Atmospheric river bringing new storm with rain and snow to California

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Southern California residents on Friday continued to dig out from a storm that swept through the region on Thanksgiving day, bringing record rainfall to parts of the Los Angeles area and dumping snow on the mountains and high deserts.

“This is pretty unreal, especially for Southern California,” said Justin Kanton, spokesman for Big Bear Mountain Resort. About 48 inches of snow had fallen there by Friday morning, which was Bear Mountain’s opening day.

“I’d like to take credit and say that we planned it this way, but of course Mother Nature really holds all the strings when it comes to delivering the goods with snowfall,” Kanton said.


Across the region in Palmdale, which saw 4 to 5 inches of snow, the digging out process was made more difficult by the fact that the city’s public works crews don’t have many snowplows, Mayor Steve Hofbauer said.

“This amount of accumulation is not routine for us,” he said. “But we’ve got a lot of other road maintenance equipment that can be pressed into use, so pretty much anything with a shovel on it kind of became the defacto snow plows, and the guys did a great job.”

The storm “hit so hard, so heavy and so fast” on Thursday that an ambulance transporting a patient became stuck on the uphill road leading to Palmdale Regional Medical Center, he said. Public works crews had to plow a path to bring in a second ambulance, transfer the patient, clear a route to the hospital and then go back and dig out the first ambulance, he said.

By late Friday morning, the roads were clear and people were out enjoying the rare snowfall, with deputies and firefighters pausing their patrols to have snowball fights with children, Hofbauer said.

“I’ve never seen so many snowmen in my life. It’s the invasion of the snowmen,” he said, describing hills blanketed with snow while clouds floated above a dramatic San Gabriel mountains and Sierra Nevada backdrop. “It’s like a postcard right now — it’s just gorgeous.”

The precipitation was less welcome in some areas. Along skid row, the storm forced the Los Angeles Mission to move its annual Thanksgiving celebration inside and prompted staffers to make available extra showers, clothing and hot meals.


The shelter is prone to localized flooding because it sits at the intersection of multiple underground drainage pipes, which can become become clogged during rainstorms and cause material from the sewers to back up into the streets, Mission president Herb Smith said. In addition, he said, the shelter tends to see an uptick in people suffering from cold- and flu-type illnesses when the weather turns cold and wet.

“It definitely is challenging whenever we have rain,” he said.

The Union Rescue Mission received permission from the mayor’s office to use a new microfiber “sprung structure” as a warming area for 120 women for the first time on Wednesday. The heated waterproof tent will eventually serve as an overnight shelter, once it’s approved by the city, said Rev. Andy Bales, the mission’s chief executive.

“We are always over capacity, but when the storms hit, not only have we been over capacity, but we’ve been beyond,” he said. He estimated that the downtown shelter housed more than 1,250 men, women and children over the past few days, as people looked to escape the rain and cold.

“Rain in 50 degrees in Los Angeles can kill you,” he said. “Rain in 40 degrees virtually guarantees death by hypothermia.”

More rain and snow are on the way.

A storm is forecast to sweep in from the west in the next several days, supercharged by an atmospheric river of subtropical moisture — long plumes of water vapor that can pour over from the Pacific Ocean through California. As a result, there’s going to be a lot of precipitation associated with the system, but it’s still too early to pinpoint exactly where the blast of rain and snow will be funneled.

“It’s kind of like a fire hose, which is hard to control. Right now, we’re confident that there’s going to be rain, and a lot of it, on Saturday afternoon through Sunday. Where the heaviest precipitation is going to be is still uncertain,” said Carolina Walbrun, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Monterey office.



The storm is expected to move into Northern and Central California on Saturday and persist through the busy Sunday travel day as Thanksgiving travelers return home. It could then reach Southern California by Tuesday and Wednesday.

A high wind watch has been issued for many parts of coastal Northern California, and a flash flood warning has been issued for the Kincade burn area in Sonoma County.


The atmospheric river could bring scattered showers to the Los Angeles area by Sunday, followed by a good soaking of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday, said Tom Fisher meteorologist with the weather service’s Oxnard office.


The region has already been hit by two storms this week. Thursday’s rain set a record for the day at Long Beach Airport, which saw 2.17 inches of rain. Anaheim, Newport Beach and Riverside also set records for the day.