An atmospheric river-fueled winter storm has lashed California causing widespread flooding and knocking out power for close to one million people.

The National Weather Service (NWS) office for Los Angeles warned “all systems are go for one of the most dramatic weather days in recent memory”.

The storm is the second so-called Pineapple Express weather system, or atmospheric river storm, to hit the state in the past week and arrived just as Los Angeles welcomed celebrities for the music industry’s Grammy awards.

Cars drive in the torrential rain in Agoura Hills, California. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Cars drive in the torrential rain in Agoura Hills, California. Pic: Reuters

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

He said: “This is a serious storm with dangerous and potentially life-threatening impacts. Please pay attention to any emergency orders or alerts from local officials.

“California is ready with a record number of emergency assets on the ground to respond to the impacts of this storm.”

About 900,000 were without electricity statewide by Sunday night, according to poweroutage.us.

A rare warning by officials for hurricane-force winds along the coast was issued as the storm brought down trees, power lines and left areas submerged with more heavy rain on the way.

The storm felled trees in Goleta, California. Pic: Scott Safechuck/Santa Barbara County Fire/via Reuters
Image:
The storm felled trees in Goleta, California. Pic: Scott Safechuck/Santa Barbara County Fire/via Reuters

The NWS warned gusts of up to 92mph (148kmph) were possible from the Monterey Peninsula to the northern section of San Luis Obispo County.

Flash flood warnings were issued for parts of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, with forecasters anticipating “near continuous rainfall” for 48 hours.

“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.

Rescuers go to a flooded car in San Jose. Pic: AP
Image:
Rescuers go to a flooded car in San Jose. Pic: AP

People had to be rescued from a car trapped in floodwaters in San Jose, and from a homeless encampment alongside a rising river.

Across the San Francisco Bay Area, winds topped 60mph (96kmph) in some areas, with gusts exceeding 80mph (128kmph) in the mountains.

Winds caused hours-long delays at San Francisco International Airport, where hundreds of flights were delayed or cancelled on Sunday, according to the tracking website FlightAware.

Schools across Santa Barbara County were shut on Monday.

The Los Angeles River, carries stormwater downstream. Pic: AP
Image:
The Los Angeles River carries stormwater downstream. Pic: AP

Further down the coast, strong winds and heavy rain brought treacherous conditions to the city of Ventura.

Alexis Herrera, whose car was filled with floodwater, said: “All the freeways are flooded around here. I don’t know how I’m going to move my car.”

Torrential downpours cancelled the final round of the professional golf tournament at Pebble Beach in northern California’s Monterey County – and with more heavy rain forecast for Monday, the PGA Tour ended the event after only three days, naming Wyndham Clark the winner.

Evacuation orders and warnings were in effect for mountain and canyon areas of Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties that had previously suffered wildfires ahead of possible mudslides.

“If you have not already left, please gather your family, your pets, your medications and leave immediately,” said LA county supervisor Lindsay Horvath.

Flood warnings have been issued across the state. Pic: AP
Image:
Flood warnings have been issued across the state. Pic: AP

Heavy snowfall was also expected into Monday throughout the Sierra Nevada – and motorists were urged to avoid mountain roads.

Palisades Tahoe, a ski resort about 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, said it was anticipating the heaviest snowfall yet this season – up to 2ft (60cm).

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An atmospheric river is a bed of moisture in the atmosphere that carries wet air from the tropics, and dumps heavy snow and rain across another region.

The storm is being referred to as a Pineapple Express, because atmospheric rivers are named for their origin, and the source for the moisture is near Hawaii.



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