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Atmospheric river storm batters California

Heavy rainfall and hurricane-force winds pounded much of California, knocking out power for 750,000 customers and threatening serious floods as forecasters expect the storm to stall over major cities for the next day or two.

The storm is the second Pineapple Express weather system, or atmospheric river storm, to hit the state in the past week.

It arrived just as Los Angeles welcomed celebrities for the music industry’s Grammy awards, where the red carpet was tented but other attendees were forced to slog through heavy rain in glitzy cocktail attire, some with only a handbag for an umbrella.

A state of emergency was declared in eight counties

The severe conditions prompted the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Bay Area office to issue a rare hurricane-force wind warning for Big Sur and nearby areas.

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in eight counties with a combined population of more than 20 million people, and flash flood warnings were issued for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

A man cycles through flooded streets in Santa Barbara

“This has the potential to be a historic storm, severe winds, thunderstorms, and even brief tornadoes,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass told a news conference.

The San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles county were not only getting drenched but the storm was expected to stall over some areas into tomorrow, creating severe risk of flooding mudslides.

The NWS recorded peak wind gusts of 129km/h in some places.

Nearly 750,000 homes and businesses lacked electricity yesterday afternoon, according to

“This is a DANGEROUS SYSTEM with major risks to life and property. Substantial flooding. Residents should heed any evacuation orders,” the Los Angeles office of the NWS said on social media.

People were urged to stay off the roads if possible

“Stay off the roads, especially the freeways…through at least Monday morning.”

Near Los Angeles, the port city of Long Beach could get more rain this week than it does during an entire year, said Mayor Rex Richardson, who is expecting 13-18cm of rainfall by tomorrow.

California’s southern and central coasts are bracing for 25mm of rain an hour and totals 7-15cm, the US National Weather Service said. As much as 15-30cm are expected in the foothills and lower-elevation mountains.

The Los Angeles and Santa Barbara areas were both at high risk for excessive rainfall, with forecasters anticipating “near continuous rainfall” for the next 24 hours.

Evacuation orders were issued for some of those counties’ residents, as well as residents of the San Jose region and Ventura County.

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