"We are not out of the woods yet," said Nancy Ward, director of the California Office of Emergency Services. "If you have not been impacted by these storms you could be, at a moment's notice."
At least 19 people have died in the seven atmospheric rivers that have passed through since late December and will continue into next week. Around 6,000 Californians remain under evacuation orders and 20,000 are without power, Ward said.
President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration Sunday due to damage from the storms, which allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief and provide equipment and resources. Currently, 41 of California's 58 counties are covered by the declaration, and Ward said more could be added.
Deanna Criswell, who leads FEMA, was in Sacramento on Friday and will tour storm damage throughout the state over the next two days. She said that residents need to be prepared for the coming storms, whether they have been impacted yet or not.
"Unfortunately, this is not over," Criswell said. "We are expecting more rain coming in. This is a very dynamic and a very dangerous system still."
In addition to wind and flooding, emergency officials are also planning for mudslides, especially in Monterrey, Santa Cruz and Merced counties. The California National Guard is also in position in Santa Barbara County, where in 2018 a mudslide killed 23 people and evacuations were in place earlier this week.
While many areas saw sun Thursday, a new round of storms moved in Friday and will gather strength Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. That will bring renewed concerns for flooding, high winds and downed trees, and dangerous snow conditions in the Sierra Nevada.
David Lawrence with the NWS said that some parts of the state have already recorded more than their average rainfall for the entire year, on average 9 inches in the past 18 days, meaning soils are saturated.
"I want to really focus your attention on the Saturday through Saturday night storm that will bring widespread, heavy rainfall in some locations, very heavy mountain snowfall as well, in addition to gusty winds, up to 50 to 60 miles per hour," said David Lawrence with weather service. "And not only could that rain produce additional flooding, and certainly we'll see some major impacts to travel in the mountains, but those winds could also blow over trees and bring additional power outages going forward."
A flood watch is in place from 10 a.m. Saturday until 7 a.m. Sunday, and a winter storm warning starts at 1 p.m. Friday through 10 p.m. Monday in the Sierra Nevada. Lawrence said additional storm systems are expected early next week before the state gets a brief break toward the end of next week.
State water officials are forecasting seven rivers to crest above flood stage in the coming days, including:
- Sacramento River at Ord Ferry in Butte County
- Navarro River at Navarro in Mendocino County
- Russian River at Guerneville in Sonoma County and Hopland in Mendocino County
- Salinas River at Spreckels in Monterey County
- Bear Creek at McKee Road in Merced County
"We are also monitoring the San Joaquin River area as more flood releases are let into that system, as well as tributaries being very full," said Cindy Messer, lead deputy director for the California Department of Water Resources.
Messer said that reservoirs in the state still have lots of capacity, with many even still below average for this time of year. Lake Oroville is at 47% capacity, with Folsom and Shasta at 42%.
The next round of storms will also make travel throughout the state difficult or dangerous, officials said.
"We’re coming up again on what for some will be a three-day holiday," said Mike Keever, chief deputy director at Caltrans. "But we do ask you again, if you can avoid travel, please consider staying home, watch some football, enjoy some time with your family."
Keever and other officials asked that residents follow local evacuation and road closure notices, avoid driving through standing water, and drive slowly if they need to travel.
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