Parade of storms to heighten mudslide danger, douse wildfires in California into Friday

By Kyle Elliott, AccuWeather meteorologist
November 23, 2018, 3:12:30 AM EST

Continuing through Black Friday, a series of storm systems will bring sweeping changes to the recent weather pattern that has been locked in across California.

A persistently dry, warm and windy weather pattern has led to what will likely become one of the most costly and devastating natural disasters in United States history as numerous large wildfires continue to rage across the state.

The Camp Fire, which erupted on Nov. 8, has claimed the lives of at least 84 people as of Thursday evening, making it the deadliest wildfire in California's history.

Officials estimate that it may take until Nov. 30 until the fire, which has consumed over 153,300 acres, is fully contained.

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California has scorched nearly 100,000 acres, but fire personnel have slowly gained ground on the blaze and it became fully contained on Wednesday.

A large-scale change in the weather pattern will continue to bring heavy, soaking rainfall back to parts of the state through the end of the week.

CA rain 11/22/18

The last storm in this particular train will take aim at northern parts of the state, where a general 2 to 4 inches of rain are anticipated through Black Friday.

While 1 to 2 inches of rain could reach the Bay Area, much less rain is in store for Los Angeles and San Diego.

"During late Wednesday night to Thursday morning, close to 0.50 of an inch of rain fell on the Los Angeles area with more on the mountains to the north and very little if any rain around San Diego," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

"Southern California will miss out on much, if any, rainfall from Thursday night through Friday," Sosnowski said.

The last dose of rain this week will be accompanied by more snow in the Sierra Nevada. However, snow levels are likely to retreat to the high country for this last storm.

While being a boon for the ski industry, the snow can create treacherous conditions in the passes (including Interstate-80's Donner Summit). The high country of the Sierra Nevada may receive 1-2 feet of snow from the stormy pattern ending Friday night.

On Thursday evening, a bus transporting University of Washington band members overturned near George, Washington. While 20 to 25 students were taken to local hospitals, no serious injuries were reported.

According to ESPN, University of Washington spokesman Victor Balta said in a statement that it is unclear exactly what happened, but that icy road conditions and fog played a factor. At the time about 30 miles east of George, Ephrata, Washington was reporting visibility under 4 miles and temperatures within a couple degrees of freezing.

While the wet weather will be beneficial for firefighting efforts and allow firefighters to gain the upper hand on the ongoing blazes farther south, enough rain will fall to heighten the risk of mudslides and debris flows in areas impacted by the fires.

Flash flooding reports streamed out of Mariposa , Fresno and Madera counties in central California on Wednesday evening.

The impending wet weather will also hinder ongoing search and rescue efforts across Northern California, where nearly 900 people remain missing as crews search through debris left behind by the Camp Fire.

On a brighter note, the rain will help to rid California of widespread smoke that has loomed over the state since the Camp Fire ignited and has caused poor air quality in places such as San Francisco.

“Where Californians have spent days engulfed in toxic wildfire smoke, incoming rain and wind will offer dramatic relief later this week," said AccuWeather Meteorologist and air quality blogger Faith Eherts.

Periods of heavy rain are known to "wash out" the atmosphere of pollutants and smoke, she stated.

"Gusty onshore winds moving into Northern California at the end of the week will be another factor in air quality improvement as cleaner ocean air pushes into the Central Valley," said Eherts.

Despite less rainfall in Southern California, the added moisture will put a “cap” on the Woolsey Fire and prevent it from spreading.

In addition, the lesser amounts of rainfall will limit the risk for localized flooding and mudslides while simultaneously dousing the ongoing blazes.

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Farther to the north, the slope of the terrain around the Ferguson and Mendocino Complex Fires may make debris flows more likely than in the vicinity of the Camp Fire.

While officials are working to move victims to more secure shelters, anyone still living in tents around the charred wreckage of Paradise and the surrounding areas will need to prepare for rounds of soaking rain.

Be sure not to have tents located in low-lying and poor drainage areas, which can flood during heavy rain. People should be sure to avoid having tents or campers below a burn area.

Much of California is forecast to be free of rain from later Saturday to Monday. However, while temperatures will trend upward, winds are not expected to become all that strong.

After a break from the wet weather this weekend into early next week, more rain seems likely next week.

AccuWeather will provide updates on the prospect of more rain in the coming days.

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