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Essential California: Atmospheric river wreaks havoc

A lonely wintry and windblown highway with no cars
An empty stretch of Interstate 5 through Gorman on Wednesday. A series of winter storms rolling through California has again closed the north and southbound lanes between Castaic and the Grapevine.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Jan. 28, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

One would be hard pressed to imagine a better visual representation of the varying extremes of California weather than these two photos, taken just eight days apart by Santa Rosa Press-Democrat photojournalist Kent Porter.

In the first photo, taken last Monday, the flames of a wind-whipped wildfire blaze across a hillside in a remote part of northern Sonoma County. In the second photo, taken on Tuesday, that same region is blanketed in snow. Porter said the two images were taken about a mile apart from each other. What a difference a few days makes in California, particularly as climate change intensifies extreme weather events.

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Early last week, rare January wildfires ignited in multiple parts of the state. The immediate fire danger has thankfully subsided, but the potential hazards now faced by various parts of California include blizzard, flash flood, high wind and avalanche warnings, high surf and coastal flood advisories and an air quality alert. (And that’s just the abridged list of National Weather Service-issued bulletins, as of Wednesday night.)

A fierce atmospheric river storm continued to bring extreme weather to much of Northern and Central California on Wednesday, toppling trees and triggering power outages and mudslides. The storm is expected to spread into Southern California on Thursday.

[Read the story: “Atmospheric river stalls over Monterey, triggers mudslides and heads to L.A.” in the Los Angeles Times]

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As my colleagues Susanne Rust and Erin B. Logan report, the atmospheric river stalled over Monterey County on Wednesday, prompting mudslides there and threatening others even farther north. The storm will pose similar risks to parts of Southern California burned by last year’s wildfires.

The devastating effects of a wildfire can reverberate for months or even years after the last embers are extinguished, with burn areas left susceptible to highly destructive mudslides that can strike with little warning.

[See also: “California’s fire, rain and mudslide cycle: How to prepare and stay safe” in the Los Angeles Times]

What to expect today and tomorrow:

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In the Bay Area, the wind and rain “should start skirting out on Thursday and into Friday,” according to Brian Garcia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the San Francisco Bay area. A flash flood warning for the East Bay hills and Santa Cruz mountains will remain in effect until Thursday afternoon.

What the National Weather Service’s prediction center describes as “extreme snowfall amounts” across the Sierra Nevada will also continue into Friday, producing up to 10 total feet of snow in some places. Precipitation in the San Joaquin Valley is expected to continue until at least Friday morning.

Southern California can expect heavy rain on Thursday and into Friday, along with significant mountain snow. According to the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles office, the storm is expected to reach Santa Barbara County by Thursday morning, before heading into Ventura and Los Angeles counties later in the day. The rain will continue into Friday morning.

[Read more: “Heavy rain headed to Southern California with mudslides possible in burn areas” in the Los Angeles Times]

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A flash flood watch for the recent burn areas in L.A. County will be in effect from 4 p.m. Thursday through 4 a.m. Friday.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Blue Shield will oversee California’s troubled COVID-19 vaccination effort: After a shaky rollout of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, advisors to Gov. Gavin Newsom have struck a far-reaching agreement with Blue Shield of California for the health insurance company to oversee the distribution of vaccine doses to counties, pharmacies and private healthcare providers. The decision marks a sharp turn away from a more decentralized process that has been criticized for inconsistency across regions of the state and sluggishness in its effort to vaccinate Californians. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “How you’ll get your first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses in L.A. County” in the Los Angeles Times]

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L.A. STORIES

Elementary school campuses in Los Angeles County could be eligible to reopen in two to three weeks if countywide infection rates continue to drop, county Public Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer told the L.A. City Council. Los Angeles Times

Growing racial inequities in L.A. County’s vaccine rollout raise alarms: The county Department of Public Health released demographic data Tuesday showing a significantly lower rate of vaccinations for healthcare workers who live in South L.A., home to large populations of Black and Latino residents, compared with other regions. Los Angeles Times

Sundance begins online this week. Can a virtual festival produce real deals? Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

President Biden announced a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands, one of a slate of executive actions to demonstrate his commitment to fighting climate change, despite opposition from the fossil fuel industry and many Republicans. Los Angeles Times

Central Valley Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) voted to impeach Donald Trump. Now he has a GOP challenger for 2022. Fresno Bee

Sacramento officials did not open warming centers to shelter the homeless on Tuesday night, leaving many with nowhere to shelter during a storm that destroyed encampments and injured some of the city’s most vulnerable. Despite the torrential rain and heavy winds, the temperature did not hit 32 degrees — the threshold that triggers the city to open a warming center this winter. Sacramento Bee

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CRIME AND COURTS

A suspected far-right extremist and radicalized supporter of former President Trump facing federal explosives charges may have been targeting California Gov. Gavin Newson, according to the FBI. Authorities said pipe bombs and weapons were found during searches of the Napa man’s home and auto shop. Los Angeles Times

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Welcome to the puma family, P-95. There’s a new young male mountain lion in town, and he was tagged by biologists in the Santa Monica Mountains earlier this month. Los Angeles Times

A mountain lion that sort of looks like my sister's dog
P-95 was found to be in good condition and is estimated to be about a year and a half old. This isn’t the hardest-hitting news, per se, but sometimes people like to see pictures of animals.
(Jeff Sikich / National Park Service)

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

The names of presidents, conquistadors, authors and even current U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein will be removed from 44 San Francisco school sites after the city’s school board deemed the famous figures unworthy of the honor. San Francisco Chronicle

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A poem to to start your Thursday: “Piano” by D.H. Lawrence. Poetry Foundation

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: rain, 61. San Diego: partly sunny, 63. San Francisco: rain, 54. San Jose: more rain, 55. Fresno: even more rain, 54. Sacramento: still rain, 52. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Robin Pierce:

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When I was 18, I purchased tickets to see Deep Purple. I received a letter in the mail stating that the venue had changed for the concert and that I could exchange my tickets for tickets to California Jam, at the Ontario Speedway on April 6, 1974. Of course, I exchanged them. My friend and I left early in the morning from Lancaster to get to the speedway. Rare Earth opened, then Earth, Wind & Fire, the Eagles and others performed. Deep Purple come on stage at sunset! It was incredible! Then Emerson, Lake and Palmer with their Ferris wheel piano closed the show! A day I will never forget!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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