities don't flood, in a potent signal that the state's climate-driven water pendulum is swinging back toward plenty.

State water officials said that 15,000 cubic feet of water per second would be released from Lake Oroville, the reservoir north of Sacramento that the dam controls. The water will flow over the dam's hulking spillway as well as through a hydroelectric power plant connected to the dam. The flows can be altered, depending on rainfall levels.

Rain and snow have been pummeling California over the last few months, reversing a devastating three-year dry spell that caused water levels to decline across the sprawling, complex network of reservoirs — both above and below ground — and the shrinking of mountain snowcaps that store the Golden State's most precious resource. Since Dec. 1, the water of Lake Oroville has risen 180 feet.

Aboveground reservoirs like Lake Oroville have important flood protection functions, by controlling water levels and preventing rushing rivers from overwhelming nearby cities.

In 2017, flooding came perilously close when a hole was found in the Oroville Dam spillway, triggering a chain of events that forced 180,000 people to evacuate communities along the Feather River. At the time, officials warned that a 30-foot wall of water could come thundering into them, as an atmospheric river filled Lake Oroville to the brim.

A hulking new concrete spillway — 3,000 feet long and roughly seven and a half feet thick — was reconstructed the following year. It can handle as much as 270,000 cubic feet of water per second, Ted Craddock, an official with the California State Water Project, told reporters during a briefing on Friday morning.

It was last used in April 2019, when severe storms caused widespread flooding and mudslides in California.

Mr. Craddock emphasized that state and federal water managers would be closely monitoring this week's rainfall and other factors to make sure there was space for new rainfall, as they would for reservoirs across the state. As the rainy season ends and summer begins, they will gradually let those reservoirs fill to higher levels.

Given the increasingly extreme shifts between deluge and drought in the West driven by climate change, Mr. Craddock said he was happy to see the waters rise.

"From a water supply perspective," he said with a smile, "the rainier conditions are better."

Jesus Jimenez

Michael Keever, chief deputy director of the California Department of Transportation, said at a news conference that crews have been working to plow snow across the state, adding that crews have removed 45 million cubic yards of snow this last month alone.

"That's enough snow to fill more than a hundred Rose Bowls," Mr. Keever said referring to the stadium in Pasadena, Calif.

Jesus Jimenez

San Luis Obispo County issued an evacuation order for portions of Cambria, near the the coast, because of flooding. "Residents are directed to leave now and seek high ground," the county said.

Holly Secon

Mary O’Connell, a spokeswoman for Peet's, the Bay Area-based coffee company, confirmed the death of a male employee and injuries to a female employee when the roof of the company's Oakland warehouse collapsed around 3:15 a.m. on Friday. He is expected to be publicly identified after the family is notified.

Eliza Fawcett

As rain continued into the late morning, the Salsipuedes Creek in Watsonville surged with rushing water and agricultural fields just outside the city were flooded.

Sean Plambeck

Residents of California's Central Coast should "pay very close attention" to the risk of dangerous flash flooding for the next six hours, said David Lawrence, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "Be sure to be able to take very quick action."

Vik Jolly

City officials in Big Bear Lake, a popular ski resort in the San Bernardino Mountains, warned of potentially heavy rain. The city's official Twitter account asked residents to "travel with extreme caution. Rapid runoff could create mud or rockslides and avalanches across some of our highways." They also warned that the rain was likely to loosen roof-top snow and ice, "causing it to slide off in heavy, dangerous sheets." They offered residents and businesses free sandbags at the city's public works yard.

Eliza Fawcett

In Watsonville, a working-class agricultural city in Santa Cruz County, residents have faced storm after storm this winter. On Friday, sandbags lined garage doors in low-lying sections of the city that were under evacuation orders.

Amid driving rain, Alex Lopez, 54, ducked into Ms. Donuts & Ice Cream to pick up doughnuts for his mother. Mr. Lopez said that he lived on high ground and was not under an evacuation order, but that the unrelenting succession of storms had taken a toll on the city. Since the atmospheric river storms that swept through the region in January, some residents have faced multiple evacuation orders.

"The last two floods, it was all over the fields and all of the roads," he said. "You couldn't go through."

Mr. Lopez grew up in Watsonville and recalled that when big storms hit in the 1980s, he would float down a local river in an inner tube. But these days, storms bring a host of new anxieties because they deluge the fields where many residents work.

"It's bad because this is an agriculture town, so people are in their houses, not getting paid," he said.

