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Storms to pummel California with flooding rain, snowy mountain travel

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
January 18, 2017, 4:04:32 AM EST

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    A new round of storms will take aim at California and the southwestern United States later this week and this weekend.

    Each storm will bring locally drenching rain and heavy mountain snow, with the potential for flooding and travel disruptions.

    "The first storm will spread southward through California on Wednesday and Thursday with a second to follow Friday," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.

    static cali first storm 1/18 AM

    A third storm will swing in Sunday and may have major impacts that linger into Tuesday.

    Rain and excess water on the highways will force many motorists to slow down, Pydynowski said.

    Incidents of urban flooding are likely in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, California.

    Static Pacific Storm Train

    Rain with potential flash flooding may also reach the desert cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Palm Springs, California, as the storms progress inland.

    Mudslides and other debris flows can be a hazard on secondary roads through the hills and canyons.

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    While the impacts and the amount of rain that will fall will vary with each storm, it will not take as much rainfall to bring some streams and rivers out of their banks.

    Many streams and rivers are running high, while lakes and man-made containment areas are also holding a significant amount of water.

    Static AP Vineyard Flooded

    A vineyard is flooded in the Russian River Valley on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Windsor, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

    Storms last week and earlier this winter officially ended the drought north of I-80 in California and reduced the level of drought farther south.

    Through Tuesday of next week, cumulative rainfall is likely to average 3 to 6 inches in northern California with 1 to 3 inches likely in coastal Southern California. However, there is the potential for locally higher amounts along the west-facing slopes of the Coast Ranges and near the western base elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

    "Gusty winds accompanying each storm could also knock down more trees, cause sporadic power outages and make travel extremely difficult," Pydynowski said.

    In the high country of the Sierra Nevada, each storm will bring a general 1 to 2 feet of snow. Cumulative snowfall through next Monday may reach 7 to 10 feet in the high country.

    Static Cali Snowfall Through Mon

    "Thus far this season, Mammoth Mountain ski area in California, has received 248.5 inches of snow with 144.5 inches falling this month, as of Jan. 16, at the main lodge," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark.

    Records at the resort date back to the 1969-70 season.

    "The resort is likely to achieve its snowiest January on record, snowiest month on record and could end up with seasonal snowfall that ranks very high on the all-time list," Clark said.

    The records are 182 inches (January), 209 inches (any month) and 668 inches (season).

    The heaviest amount of snow and rain could fall with a large storm that swings in later this weekend into next week.

    "Motorists should prepare for restrictions and possible road closures, including at Donner Pass along Interstate 80," Pydynowski said.

    Snow levels will dip low enough with each storm to allow of snow to fall at intermediate elevations. While this will help to curtail small stream flooding along the mountainsides in the Sierra Nevada, it can lead to wintry travel problems.

    From late this week through early next week, a period or two of snow and slippery travel can occur over Cajon and Tejon passes in Southern California.

    Farther inland, snow will coat roads around Reno, Nevada, while Flagstaff, Arizona, could be buried by a foot of snow as the storms progress.

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