SONOMA, Calif. (AP) – The atmospheric river that drenched Northern and Central California, causing at least two deaths, unleashing walls of mud and crumbling part of a major dam spillway, was expected to turn south Friday.
The National Weather Service forecast rain spreading across Southern California, with up to 2 inches of rain in Ventura County northward and less than an inch in Los Angeles County.
Thanks to a wet winter, downtown Los Angeles already has exceeded its annual rainfall total with the season far from over.
In the north, which has reeled this week from fierce downpours and gusty winds, the rain began tapering off Thursday. Dry weather could develop by Saturday and continue along with a warming trend through the middle of next week, the National Weather Service forecast.
The series of storms has left its mark, however.
In hard-hit coastal mountains near Santa Cruz, a dump truck accidentally ran over two highway workers – killing one – as the men worked Thursday to clear one of several slides of mud and rock pouring onto Highway 17, the California Highway Patrol said.
In Central California, a car plunged into a flooded creek near Bakersfield. Kern County authorities rescued a woman who was clinging to tree branches in the swollen creek but a man in his 20s died when the car submerged upside down.
Thursday’s storm whipped the Golden Gate Bridge with wind gusts near 60 mph and brought nearly an inch of rain to parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Northern California already has received more than a year’s worth of rain and snow from an unending series of storms, with two months left to go in the winter rainy season.
“The ground is already super-saturated,” National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson said. “The water is still flowing out of the hills from the storm on Tuesday.”
Several homes were inundated with mud earlier in the week.
In the Marin County community of Fairfax, Maggie Bridges scooped up her 4-year-old son and climbed barefoot out of the bathroom window as a rain-soaked hillside gave way on Wednesday, her husband said.
“The mudslide came down and broke our front door in half,” Zach Laurie told KPIX-TV.
Residents along Sonoma County’s Russian River stacked up sandbags and retreated to the second floor of buildings.
Lynn Crescione, owner of Creekside Inn & Resort in Guerneville, said many long since had raised their buildings on stilts for days like Thursday.
“We’ve been here 35 years, and we’ve risen most of our buildings over time. When it rains we just go upstairs,” Crescione said.
Around Northern California, state workers opened flood gates to release some of the water building up in reservoirs and rivers. State engineers discovered new damage to the spillway of Lake Oroville’s dam – the state’s second-largest reservoir and the tallest dam in the United States – but said there was no immediate danger to the dam itself or to the public.
On Wednesday, chunks of concrete went flying from the water surging down the spillway, creating a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole that grew Thursday.
Engineers don’t know what caused what state Department of Water Resources spokesman Eric See called a “massive” cave-in that is expected to keep growing until it reaches bedrock.
With little choice, the department on Thursday again ramped up the outflow from Lake Oroville over the damaged spillway to try to keep up with the torrential rainfall flowing into the reservoir from the Sierra foothills
The weather service said the storms were part of a “classic pineapple express,” an atmospheric river phenomenon that carries moisture across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii and dumps it on Northern California.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.