At the small lettuce and broccoli farm where Mr. Lopez works, the wet winter has meant that fertilizer can't be put down on crops at the right time. The lettuce is growing too slowly, threatening to throw off the harvesting schedule, he said.

The past 10 years have been notably dry, and last year, there was barely a drop of rain, Mr. Lopez said. While he hopes that the rain now will help alleviate drought conditions, the storms mean that "farmers are biting their nails right now."

"People start panicking this time of year," he said. "It's time to work, not be at home. People are losing money."

Judson Jones

There has been a minor lull in the heavy rain over one of the hardest-hit areas, San Luis Obispo County. Forecasters warn that more rain and thunderstorms will push into the county this afternoon and that dangerous flooding is expected.

!!! THIS IS A DANGEROUS FLOOD SITUATION !!! Heavy rain along with embedded thunderstorms will increase over all of wrn San Luis Obispo County thru afternoon. Many areas from San Simeon to Morro Bay & inland toward Atascadero & Paso Robles may be impacted. #TADD #CAwx #flood

Jesus Jimenez

Ward said that about 9,400 people across California were under evacuation orders, and more than 54,000 customers were without power.

Jesus Jimenez

Nancy Ward, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said at a news conference that two storm-related deaths have been confirmed so far.

Pat Lyons

Ms. Ward's office later clarified that the two deaths she was referring to had happened earlier in the recent series of storms, and not on Friday.

Jackie Sedley

Santa Barbara County has not had any unforeseen problems related to today's storm as of 10:27 a.m. local time, according to Mike Eliason of the county fire department. On Thursday, the department increased staffing and equipment through Sunday morning to augment standard response levels.

Maggie Astor

Satellite imagery posted by Colorado State University's Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere shows the atmospheric river storm system moving into California from over the Pacific Ocean.

Jesus Jimenez

Sheriff Mike Boudreaux of Tulare County has issued evacuation orders for the Three Rivers area and Springville, as well as a shelter-in-place order for other parts of the county in Central California. Springville is under a rare flash flood emergency until 11:45 a.m. local time.

Flash Flood Emergency continues for Porterville CA, East Porterville CA and Springville CA until 11:45 AM PST

Maggie Astor

President Biden has approved an emergency declaration request from Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, which authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts in more than 30 counties.

Jesus Jimenez

The San Luis Obispo Public Works Department said it was assessing what appeared to be a washed out roadway in Paso Robles, along California's Central Coast. "This is a severe storm," the department said. "Take warnings to stay home seriously."

PASO ROBLES - Chimney Rock washout - we’re assessing this site and will follow up when we know more. This is a severe storm. Take warnings to stay home seriously. #storm2023 #stormdamage #slocounty @slocountyoes @CountyofSLO

Jesus Jimenez

The atmospheric river has already produced some considerable rainfall totals across California. At Rocky Butte in the Santa Lucia Mountains, more than nine inches of rain have been recorded since Thursday, and more is on the way, according to the National Weather Service.

Rainfall totals are really adding up over SLO Co, Rocky Butte in the San Lucias is up to 9.42 inches. These areas are under FLASH FLOOD WARNINGS into 1PM, and more rain is still coming. Flash flooding is occurring and is expected to worsen. Avoid travel & flooded roadways!

Viviana Yvonne Hinojos

Fresno County's Office of Emergency Services and the Red Cross opened a shelter in Sanger, about 16 miles east of the City of Fresno, to help residents who want to evacuate. It will operate 24/7 until no longer needed. "We haven't yet seen folks come by, but we anticipate as the storm continues that we will see people needing services," said Taylor Poisall of the Red Cross. The Fresno branch of the California Highway Patrol posted video of a flooded road on the city's east side.

Soumya Karlamangla

Rain has given way to thick gray clouds and fog here in San Francisco, and the morning commute seems to be largely business as usual. In Golden Gate Park, a jogger in shorts and a T-shirt talked on a business call while running past locals pushing strollers and walking their dogs. Only an occasional mist intruded.

Vik Jolly

Despite the rain falling on Friday, with more expected early next week, administrators for the Rim of the World Unified School District in the San Bernardino Mountains are working to bring approximately 3,000 students back to school as early as Wednesday, after building and gas safety checks are completed.

Officials are using a previously planned winter break on Friday and Monday to have school buses inspected. The district has been working to clear snow at schools while relying on the county to clear bus stops of snow banks: 95 percent of the students in the sprawling district, which covers 200 square miles, are bused in.

"We do want to have our students back on our campuses as quickly as possible," said Kimberly Fricker, the district's superintendent.

