Storm pushes into central US after walloping California

Jan 2, 2023, 7:25 AM | Updated: 2:14 pm
Three vehicles are submerged on Dillard Road west of Highway 99 in south Sacramento County in Wilto...
Three vehicles are submerged on Dillard Road west of Highway 99 in south Sacramento County in Wilton, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, after heavy rains on New Year's Eve produced levee breaks. Saturday's system was warmer and wetter, while storms this week will be colder, said Hannah Chandler-Cooley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sacramento. The Sacramento region could receive a total of 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 centimeters) of rain over the week, Chandler-Cooley said. (Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee via AP)
(Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

(CNN) — A powerful storm system that battered California on New Year’s Eve, bringing widespread flooding and power outages, is pushing into the Central US Monday, as more than 15 million people from the West Coast to Illinois are under winter weather alerts.

The atmospheric river — a long, narrow region in the atmosphere which can carry moisture thousands of miles — fueled a parade of storms that dropped thick snow on the mountains and drenched northern California, shutting down roadways and prompting water rescues and evacuation orders.

At least two people died in the storm, including one who was found dead inside a completely submerged vehicle Saturday in Sacramento County, and a 72-year-old man who died after being struck by a fallen tree at a Santa Cruz park, according to officials.

Scores of others in northern California were rescued from flood waters as rivers swelled and roads became impassable.

There were 103,000 homes, businesses and other power customers without power across California and Nevada as of Sunday night, down from a high of more than 300,000 outages on Saturday, according to Poweroutage.US.

On Monday, snow is expected to fall across the Rockies, northern Plains, and eventually into parts of the Midwest where winter storm alerts are posted.

Widespread snowfall of 4 to 8 inches is forecast but higher elevations in the mountains could see 1 to 2 feet of snow.

On the southern edge of the storm, a severe storm outbreak is possible across the South Monday into Tuesday.

Parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana are at risk of severe storms on Monday, with damaging winds, strong tornadoes and hail possible. Storms are expected to begin in the afternoon and will last through the overnight hours.

California communities evacuated due to widespread floods

The Sacramento County area was particularly hard hit, with emergency crews spending the weekend rescuing multiple flood victims by boats and helicopter and responding to fallen trees and disabled vehicles in the flood waters, the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District said.

An evacuation order was issued Sunday for the rural Sacramento County areas of Point Pleasant, while Glanville Tract and Franklin Pond were under an evacuation warning.

“It is expected that the flooding from the Cosumnes River and the Mokelumne River is moving southwest toward I-5 and could reach these areas in the middle of the night,” the agency tweeted.

The day before, rising flood waters forced evacuations in Wilton, California, as well as three communities near the city of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County.

Flash Flood Watch was in place along and west of 5 Freeway to the Sacramento River, where there were worries about excessive rainfall and flooding on the Cosumnes and Mokelumne Rivers.

The storm snarled travel across multiple northern California highways, amid reports of inundated roadways and mudslides.

Flooding from the Cosumnes River forced the closure of Highway 99 south of Elk Grove in Sacramento County, the California Department of Transportation tweeted. “SR 99 is one of the state’s heavily traveled, and commercially important, corridors,” its website adds.

Aerial video from CNN affiliate KCRA showed cars submerged past their doorhandles in flood waters from Highway 99 and the Dillard Street area. Chris Schamber, a fire captain with the Cosumnes Fire Department, told the station “dozens upon dozens” of people had been rescued.

US Highway 101 — one of California’s most famous routes — was also temporarily closed in both directions in South San Francisco Saturday with the California Highway Patrol reporting “water is not receding due to non-stop rainfall & high tides preventing the water to displace.”

The weather system is expected to bring light to moderate valley rain and mountain snow to the area Monday and Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

It’s not clear how much this storm will make a dent in drought conditions that have persisted in California, which started 2022 with the driest beginning of the year on record and ended it with flooded roads and swelling rivers.

Northern California’s mountainous areas recorded impressive snow totals over the weekend.

Sierra locations above 5,000 feet received around 20-45 inches of snow Saturday through early Sunday morning — and another round of lighter snow is on the way.

The Sierra Snow Lab recorded 24-hour snow totals of 29.9 inches, Bear Valley Ski Resort recorded 21 inches, Boreal Ski Resort received 40 inches, Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort 42 inches and Soda Springs saw 40 inches, according to the Weather Service.

Related: How to survive flash flooding in a Utah slot canyon and elsewhere

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Storm pushes into central US after walloping California