By CapRadio Staff
A category 5 atmospheric river hit Northern California Oct. 24, bringing historic rains and causing flooding, power outages and ash and debris flows in wildfire burn scars. With the storm subsiding, we are no longer updating this story.
Monday Oct. 25, 5:38 p.m.
A week ago, Sacramento broke a record of 212 consecutive days without rain. Then yesterday it set a record with more than 5 inches of rain in a single day.
“This is a reminder that even in the middle of a drought, you can have a flood,” said Jay Lund, co-director of UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Sciences. “That's just the nature of California's hydrology, and with climate change, it's supposed to become more that way.”
A storm of this magnitude would typically be more concerning, but UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said that the region’s dry conditions made it safer than usual.
“It's pretty hard to get this much water falling that quickly without causing harm,” Swain said. “But the context, the fact that this event was the first big storm of the season, that it occurred in the middle of an extreme drought, that the landscape just kind of soaked a lot of it up … this was an interesting case where you can talk about an extreme weather event that was not a disaster.”
But these sort of extreme swings — from incredibly dry to cyclone bombs and atmospheric rivers — could become more common as climate change warms California.
“In a warming climate in California, we don't actually expect there to be a tremendous change in the overall average precipitation,” Swain said. “But we do expect there to be an increase in the severity of droughts and an increase in the intensity of precipitation events.”
Read more about how Sacramento will need to prepare from CapRadio Environment Reporter Manola Secaira.
Monday, Oct. 25, 1:16 p.m.
Areas across the Sacramento region and Northern California are starting to get a reprieve from Sunday's atmospheric river and bomb cyclone, and a chance to see just how much fell in different parts of the region.
According to the National Weather Service, more than a foot of rain hit Grass Valley in the past 72 hours, the most in the area. Colfax topped 11 inches, while more than 10 inches dropped in Paradise and Pollock Pines, nine inches fell in Quincy and more than 8 inches in Elk Grove. See the full list here.
Placer County officials said evacuations for the Colfax area have lifted after the National Weather Service ended a flash flood warning around the River Fire burn scar. Residents may now return to their homes.
Meanwhile, a winter storm warning is still in effect in the Sierra until 11 p.m. Monday night, and officials are advising people to avoid mountain travel if possible. Donner Pass and Soda Springs have each received more than two feet of snow, and 15 inches have fallen in Kirkwood.
Monday, Oct. 25, 9:32 a.m.
As the rain starts to let up over Sacramento, many roads are still flooded. Residents are not yet in the clear in the foothills and the mountains, as a winter storm warning is still in effect in the Sierra until 11 p.m. Monday night.
The snow has already brought chain controls in some areas, and Highway 50 remains closed at Echo Summit because of a rock slide.
But the storm, called a bomb cyclone and atmospheric river by weather officials, did help California when it comes to wildfires and drought.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, tweeted Monday morning that the storm has put an end to wildfire season. Yesterday fire officials announced the Dixie Fire is 100% contained, and the Caldor Fire was officially contained last week.
Swain also wrote that the storm will put a major dent in California's ongoing drought, though the state has a long way to go.
"But overall it appears that this event was, on a statewide basis, more beneficial than harmful despite its extremity," Swain wrote.
Monday, Oct. 25, 6:30 a.m.
Sacramento set a new record for most rainfall in a single day Sunday as a relentless early season storm continued to hit the region.
According to the National Weather Service, downtown Sacramento recorded 5.44 inches of rain yesterday, breaking a previous high set in 1880, though records only go back to 1877. A flood advisory stretching from Stockton to Chico has been extended until noon.
Sierra Littlefield, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the storm has been causing damage and flooding roadways throughout the region. Officials have cautioned people to stay home if they can, or take extra time traveling if they must go out.
"We saw pretty widespread reports of both downed trees and tree branches, as well as roadway flooding and small creek flooding," Littlefield said. "So definitely, you know, if you see a flooded roadway turn around, don't drown. Water is very powerful, it can be a bit misleading."
Highway 70 remains closed due to a rock slide at the Butte/Plumas County line, and Highway 50 is shut down at Echo Pass because of boulders on the road. Check the latest road conditions on the Caltrans QuickMap.
A flash flood and debris flow advisory around the Caldor Fire burn scar was extended until 9 a.m. Monday.
Littlefield said a storm of this type is unusual so early in the year, and snow is already accumulating over mountain passes. She expects the storm to stay over the region early Monday, but begin to slow down heading into Tuesday.
"So we still have some showers moving across the area this morning, but we will start to see lighter precipitation moving in and we'll start to see some just scattered showers through the day [today] and Tuesday before things really taper off," she said. "We'll see more mild and quiet weather pretty soon here in the next few days."
As of Monday morning, around 130,000 PG&E customers were without power throughout Northern California. The Lake Tahoe Unified School District canceled school Monday because of a power outage. While as many as 30,000 SMUD customers had lost power at points on Sunday, fewer than 50 were without service Monday morning.
Sunday, Oct. 24, 9:30 p.m.
As of 8 p.m. Sunday, around 4.84 inches of rain has fallen in Sacramento, the second-highest total ever recorded in a single day.
