California Gov. Newsom asks Biden administration to declare federal emergency ahead of brutal storms

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Sunday that he will ask the Biden administration to declare a federal emergency to support California’s ongoing storm response amid an unrelenting wave of brutal storms that left hundreds of thousands of Californians without power. 

Amid high winds and heavy rains, the worst of the storms is forecast to hit on Monday. During a winter storm update Sunday, Newsom said to expect the worst of the storm and "very intense weather" in the next 48 hours.

"Don't test fate," Newsom said during the Sunday update. "Just a foot of water and your car's floating, you know, half a foot of water and you're off your feet."

More than half of Sacramento's 530,000 residents were in the dark at the height of the storm Sunday, victimized by wind gusts of up to 60 mph that toppled trees and tangled power lines, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District said.

"Atmospheric river events" will continue to batter California through early this week with likely the most potent system arriving Monday, the National Weather Service said. Additional rain on saturated soils will lead to considerable flooding, mudslides, and burn scar debris flows, the weather service said.

Widespread mountain snow and high winds will add to weather issues across the state, the statement warned.

"This could be a deadly situation and the storm will likely be a billion-dollar disaster," tweeted AccuWeather meteorologist Ariella Scalese. "Several more inches of rain, mudslides/landslides. In addition, feet of snow above 6,500 feet and wind gusts exceeding 100 mph."

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Latest developments:

  • More than 117,000 homes and businesses across California were without power Sunday night.

  • Evacuation warnings were in place for about 13,000 residents of Sonoma County north of San Francisco, where the Russian River was expected to crash over its banks in the coming days.

  • The state Department of Transportation warned motorists to stay off mountain roads after closing a stretch of U.S. 395 in Mono County due to heavy snow, ice and whiteout conditions along the Eastern Sierra.

  • The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for a swath of Northern and Central California.

  • The storms won’t be enough to officially end California’s ongoing drought but they have helped, Anderson said.

POWER OUTAGES DRAG ON: California struggles to keep lights on after storms leave thousands in dark

A tree collapsed and ripped up the sidewalk damaging a home in Sacramento, California. The weather service's Sacramento office said the region should brace for an even more powerful storm system to move in late Sunday and early Monday.
A tree collapsed and ripped up the sidewalk damaging a home in Sacramento, California. The weather service's Sacramento office said the region should brace for an even more powerful storm system to move in late Sunday and early Monday.

Evacuation warnings in place amid renewed flood concerns

About 13,000 residents in an area of Sonoma County – about 80 miles north of San Francisco – are under evacuation warnings as the Russian River is expected to overflow in the coming days.

The weather service's California-Nevada River Forecast Center warned that numerous river forecast locations are expected to reach flood stage over the next five days.

With the strongest storm expected Monday and Tuesday, the weather service issued flood advisories for a large swath of Northern and Central California. The already saturated interior Northern California faces renewed flood concerns due to over 5 inches of rain forecast, according to the weather service in Sacramento.

The Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services ordered residents of Wilton — about 20 miles southeast of downtown Sacramento  — to evacuate the area on Sunday night. Wilton is home to about 6,000 people.

"Flooding is imminent. Out of an abundance of caution, residents must leave now before roads become impassable," the office of emergency services said in its evacuation order.

Weather services warns of damaging winds, additional power outages

The weather service warned that damaging winds will return Sunday night across Northern California.

High wind warnings were issued by the weather service starting Sunday night and is expected to last until Monday.

"This will cause additional downed trees and widespread power outages, especially with soils so saturated," the weather service in Sacramento tweeted.

More than 60,000 customers in Sacramento were still without electricity Sunday night — down from more than 350,000 — after wind gusts of 60 mph knocked trees into power lines, according to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

How much rain and snow will fall?

State climatologist Michael Anderson said officials were closely monitoring Monday’s incoming storm and another behind it and were keeping an eye on three other systems farther out in the Pacific. Parts of Northern and Central California could see 6 to 12 inches of rain through Wednesday, the weather service said.

AccuWeather says an additional 4-8 inches of rain could fall on many of the coastal ranges, as well as the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Isolated areas could get up to 14 inches, AccuWeather said. Monday's storm is expected to bring heavy Sierra snow, strong winds and a mixture of heavy, wet snow and low-elevation flooding concerns into Tuesday, the weather service said.

San Francisco was forecast to see 2-4 more inches of rain. In the past two weeks, the downtown area has seen more than 11 inches of rainfall – six times more than normal  for that time period. During this stretch, the city recorded its wettest 10-day period in more than 150 years.

Heavy rainfall will return to portions of Southern California on Monday night and Tuesday, with 1-2 inches of rain in the Los Angeles area and locally higher amounts, AccuWeather said.

'THE GROUND IS SATURATED': Flooding risk festers in California as weekend rain hits

Why could this storm be so damaging?

AccuWeather experts say the preceding conditions are what could catapult the coming storm damages to "extreme and historic levels." Those conditions includes torrential rains Sunday – one thunderstorm moving into the Sacramento region was producing up to a half-inch of rain per hour. Localized flooding, gusty winds and lightning were in the forecast.

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The "relentless parade of atmospheric rivers" that have hit the state over the last weeks have bloated rivers and saturated the ground. Mammoth Mountain, an Eastern Sierra ski resort, received nearly 10 feet of snow, the National Weather Service reported.

The fronts have been blamed for at least six deaths, authorities say.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California weather: Newsom seeks federal help ahead of brutal storms