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New storm slams California; airport closed, several rescued on rivers

Updated February 19, 2024 - 5:24 pm

SAN FRANCISCO — Another wet winter storm swamped California with heavy rainfall on Monday, flooding the runways at a regional airport and leading to several rescues on swollen rivers and creeks.

The Santa Barbara airport, on the state’s central coast, closed Monday after as much as 10 inches of rain had fallen in the area by noon, covering the runways with water.

“Commercial flights have been canceled, general aviation operations are paused, and the Terminal is closed,” airport officials said in a statement posted on social media. “For info about specific flights, please contact your airline directly.”

The National Weather Service had warned that California’s central coast was at risk of “significant flooding,” with up to 5 inches of rain predicted for many areas and isolated rain totals of 10 inches possible in the Santa Lucia and Santa Ynez mountain ranges as the storm headed toward greater Los Angeles.

The storm is expected to move through quicker than the devastating atmospheric river that parked itself over Southern California earlier this month, turning roads into rivers, causing hundreds of landslides and killing at least nine people.

Moderate showers were reported Monday afternoon but more rain was expected to impact the state through the night and into Tuesday, forecasters said.

River rescues

The storm had already led to a number a rescues, including in San Luis Obispo County, where crews helped three people out of the rising Salinas River in the city of Paso Robles. Firefighters were getting ready to train on swift-water rescues when they received word that someone was stranded on an island in the river, Paso Robles Fire and Emergency Services Battalion Chief Scott Hallett told KSBY-TV.

Farther to the north, firefighters rescued two people from the top of their vehicle, which had stalled in flood waters in Sloughhouse, a community about 20 miles southeast of Sacramento, the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District said.

Hours earlier, a man was rescued along a creek in El Dorado Hills, northeast of Sacramento. The man, who had been camping in the area, was trapped in a tree as floodwaters rose, El Dorado Hills Deputy Fire Chief Dave Brady told KCRA-TV.

Thunderstorms in valleys around the state capital on Monday could bring “brief tornadoes, large amounts of small hail, heavy rain, lightning, and gusty winds,” the weather service in Sacramento warned on X.

Residents in the region, including Sacramento, Chico, Yuba City, Stockton and Modesto, “are advised to pay close attention to the weather,” the office said later in a separate statement.

Kelly Curtis, a personal trainer in Long Beach, prepared by getting sandbags to protect her home where she has a training studio in the garage.

“I don’t think it will be as bad as the last storm, but last time I got flooded and I kept the sandbags just in case,” she said.

Forecasters said the storm would be strong enough to cause problems including flash flooding and power outages. Flood watches and warnings were issued in coastal and mountain areas up and down the state.

Several feet of snow is possible at elevations above about 6,800 feet across the Sierra Nevada, the weather service said. Motorists were urged to avoid mountain routes.

“Consider completing Sierra travel during the day Sunday, or rescheduling to later next week,” said the weather service office in Reno, Nevada. The office issued a backcountry avalanche watch for the greater Lake Tahoe area and the eastern Sierra in Inyo and Mono counties.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services activated its operations center Saturday and positioned personnel and equipment in areas most at risk.

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