It trails only the 5.28 inches that fell April 20, 1880, though records only go back to 1877, 15 years after the great flood that forced the state Legislature to relocate to San Francisco.
Flooding is occurring during the storm and could continue even after the rain ends, though city officials said in a statement "there have been no observed issues with levees within the city."
The city of Sacramento has opened two locations where residents can fill sandbags at 918 Del Paso Rd. and at 5730 24th St. The county has additional locations: Branch Center at 3847 Branch Center Rd., Westside Park at 6555 West 2nd St. in Rio Linda, Orangevale Community Center at 6826 Hazel Ave., Citrus Heights City Hall at 6360 Fountain Square Drive; and 48 Natoma Street (next to City Hall) and 9700 Oak Avenue Parkway (behind Fire Station 36) in Folsom. You’ll need to bring your own shovels to prepare the sandbags.
As of 9 p.m., five streams in Sacramento County have reached flood stage, and another seven are on a flood watch. See the status of all Sacramento streams here.
Highway 99 just south of the central city was at a standstill as of Friday evening due to flooding between Fourth Avenue and Sutterville Road. Check the latest road conditions on the Caltrans QuickMap.
In the foothills, Placer County issued evacuation orders because of potential debris flows for some areas around the River Fire burn scar east of the Bear River near Colfax. Those areas are Hillcrest Boulevard south from 1565 Hillcrest Boulevard to Spring Valley Road; Spring Valley Road from Milk Ranch Road; and Ben Taylor Road to the Bear River.
Sunday, Oct. 24, 6:17 p.m.
The respite center at Sacramento City Hall is near capacity as communities brace for more intense rain and wind Sunday night.
Across the Sacramento region and into the Sierra Nevada, flooding and the danger of debris flows loom as the “atmospheric river” storm is expected to grow more intense into the night and possibly set single-day rainfall records.
The Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services is cautioning people to stay indoors and off the roads. The agency says its most immediate flooding concern is Arcade Creek, which flows through north Sacramento and Carmichael, and is urging those near the creek to move to higher ground.
A Sacramento Kings game began at downtown’s Golden 1 Center at 6 p.m., with fans braving the elements to see the team take on the Golden State Warriors. The California Ironman race was already canceled less than an hour before Sunday’s scheduled start time.
Downed trees and flooding are plaguing communities across the Sacramento Valley, but in the city SMUD is reporting very few power outages. As of 6 p.m., around 3,000 customers were without power, most in the downtown and Midtown areas.
The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood and debris flow warning around the River Fire burn scar west of Colfax late Sunday, running through 3 a.m. Monday. Nevada County issued an evacuation warning for the area Saturday.
Sunday, Oct. 24, 12:30 p.m.
The Ironman competition for Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, is canceled due to weather.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
Tens of thousands of Sacramento residents have been without power, heavy rains are overwhelming streets and creeks, unhoused residents are seeking shelter in the lobby of City Hall and Sierra Nevada foothill communities are bracing for debris slides as a major storm pummels the region.
The city of Sacramento opened the lobby of City Hall to unhoused residents, in hopes of avoiding storm-related injuries and deaths, in addition to another respite center in north Sacramento.
Sacramento County announced that it opened two emergency respite centers on Sunday morning, at 1725 28th Street and 2450 Florin Road. Homeless residents and their pets are welcome at the locations, where there will be snacks and water.
But some homeless advocates, including with the Sacramento Homeless Union, are criticizing the city for not doing enough to keep unhoused residents in encampments dry and safe during the storm. At least two unhoused residents died this past January during a major storm, when the city did not take action to open indoor spaces for shelter.
They say people living in the streets need pallets to keep their tents or shelters off the ground during flooding and more advance notice to travel to indoor shelters.
Organizers are asking for tents, tarps, clothing and bedding to assist unhoused residents.
A tree branch blocks 10th Street in Downtown Sacramento during a storm on Sunday Oct. 24, 2021.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
For residents displaced due to flooding, they can seek shelter at the Creekside Adult Center evacuation center at 2641 Kent Drive. The county has set up sandbag locations in Citrus Heights, Folsom and in three locations in unincorporated Sacramento County. See a full list here.
The county is urging residents to keep indoors and off the roads as the storm is expected to continue through Monday morning.
At one point on Sunday, nearly 30,000 residents, a majority in the North Highlands area, were without power, according to the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District.
Caltrans is urging people to avoid driving in the foothills and mountain areas, due to the possibility of flooding and rock slides, especially in places where wildfires burned this year. The National Weather Service has issued a flood advisory through 2 a.m. on Monday.
Also on Sunday, organizers of the Ironman California race decided to cancel Sunday’s race because of safety concerns.
Several thousand athletes from across the globe converged on downtown this weekend for the three-part race. But the 2.4 mile swim in the American and Sacramento rivers and 112 mile bike ride across the region were potentially too dangerous.
“Weather conditions have deteriorated overnight and weather conditions are expected to worsen over the course of the day. We no longer believe that we can provide an acceptably safe swim and bike environment for our athletes,” read a statement from Ironman California.
Organizers say they are working to offer the athletes more details and possibly other racing options.
The powerful storm is forecasted to continue throughout Sunday and into Monday morning. Residents can call 311 to report downed trees or flooding, and can find more information by calling 211.
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