El Dorado County Sheriff Department Sgt.Todd Hammitt told the Los Angeles Times that “people are definitely in a state of panic right now.” “We have streams, creeks, rivers. We have lakes and ponds. Anybody near a water source could be in jeopardy depending on the severity of the storm,” he said.
The storm was expected to pack a massive punch all the way from the mountains of the eastern border of the state to the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Coast, which were all under flash flood warnings from Saturday to Wednesday. Some rivers would likely rise to record levels and winds were expected to top 130 mph in the northern Sierras.
Authorities had closed access to all major roads to the Yosemite National Park in central California, The Associated Press reported Saturday. They expected the closure to remain in place until at least Sunday.
Most of the state would feel the “Pineapple Express” storm surge — or “atmospheric river” barreling through with moisture from the tropics — though rains would be far heavier in the north, forecasters said. A similar system in 1997 caused more than a billion dollars of damage from flooding.
“It’s a once-in-10-year event,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Tolby. “It’s the strongest storm we’ve seen in a long time, the kind of setup we look for to get significant flooding.”
Some forecasters said the rains could be heavier than any seen in up to 30 years.
“There is the potential for excessive rain combined with melting snow to trigger the worst flooding in northern California since 1997 and perhaps 1986,” AccuWeather meteorologist Mike Smith told USA Today.
Some areas could get 36 hours straight of heavy rain. The last time a similar system hit 10 years ago it caused $300 million in damage.
Ski resorts were looking forward to a big snow dump — but with some trepidation that the storm might bring too much too quickly, forcing shutdowns and causing drivers to be dangerously stranded on roadways. Some of the snow could also quickly turn to rain.
South Lake Tahoe’s mayor was urging residents to stay home Sunday and Monday and to clear off roofs as quickly as possible because the heavy wet snow could collapse structures.
The area is still recovering from a storm Wednesday that dumped up to two feet of snow in less than 24 hours in the Tahoe basin.
Another storm system was expected to wallop the area Tuesday after the weekend blast.