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LOS ANGELES — As much of the eastern United States begins to assess damage from a punishing winter storm, parts of the west are bracing for another severe weather event: an “atmospheric river” that , according to forecasters, is likely to bring days of heavy rain and snow.

The “deep and fast” storm system – a wind channel in the atmosphere that carries water vapor from the tropics – had already begun hitting parts of northwestern California and Oregon on Tuesday. The system was expected to continue for much of the week, bringing excessive rainfall that could cause flash flooding, mudslides and debris flows, forecasters said.

At times, the rate of precipitation can reach an inch per hour, said William Churchill, a forecaster and meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Although the West often experiences atmospheric storms, what made this one unusual, he added, was the expected strength and duration. “California in general can make good use of this precipitation,” Churchill said. “Unfortunately, when too many things are happening at the same time, it causes problems.”

The greatest risk, he added, was in previously burned areas along the coast, where rapid and prolonged rainfall could cause mudslides or debris flows.

By Tuesday evening, about two to six inches of rain had fallen in the hardest-hit areas, and the storm system was expected to sweep through the region between the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, as well as the central plains. The system was expected to deliver rain to the West Coast as well as parts of central and southern California through Wednesday morning, forecasters said, adding that a few scattered flash floods were possible.

Nearly five million people in the Seattle and Portland, Oregon metro areas were under severe wind warnings on Tuesday, with sustained wind speeds reaching up to 30 miles per hour and gusts of up to 60 miles per hour, Mr Churchill said. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had recorded gusts of more than 50 miles per hour on Tuesday, he added. “It’s the most damaging element,” Mr Churchill said of the gusts of wind.

In Portland, the heavy downpour flooded roads and rivers, while high winds downed trees and power lines, knocking out power. As of Tuesday night, more than 135,000 customers were without power in Oregon, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks power outages. More than 60,000 customers had also lost power in California and Washington state, according to the site.

The Bay Area was also hit by the storm early Tuesday, with rain flooding roads in the area. In San Ramon, Calif., about 35 miles east of San Francisco, bad weather caused a roof to collapse at a Big 5 sporting goods store, local authorities saidadding that surrounding shops had closed for roof inspections.

After a brief lull on Wednesday, the storm is expected to regain momentum, pounding a stretch from central California to the Pacific Northwest with heavy rain and snow at higher elevations. Some areas already soggy on Tuesday could receive up to seven centimeters more of rain, according to Mr. Churchill, the Weather Service forecaster.

The area likely to be hardest hit, he added, was the port city of Eureka, California, and the surrounding region. Portland and Seattle are also expected to receive about two to three inches of additional precipitation, Churchill said, adding that parts of Southern California will see rain Saturday and Sunday.

The “unsettled” weather is expected to persist through the weekend, according to the National Weather Service, bringing showers and thunderstorms to parts of eastern Texas and the lower Mississippi Valley.

However, the majority of the central and eastern states of the United States will finally experience a respite from the extremely cold temperatures of the holiday weekend, according to the weather service.

“After a scary Christmas weekend,” the service said, “the last days of 2022 should be much more comfortable.”

nytimes

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‘Atmospheric River’ begins pounding western US with rain and snow

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