The district expects to bring about 460 staff members back on Tuesday to discuss the aftermath of the storm "and prepare for some social and emotional conversations for our staff to have with our students," Ms. Fricker said.

For some students in the district, which covers 17 communities and the entire west side of the San Bernardino Mountains, the last two weeks have just been time off from school. But for others, it has been traumatic, she said, "and we want to make sure to ease these students back in from such a scary ordeal."

The San Bernardino Mountains have been devastated by two weeks of storms, with snowdrifts piling up more than a dozen feet high in some places. At least 13 people have died, and the true toll may be higher, because impassable roads have prevented emergency officials from reaching parts of the region. It is unclear if any of those who died were connected with the school community.

The school board held its regular monthly meeting virtually on Thursday afternoon. In a message on the district's Facebook page, officials sought responses to a reopening plan survey.

"We miss our students and look forward to seeing them soon," the post said.

Vik Jolly

Under gray skies, light rain has been falling in Corona – a city about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles – as low clouds cling to the peaks of the Santa Ana Mountains, between Orange and Riverside counties. Meanwhile, the residents of the San Bernardino Mountains are also seeing light rain and are bracing for its impact on the heavy snow that fell in late February. The snow absorbs the rain and gets heavier, potentially causing more roof collapses.

Jackie Sedley

The National Weather Service predicts two to four inches of rain for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and between six and twelves inches for San Luis Obispo's coast and foothills. The heaviest downpour is expected today, and the region is under a flood watch. Santa Barbara County is still recovering from the January storm, which produced roughly 120 percent of the normal yearly rainfall there, according to the county's Public Works department.

Eliza Fawcett

In Monterey, power went out just after 9 p.m. on Thursday evening and has remained out into Friday morning. Throughout this picturesque coastal city, homes and businesses are dark and traffic lights do not work. Some trees and branches came down overnight, amid intense rain and howling wind.

Jill Cowan

It's a gray and drizzly morning here in Los Angeles, but so far it's not like last week, when pouring rain and strong winds made road conditions treacherous and knocked out electricity in many neighborhoods (including mine) where there are old, above-ground power lines.

Judson Jones

A high risk of excessive rainfall was forecast Friday for the foothills of the Central California Sierras and the coastal range. "High Risk days are correlated with a significant percentage of flood deaths and damages," Alex Lamers, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center, said.

Judson Jones

Forecasters with the Weather Prediction Center, a part of the National Weather Service, use this level of forecast rarely. This is the first-ever high-risk forecast for the lower Sierra Nevada since the WPC started issuing them, and it is only the second time for the Central Coast. The last was in 2010.

Kevin Yamamura

Palisades Tahoe, a popular ski resort north of Lake Tahoe and home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, announced on Twitter that it would close on Friday "due to high avalanche danger and flooding." The resort said ridge-top winds had reached 139 m.p.h. and that it was getting rain as high as 8,500 feet — evidence of the atmospheric river's warm precipitation, after weeks of blizzards in the region.

Due to high avalanche danger and flooding on Olympic Valley Rd and Alpine Meadows Rd, Palisades Tahoe will not have any lift operations today and base lodges are closed. Currently it is raining up to 8,500 feet and winds on our ridgeline have just hit 139mph. Thank you.

Raymond Zhong

Atmospheric rivers are hugely influential for California's weather and water supplies. They cause the state's heaviest rains and feed the biggest floods. They drive its cycles of dry and wet, famine and feast. But they also cause a large share of the state's levee breaches and debris flows.

One atmospheric river can be enough to flood homes, down power lines and wash away hillsides and highways. And when several sweep ashore in a matter of days or weeks, as has been happening this season, the potential damage is multiplied.

Atmospheric river storms get their name from their long, narrow shape and the prodigious amount of water they carry.

They form when winds over the Pacific draw a filament of moisture from the band of warm, moist air over the tropics and channel it toward the West Coast. When this ribbon of moisture hits the Sierra Nevada and other mountains, it is forced upward, cooling it and turning its water into immense quantities of rain and snow.

Climate scientists also distinguish atmospheric rivers from other kinds of storms by the amount of water vapor they carry. These amounts form the basis for a five-point scale used to rank atmospheric rivers from "weak" to "exceptional."

As humans continue burning fossil fuels and heating the atmosphere, the warmer air can hold more moisture. This means storms in many places, California included, are more likely to be extremely wet and intense.

