San Francisco braces for flooding as rain storm approaches California

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SAN FRANCISCO – A “brutal” storm system building over the Pacific Ocean is poised to slam across Northern California on Wednesday, battering a region already struggling from a weekend of record rains and flooding.

The storm could drop as much as 8 inches of rain in some areas, falling on already overflowing rivers and saturated ground, according to the National Weather Service in San Francisco.

“The impacts will include widespread flooding, roads washing out, hillside collapsing, trees down (potentially full groves), widespread power outages, immediate disruption to commerce, and the worst of all, likely loss of human life,” the weather service warned in a statement. “This is truly a brutal system that we are looking at and needs to be taken seriously.”

A weather phenomenon known as an “atmospheric river” that swept across much of the state over the weekend dumped more than 5 inches of rain on San Francisco and nearly 10 inches elsewhere in the state.

On Wednesday the state will face another atmospheric river – or, the term more common years ago, a Pineapple Express. These are storms with heavy rainfall that occur when a line of warm, moist air flows from near the Hawaiian Islands across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast.

When it reaches the cooler air over the western landmass, the water vapor  falls as heavy rain. Atmospheric rivers are long, flowing regions of the atmosphere that carry water vapor across a swath of sky 250 to 375 miles wide. They can be more than 1,000 miles long – and can carry more water than the Mississippi River. 

WHAT IS AN ‘ATMOSPHERIC RIVER’? These rivers of water vapor can extend thousands of miles

►Heavy snow was forecast to return to the Sierra Nevada on Wednesday.

►Winter Storm Warnings and Winter Weather Advisories were in effect for much of Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and for portions of northern Michigan and the higher elevations of Arizona and New Mexico.

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