California storm kills two as severe weather continues

Latest storm across California come after months of heavy rain and snowfall that battered the western US state.

Man walking by downed tree
A tree downed by high winds blocks a street in Oakland, California, March 21 [Godofredo A Vasquez/AP Photo]

Falling trees have killed two people in California as storms, damaging winds, rain and snowfall continue to batter the western US state.

High-wind warnings and advisories were in effect from the Mexico border through Los Angeles and up into the San Francisco Bay area, where gusts of up to 97 kilometres per hour (60 mph) were forecast for some spots.

Much of the region along with parts of Arizona and Nevada were under flood watches and advisories on Wednesday caused by the continued rain and snow melt, the US National Weather Service said.

“Our rivers, streams and creeks are flowing at near capacity. Any more rain that we get today is only going to cause more flooding or worsen the flooding that is ongoing,” said Bill South, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Hanford, California.

In Northern California’s Bay Area community of Portola Valley, a man driving a sewer truck was killed when a tree fell onto his vehicle on Tuesday, the California Highway Patrol said.

Fire officials in neighbouring Contra Costa County also said a large tree killed the passenger and injured the driver of a passing car.

Mountain snow that forecasters said will be measured in feet fell on the central and southern parts of the state, as intense hail was reported in Sacramento, the state capital in the north.

Trees and power lines were reported downed in the San Francisco Bay Area. More than 118,000 customers in California were without power by Wednesday morning, according to PowerOutage.US, a website that tracks utility outages.

An Amtrak commuter train carrying 55 passengers struck a downed tree and derailed near the East Bay village of Porta Costa on Tuesday. The train remained upright and nobody was injured, Amtrak and fire officials said.

Wind gusts reached 122 km/h (76 mph) – a level classified as “hurricane force” by the National Weather Service – in Santa Cruz mountain communities, including Boulder Creek.

Resident Frank Kuhr waited for hours on Tuesday afternoon at a downtown supermarket for crews to remove large trees that were blocking a highway. “Trees are down everywhere,” Kuhr told The Associated Press news agency. “The wind has been unbelievable. Branches were flying through the air, and folks could hear trees just falling and cracking.”

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said on Tuesday that it had 22 sites available across 12 counties to “provide impacted Californians with shelters and other resources”.

The office said it was “proactively coordinating the prepositioning of flood fighting personnel to be available if needed”.

The National Weather Service said the storm is a Pacific low pressure system interacting with California’s 12th atmospheric river since late December.

People walking in the rain
Rain falls on pedestrians on the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles, March 21 [Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo]

The latest storm follows months of intense weather in California that saw flooding ravage the state.

California’s persisting wet weather this winter, which included atmospheric rivers and February blizzards powered by arctic air, comes after years of droughts and wildfires. Scientists have said climate change is to blame for that whiplash of weather extremes.

Atmospheric rivers are storms that dump enormous amounts of rain and can trigger flooding and mudslides.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies