A powerful storm system bringing heavy rain, mountain snow and hurricane-force wind gusts to much of the arid western United States left more than 115,000 customers without power as the region is preparing for wetter and windier weather in the coming days.
All 11 western states are under winter weather alert Wednesday, with about half a million people along the higher elevations of the Rockies under severe wind alert as gusts could reach Category 1 hurricane strength Already, power has been cut in parts of Oregon, Washington and California, according to PowerOutage.us.
The region is flooded by an atmospheric river — a long, narrow region in the atmosphere that can carry moisture for thousands of miles — as much of the eastern United States recovers from a A deadly winter storm that left large swaths of the country in dangerously cold temperatures.
In the west, a first wave of driving rain, wind and snow has moved inland and is expected to engulf inter-mountainous areas on Wednesday. While coastal states may experience a brief lull on Wednesday, more bouts of rain and snow are expected to sweep the shoreline by the end of the week.
Avalanche warnings have been issued for parts of Idaho, Colorado, Montana and California due to strong winds combined with heavy snowfall.
Winds whipped over 100 mph in some cities on Tuesday, reaching Category 2 hurricane levels. A gust of 107 mph was reported in Mount Hood, Oregon, and a gust of 104 mph was recorded in North Bonneville, Washington. Wind speeds between 80 and 90 mph were reported Tuesday in several cities, including a 90 mph gust in Walker, California.
“This unstable weather pattern is also expected to persist into the weekend ahead,” the National Weather Center said.
Several more cycles of moisture will flood the West this week, bringing temporary relief to a region suffering from prolonged drought.
California’s snowpack could benefit from storms. The critical water source that suffered from a severe drought was operating at more than 150% of normal levels as of the end of last week, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
Now, widespread rain totals of 2 to 4 inches are expected in the region through Sunday, with isolated areas receiving up to 6 inches. Northern California could see rainfall of up to 7 inches, with higher isolated amounts.
The first wave is affecting parts of Southern California and the Four Corners region which includes parts of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Low level precipitation and high level snowfall will leave California late Wednesday morning and remain in the Four Corners area through Thursday.
Avalanche warnings are in effect as lower elevations across the West could see five-day snowfall totals of 2 to 8 inches, with some areas reaching up to a foot. Higher, more mountainous elevations are expected to receive 1 to 3 feet of snowfall, with isolated areas exceeding 3 feet.