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More Back-to-Back Storms Headed for California

More Back-to-Back Storms Headed for California

Residents work to push back wet mud in the small unincorporated town of Piru, east of Fillmore, California

Residents work to push back wet mud in the small unincorporated town of Piru, east of Fillmore, California

Atmospheric rivers leave at least 18 dead so far – here’s what’s coming next.

(CNN) – Back-to-back atmospheric rivers that battered California in recent weeks have dropped staggering amounts of rain on the state and left dozens of highways inoperable – and even more rain is on the way.

At least 40 state routes were closed statewide as of Wednesday night, Will Arnold, spokesman for the state's department of transportation, told CNN.

“We’re asking the public, if you don’t need to be on the roadways, please stay home and avoid any non-essential trips,” Arnold said.

In 16 days, swaths of California received 50 to 70 percent of the amount of precipitation that they would usually get in a whole year, according to the National Weather Service. Isolated areas, especially in the mountains near Santa Barbara, have recorded more than 90 percent of their annual precipitation.

At least 18 people have died in the storms in just the past two weeks as the deluge inundated streets and toppled trees, among other hazards. Over 100 National Guard members were in San Luis Obispo County searching for missing 5-year-old Kyle Doan after he was swept away by floodwaters on Monday – and more troops are arriving to help Thursday, the county’s sheriff said.

The series of storm systems have resulted in swollen rivers, flooded streets, sinkholes, crumbled roadways, damaged homes, gushing sewage, and forced thousands to flee their homes.

And evacuations are still ongoing. Monterey County officials ordered residents to flee the low-lying areas of Salinas River, warning that flooding from the rising river on Thursday could have devastating impacts and turn the area into an island, cutting it off from essential services.

“Monterey Peninsula may become an island again like it did in the ’95 floods, so please start preparing now,’ Monterey County Sheriff Tina Nieto warned.

In the Bay Area’s Solano County, an evacuation warning was issued Wednesday for 1,600 people amid fears that Lake Curry could flood downstream.

“We’ve had six storms in the last two weeks,” California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis said Wednesday. “This is the kind of weather you would get in a year and we compressed it just into two weeks.”

Though much of the state is getting some reprieve from the rain Thursday, the barrage isn't over yet.

Three more atmospheric river events – long, narrow regions in the atmosphere that can transport moisture thousands of miles – are expected to hit California in the next 10 days.

“This, quite literally, is the calm between – not before – the storms,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Facebook video, standing near a pier that was wiped out by a recent storm.

Several additional rounds of rain are expected to impact the state over the coming days. More substantial rain will return to central California Friday and spread south across much of the state on Saturday.

What to expect as more atmospheric rivers arrive

Since the unrelenting parade of atmospheric rivers began pummeling California on December 26, the rainfall totals have been immense.

Between December 26 and January 10, downtown San Francisco received 13.59 inches of rainfall, Napa got 11.21 inches and downtown Sacramento got 9.58 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Oakland recorded 12.90 inches of rain during that period – that’s the wettest 16-day period in the city’s history and accounts for 69 percent of their annual average in that period.

The atmospheric rivers will continue to impact California into next week, according to the Storm Prediction Center. Here's what to expect:

  • Thursday: Heavy rain will be confined along the northern California coast and into Oregon and Washington through Thursday night, with a slight risk of excessive rainfall in effect for northwestern California.
  • Friday: The atmospheric river will likely shift east, pummeling the northern California and central California coast on Friday. Winter storm watches will begin to take effect across the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.
  • Saturday: A second system will move in on Saturday and rainfall will spread south and begin to impact the whole state. Excessive rainfall threats are likely to be issued for central California. Heavy snowfall could lead to dangerous mountain travel conditions Friday and Saturday at elevations over 5,000 feet and in the northern and central California passes.
  • Sunday: Moisture will move to the inland western states, specifically bringing drought relief to the Four Corners region. The West Coast will continue to see rainfall and mountain snow.
  • Monday: Another round of moisture will impact southern California and bring more moisture to the Four Corners, which will last into Tuesday. Meanwhile, northern California will see a break.
  • Tuesday: A new round of moisture will begin to impact the Pacific Northwest and northern California, which will continue into Wednesday. Central and southern California could see a break.

Though none of the coming storms are expected to individually have as severe of an impact as the most recent ones, the cumulative effect could be significant in a state where much of the soil is already too saturated to absorb any more rain and streets are still flooded from previous storms.

“With saturated conditions already in place, limited flooding impacts are expected across Northern and Central California through next week,” the storm prediction center said.

‘These storms have not ended the drought’

The recent storms, dropping snow since late December, have brought more than 10 feet of snow to portions of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, according to the National Weather Service.

While the snow can be treacherous and shut down key roadways, it could be beneficial for the drought-plagued state's water supply.

Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada accounts for 30 percent of California's fresh water supply in an average year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

The current snowpack across the Sierra is 184 to 269 percent of normal for this point in the season, according to the agency.

Still, it’s important to remember that “these storms have not ended the drought,” the California Department of Water Resources said.

“Major reservoir storage remains below average, and conditions could turn dry again this winter, offsetting recent rain and snow,” state water officials said. “Statewide California reservoir storage is currently only 82 percent of average for this time of year. Lake Oroville storage is 88 percent of average for this date and the state's largest reservoir, Shasta, is only 70 percent of average for the date."

Pictured above: Residents work to push back wet mud in the small unincorporated town of Piru, east of Fillmore, California

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Nouran Salahieh, Cnn