Scientists are also studying whether global warming might be shifting the way winds carry moisture around the atmosphere, potentially influencing the number of atmospheric rivers that sweep through California each year and how long they last. They have not yet come to firm conclusions on these questions, though.

Soumya Karlamangla

In the tiny community of Soquel, five miles east of Santa Cruz along Monterey Bay, heavy rains washed out part of the town's Main Street, according to a video posted by the county. Crews were working to repair the road as water gushed over fallen trees and fences. Officials asked residents to avoid the area.

Jesus Jimenez

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency until 9:45 a.m. local time for Porterville, Calif., and surrounding areas. "This is a life threatening situation," the Weather Service said. "Seek higher ground now!" Flash flood emergencies are rare and typically reserved for particularly dangerous weather conditions.

Flash Flood Emergency continues for Porterville CA, East Porterville CA and Springville CA until 9:45 AM PST

Judson Jones

The heaviest rain is slowly moving south out of the Bay Area early Friday morning, but the storm will continue to deliver heavy rains to the Central Coast. As the atmospheric river drifts south as the day progresses, the rain will intensify in the Los Angeles Basin.

Shower activity is starting to diminish slightly over the Bay Area. Heavier rain will continue over the Central Coast thru the early afternoon. Getting lots of reports of flooding, washed out roads, mudslides, etc. Use extreme caution if travel is necessary this AM. #CAwx

Soumya Karlamangla

As of Friday morning, 36,597 power customers in Monterey County — or about 1 in 6 customers there — are without electricity following blackouts that began last night, according to Another 23,841 customers elsewhere in California, including the Sierra Nevada and the Santa Cruz regions, are also without power.

Soumya Karlamangla

The storms are creating a messy and potentially dangerous commute here in the Bay Area. The National Weather Service warns that highways, streets and underpasses are at risk of flooding this morning in a long swath of Marin County as well as parts of Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Bay Area Rapid Transit trains are also running 10 minutes slower than usual, and officials are warning travelers to prepare for further delays.

Flood Advisory Now in Effect until 945 AM PST This Morning.

Flooding Caused By Excessive Rainfall Is Expected. Portion Portion Of Northern California, Including The Following Counties, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz..

Shawn Hubler and Jill Cowan

The power had been out for a week with snow to the rafters in Crestline when the neighbors found 93-year-old Elinor "Dolly" Avenatti bundled up in a chair in front of her fireplace, which had gone cold. Barbie Hughes, 39, the clerk at the local hardware store, was hit by a vehicle on a dark, snow-covered road just after midnight near Big Bear Lake; she died at the hospital.

Alden Park Thayer, 85, an Air Force veteran, a man of faith and a retired professional baker, died at his Lake Arrowhead home as the snow drifts outside piled up to 10 feet, then 14 feet. His daughter, Lisa Thayer, had sat by his side singing "How Great Thou Art."

The roads were impassable, and the emergency officials said it would be a week until they could retrieve his body, and so, Ms. Thayer said, for the next five days it lay on a mattress with a pillow and blanket in the garage.

As the mountain communities of Southern California braced for an incoming atmospheric river, local authorities, stunned survivors and close-knit neighbors began to sort out the toll from a staggering, two-week onslaught of snow.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said on Thursday that it had "responded to 13 death investigations"; of those, eight were being reviewed for potential links to the powerful storm that engulfed the forested Alpine hamlets of the San Bernardino Mountains in late February. One of the 13 deaths was immediately deemed to be directly related to the winter weather, officials said.

But it was unclear how many more lives had been lost because of contributing, blizzard-related factors, such as blocked roads, downed power lines or critical medical care that could not be summoned. At a City Council meeting this week in Big Bear Lake, city officials said that more than seven feet of snow had fallen there in 15 days; hospital officials said that "tragedies" had happened because of the weather, citing access to dialysis treatments as a particular concern.

Gary DeFrench, a contractor in Crestline, said that one of his neighbors, a woman in her 80s, died last week in her home after a fall and was not found for days. "Some of those people are on roads that are very narrow and way out in the boonies," he said.

Near Ms. Avenatti's home, an all-electric cabin built in 1964 that she nicknamed "High Dolly," neighbors who had been socked in for weeks wondered how many more people were isolated and in need of help.

"I’m sure they haven't found everyone yet," said Rhea-Frances Tetley, 72, whose home is across the street from that of Ms. Avenatti, whose body was recovered just as the power was restored Monday. "I only was just able to get out of my house yesterday afternoon, and it took two strong men to dig out the driveway."

