January 17, 2019

Thunderstorms Roll Across Central California as Potent System Drenches West Coast

A strong low-pressure system rolling through the northeastern Pacific Ocean is responsible for the latest wave of precipitation washing over the West Coast. The storm system is so potent that thunder (gasp!) was reported across central California on Wednesday night as clusters of storms moved ashore between San Francisco and San Luis Obispo. The heavy rain will continue through Thursday before a brief break ahead of the next storm system this weekend.

PowerOutage.US tracked more than 100,000 power outages in California late Wednesday night, mostly situated in the central part of the state where strong winds accompanied heavy rain and thunderstorms. The radar was pretty interesting to watch during the height of the storms. A squall line that developed in the Central Valley around 11:00 PM PDT—pictured at the top of this post—would be impressive anywhere else in the country, let alone in California. There were still about 60,000 power outages across California by noon on Thursday.

Much of the West Coast will continue to see heavy rain on and off for the next week. The heaviest of the rain set to fall over the next week will cover most coastal areas from British Columbia through northern California. The higher terrain of southwestern Oregon could see up to seven inches of rain over the next week. The I-5 corridor between Portland and Seattle should see lower rainfall totals, but they're still on track for a couple of inches of rain by the end of the next procession of storms.

It's not just rain the west is dealing with. Higher elevations are seeing snow from this storm—and lots of it. Blizzard warnings are in effect for the Sierras in California as ripping winds blow around the many feet of snow that will fall through Thursday night. Local NWS offices warn that the ridgetops could see wind gusts in excess of 100 MPH with five to six feet of snow possible in some spots. Heavy snow will continue through the Rockies as the latest storm—as well as the next storms behind it—make the trek across the country. (PS: Yes, that's a lot of snow back east. Yes, I will cover that in another post.)

Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

The drought situation across the West Coast—and most of the rest of the country, as well—has actually improved slightly over the past couple of months. Above is an animation showing the difference in drought conditions between the beginning of last November and today's update for January 15. The drought has worsened a bit in central and northern California where they haven't gotten as much precipitation as they historically do by this point in the rainy season. Elsewhere, though, it's improved a bit. It hasn't improved all that much, but any improvement is a step in the right direction.

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.