Another storm lashes California after a barrage of brutal weather kills 19. But a break is finally on the horizon

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What are atmospheric rivers?
01:20 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Storm-ravaged California must endure one more round of ferocious winds, torrential rain and possible flooding as the latest atmospheric river pummels the state Monday.

About 8 million people are under flood watches until midnight Monday for coastal Central California, including the Bay Area.

Fresh rainfall could trigger more flooding, mudslides and landslides as oversaturated land from recent downpours gets inundated again. California has already endured more than 500 landslides since December 30, according to the California Geological Survey.

And violent winds could topple trees in weakened soils, threatening more power outages and misery in the state.

Damaged cars sit beneath a fallen tree in Woodland Hills, California.

Since Christmas week, an onslaught of storms has killed 19 people, destroyed homes and turned entire neighborhoods into lakes.

But California will get a desperately needed reprieve at the end of this week.

“As we push into the day on Tuesday, we’re looking for quieter weather across much of the state, with one fast-moving additional system arriving for later Wednesday into early Thursday,” said David Lawrence of the National Weather Service.

“After that, looking for a period of dry weather for much of the state finally as we head into late week and pretty much through the weekend.”

Before the long-awaited respite, here’s what’s in store for early this week:

• Coastal Central California will begin slowly drying out starting Monday afternoon.

• Southern California will get doused with rain Monday through early Tuesday, and more than 6 inches of snow could hit the mountains in the region.

Floodwater from the Russian River approaches homes Sunday in Guerneville, California.

• Another 1 to 2 feet of snow is expected to pile up Monday in the Sierra Nevada, which has been hit with several feet of snow during the recent barrage of storms.

• A weak storm system hits Northern and Central California Wednesday and early Thursday, but the rain and snowfall are not expected to be significant.

• After that, California will finally get several days of long-awaited dry weather.

‘We have lost too much’

The 19 people killed in California’s recent storms include two people found with trees on top of their tents, people whose cars became submerged in floodwater, and a child who was killed when a redwood tree fell on a home.

And rescuers are still searching for 5-year-old Kyle Doan, who was ripped from his mother’s hands by rushing floodwater after their SUV was swept away in San Luis Obispo County on January 9.

“We have lost too much – too many people to these storms and in these waters,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday as he urged residents to prepare for Monday’s storm.

In San Joaquin County, about 175 residents of a mobile home park inundated by floodwater evacuated Sunday, including by boat, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office said.

Evacuation warnings were in place Sunday evening for residents near the Carmel River in Monterey County, on California’s Central Coast. A warning was also in place for residents in Sacramento County’s Wilton area.

“We’re getting flooding in our coastal streams, creeks, and rivers,” Santa Cruz County official David Reid said. “And we’re getting extensive landslides and mudslides and road failures in our mountainous areas.”

President Joe Biden has approved California’s request for a disaster declaration, freeing up federal aid to help recovery efforts in areas affected by storms, flooding and mudslides since December 27.

The federal aid can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs and loans to help cover property losses for uninsured homes, the White House said.

‘Near impossible travel’ in higher elevations

While residents in lower elevations contend with heavy rain and the risk of flooding and mudslides, those living at higher elevations face treacherous conditions due to intense snow.

“Heavy mountain snow and strong winds will lead to blowing snow and whiteout conditions at times, creating dangerous to near impossible travel above 4,000 ft in the mountains and passes of Central California and above 5,000 ft for Southern California,” the National Weather Service said.

In the Sierra Nevada mountains, snow could drop as fast as 2 inches an hour at times, the weather service said.

Flagstaff, Arizona, already shattered its previous single-day snowfall record of 8.9 inches, set back in 1978. On Sunday, Flagstaff got walloped with 14.8 inches of snow.

And lower elevations in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico could get 1 to 4 inches of snow.

It could take weeks or months to clear some roads

The recent storms have damaged the Capitola Pier in Capitola, California.

In Ventura County, residents in the remote Matilija Canyon were urged to leave their homes Sunday as the community struggles to recover from more than 17 inches of rain that fell in a single day last week.

“Towering piles of rock and mud reach over 40 feet tall in some locations, blocking access to roadways and leaving residents isolated to the canyon,” the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday.

Crews have been trying to clear the debris from roads, but “ongoing rain has led to unsafe conditions slowing cleanup efforts,” the sheriff’s office said. “Public Works estimates it may take up to three weeks to clear a single-lane access road into the community and up to six months to complete required repairs.”

More than 10 helicopter flights have rescued at least 70 residents from the area, the sheriff’s office said.

CNN’s Michelle Watson, Amanda Jackson and Robert Shackelford contributed to this report.

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