The painful search comes as yet another storm system descends on California, with forecasters warning of floods and widespread downpours. At high elevations, the rain was expected to be absorbed by the snowpack, but the additional weight could pose its own hazards. Already, roofs have collapsed in the area, damaging vacation houses and shutting down some businesses.

"I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, so I’ve seen snow storms," said Mr. DeFrench, who has lived for 20 years in the San Bernardino Mountains. "But nothing like this. This is unbelievable."

Local authorities said that at least one death, that of Ms. Hughes, appeared clearly to be storm-related. Ms. Hughes died at Bear Valley Community Hospital on Feb. 26, a night on which city records show a foot of snow falling on the area in just 24 hours.

"She was just a super sweetheart," said Marshall Tietje, 39, a handyman and local artisan in Big Bear Lake, adding that he had been a customer at the store where she worked "and had been at her check stand probably a hundred times."

Four more people who died, including Mr. Thayer, were under hospice care or in the hospital, according to the sheriff's office. The coroner does not appear to be reviewing these deaths.

On Thursday, the sheriff's office said in a news release that it had opened investigations into the causes of death for eight people who were discovered dead in their homes, mostly after neighbors or loved ones called for someone to check on them.

There was Ms. Avenatti, who the department said had "a significant medical history" but who, according to neighbors, had refused entreaties to take shelter with them, insisting that she had seen worse in her years on the mountain.

Another victim, a 77-year-old man, was last known to be alive on the night of Feb. 28; after family members were unable to reach him by phone on March 2, they asked for a welfare check, according to the sheriff's office. Deputies weren't able to get to him that day and returned to retrieve his body a day later.

"There was no indication the weather or a lack of food or resources contributed to the death, only delayed removal from the home," the department said, using similar phrasing for the other deaths under investigation.

On Feb. 28, in Wrightwood, family members asked a friend to check on a 65-year-old woman who had "flulike symptoms." The friend found her dead in her home.

On March 2, a landlord found his tenant, a 77-year-old woman, dead on the floor of her downstairs apartment in Crestline after seeing her alive a week before. A day later, a 62-year-old man was found dead at his home in Big Bear Lake after he had told neighbors he was feeling sick. He didn't respond when they tried to check on him a few days later.

These deaths, too, the sheriff's office said, did not initially appear to be related to a lack of food or resources.

In a brief accounting of each case still under investigation, the authorities said every one of the eight deaths appeared to be "natural." The Sheriff's Department, which also serves as the county coroner's office, said there was no evidence to suggest that the victims died because they might have been trapped in their homes.

But other snowbound locals said that, while they understood that officials were dealing with an unusually fierce act of nature, they didn't believe that the weather wasn't a factor in the deaths.

"That's absolutely not true," said Carola Hauer, a Running Springs resident who, at 71, said she had "out-shoveled everyone here" for the past two weeks.

Ms. Hauer, a psychologist, said she didn't wish to assign blame. But she said she hoped officials and communities would learn and be better prepared.

"We probably should have raised the emergency flag a little sooner," she said.

Ms. Thayer, who was snowed in with her father's body for days, said that she was trying not to think about the future — how she must soon sell her father's house, which had been under a reverse mortgage contract. She was keeping a wary eye on the fine cracks in her ceiling that appeared after the blizzard heaped snow onto her roof and said she was trying not to panic.

She said she had taken heart in the kindness of her neighbors, the warmth of her community.

At one point after her father died, a neighbor asked if she needed anything. Ms. Thayer replied jokingly: "A box of L’Oreal and a pizza." A short time later, after her neighbor's husband had managed to make it to the store, he walked over to her and handed her a bag.

In it were a L’Oreal box dye and a pizza.

"You know," Ms. Thayer said, "what saves this mountain is the people that live on it."

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the name of the law enforcement agency in San Bernardino County. It is the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, not Sheriff's Office.

How we handle corrections

Alex Hoeft and Eliza Fawcett

TRUCKEE, Calif. — With an atmospheric river bearing down on California, Mike Culp climbed to the roof of his two-story home in the Lake Tahoe region to start shoveling off snow.

But there was no need for a ladder. Storms this winter have dumped so intensely across the Sierra Nevada that on Wednesday he simply walked up a massive snowbank to the top of his house.

"There's about 14 feet from the edge of that roof to the floor," said Mr. Culp, who has lived for 25 years in the Tahoe Donner community near the mountain pass and lake also named after the pioneering party that met an unfortunate demise many winters ago.

