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Flash Flood Watch

California braces for waves of heavy rain, snow into the weekend

By Courtney Spamer, AccuWeather meteorologist
January 04, 2017, 5:03:15 AM EST

    A train of storms will pound the West Coast, sending snow and heavy rain to areas from southern Oregon to central California.

    "The combination of storms through this weekend has the potential to bring the biggest amount of rain and mountain snow to California since the drought began several years ago," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Jim Andrews.

    The first significant push of wet weather will expand over northern California into midweek.

    The heaviest rain will fall at the coast, from just north of San Francisco to south of Coos Bay. Before drying out on Wednesday night, the region could receive more than 3 inches of rain.

    With this amount of rain falling in just a matter of 36 hours, flash flooding could be a problem in some communities.

    The wet weather will sink across the state of California. Rain is in store for Sacramento, San Francisco and Fresno, California, on Wednesday and Wednesday night.


    While this area will not get the steadiest rain, a couple of inches are still likely, with localized flooding issues possible. Accompanying the rain will be gusty winds, likely to cause cross-wind traveling issues along Interstate 5.

    As moisture pushes into the chilly air already in place across the western U.S., several inches of snow will also be possible in the higher elevations.

    “The arctic air mass in place before the storm moves in will allow snow levels to dip much lower than is typically seen in these areas,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Kyle Elliot.

    “Snow levels may get as low as 2,000 feet for a time in central and northern California prior to the precipitation’s arrival,” Elliot added.

    While snow levels will rise some as the storm moves into the region, accumulating snowfall will still stretch from Medford, Oregon, and the Klamath Mountains, southern Cascades and the Sierra. The highest points of the Sierra will get as much as 2 or 3 feet of snow before drying out late on Thursday.

    "Heavy snow over the high country of central and northern California is exactly what the region needs," Andrews said. "This moisture will be released slowly during the spring and summer as the snow melts."

    For skiers and skiing resorts, this will be a welcome sight. However, heavy snow could also cause travel issues through the middle of the week.

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    Central California weather radar

    Heavy snow is expected in the Sierra that could snarl travel on Donner Pass. Those traveling on I-80 from Sacramento to Reno and northern Nevada could run into travel restrictions or closures.

    Snow will continue across southern Oregon and northern California until late on Wednesday, but it will linger across the Sierra into Thursday.

    Generally drier weather is expected across California on Friday, but this break will be short lived.

    As a storm approaches the California coast this weekend, rounds of wet weather will push back into the state.

    WestStorm HD24 Jan2

    Some ice and snow will be possible with the leading edge of moisture arriving on Saturday, before mild air causes a changeover to rain. Snow levels in the mountains will rise, but heavy, wet snow will fall in the mountains again through the weekend.

    Coastal locations will endure not only heavy rain but also gusty winds.

    “With this second wave of wet weather, flooding could occur with heavy rain,” said Elliot.

    While any rainfall is welcome across drought-stricken California, the repeated rounds of rain will increase the threat for flooding. With only a day or two in between each round of rain, the soil will be wet ahead of the weekend storm.

    Excessive rain may pour down over a short time during the weekend, exacerbating the flood threat.

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