In recent weeks, blizzards have shut the interstate, closed popular Tahoe ski resorts and sent semi trucks careening into snowbanks. But after weeks of dealing with an icy mess, residents in the mountains worried about a series of warm rainstorms from the tropics that were expected to arrive by late Thursday.

Like other homeowners in the towns near Lake Tahoe, Mr. Culp was racing to remove massive snowdrifts from his roof. Forecasters and local officials have raised concerns about flooding from snowmelt. But perhaps a greater worry this time is that the snow will act as a sponge, soaking up the rain and becoming heavy enough for roofs to collapse. A second atmospheric river is expected to arrive on Monday.

"You already have feet of snowfall on top of your roof. Now, you pour a few inches of rainfall on it, and it can only hold so much," said Tyler Salas, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Reno, Nev., which oversees the Tahoe region.

This past winter has been especially risky for local homeowners, said Jeremy Mills, the president of Mills Roofing, a family-owned business that serves the Lake Tahoe region.

The atmospheric river that swept through the region earlier this year was largely absorbed by multiple feet of snow piled on homes; last week's storms layered even more snow on top of that. The original snowpack is a "frozen block of ice" buried under 10 feet of powder, he said.

"There's going to be rain, but it's not going to be enough to wash the problem away. It's only going to compound it," Mr. Mills said. "We might just be at a tipping point that we haven't ever experienced in our history, being in business 40-plus years."

In Truckee, a town of 17,000 north of Lake Tahoe, even the mayor, Lindsay Romack, spent part of Wednesday clearing off her roof, snowshoeing over six-foot snowdrifts and pulling down snow with a 16-foot rake.

Once known as a railroad outpost near the Nevada border, Truckee has developed into a trendy mountain spot that has become particularly popular among Bay Area tech workers. For years, many drove several hours each way to stay in cabins and ski the slopes on weekends. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, a growing number moved permanently to the region to work remotely.

As the recent storm approached, the town worked to inform residents of the potential dangers, advising homeowners to clear roofs and monitor propane tanks, Ms. Romack said. They had endured an unrelenting few weeks of severe weather.

"Everyone here is just getting a little tired," Ms. Romack said. "It's been constant shoveling and snow removal."

Punctuating the risk of structural damage, the Truckee high school and elementary schools temporarily closed their buildings early this week to allow work crews to clear from rooftops snow that had piled more than six feet high in some spots, said Amber Burke, communications coordinator with the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.

Elsewhere, drivers in South Lake Tahoe are navigating through single-lane roads with eight feet of snow piled on either side, "like you’re in a tunnel," said Cristi Creegan, the city's mayor. On Thursday morning, the rooftops of the city were dotted with residents and business owners, shoveling as much snow as possible before the rain arrived.

South Lake Tahoe has already seen some damage from the heavy winter, including an unoccupied commercial building that "squished like a pancake" last week under the weight of its snowy roof, she added.

"I’ve lived here for 26 years and I’ve never seen a snow like this, and I’ve heard that from people who’ve lived here for 50 years," Ms. Creegan said. "We’ve had snow on the ground since the first week of November, which is really unusual."

In Truckee, Mr. Culp was familiar with the damage that snow-laden roofs could bring. During the winter of 2016-17, the walls of his house began to bow under the weight of accumulated snow. That season, a house on his street "split in half," he said.

This year, he was better prepared: He had cleared his roof, installed heat tape to prevent ice dams and had pumps on hand for potential flooding, as well as battery backups.

By Wednesday, Mr. Mills said he had a wait list of 100 people seeking help to clear their roofs.

His company typically deploys a team of workers who harness themselves to the peak of a roof and systematically remove the snow, often using a saw to cut the snowpack into blocks that can slide down. One roof, he said, was buried under more than 18 feet of snow and would take multiple days to clear, he said.

Still, Doug Gadow, the senior principal at Linchpin Structural Engineering, based in Truckee, said that engineers and building officials in the area seem comfortable with the local design regulations related to snow load — a calculation of the force exerted by the weight of snow on top of a building — since storms rarely exceed them. But, he said, he and many others in the area shoveled off their roofs this week.

On the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Jeff Hinn shoveled through the five-foot layers of stratified ice, slush and powder on the house he was renovating. He was hoping to prevent more leaking in his attic and cracking drywall tape this weekend.

"Part of me is wondering, is this overkill?" Mr. Hinn, a San Francisco resident, said as he observed that his neighbors’ roofs were still piled high with snow.

"I’ve been telling myself, I’m not getting up on that roof, that's ridiculous, that's insane," he said. "And then here I am."

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