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California was hit with historic New Year's rainfall, power outages and flash floods

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

What meteorologists call an atmospheric river brought an unexpectedly powerful storm with damaging floods and widespread power outages to California over the weekend. Nick Miller with member station CapRadio says emergency officials are now worried about other waves of storms heading their way.

NICK MILLER, BYLINE: Everyone knew it would rain this weekend, but people did not expect this. In the mountains, blizzards trapped travelers in their cars near Lake Tahoe. In the Sacramento Valley, one river spilled over its levees, forcing thousands to seek higher ground and closing a major northwest highway. At least one person was found dead in their car near Sacramento.

BRIAN FERGUSON: There have been a number of rescues that took place with individuals who became trapped in their vehicles.

MILLER: That's Brian Ferguson. He's spokesperson for the state's Office of Emergency Services.

FERGUSON: The event that may be most similar to what we're experiencing now was spring of 2017, where we had the incident with the Oroville Dam.

MILLER: That's when one of California's largest dams was damaged and forced a city of nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. Over the weekend, downtown San Francisco saw near record-setting rainfall and all kinds of urban flooding. Much of southern California also saw several inches. In California's capital city, fallen trees were a familiar sight when folks woke up on New Year's Day. Mary Spencer-Gode was born and raised in Sacramento.

MARY SPENCER-GODE: The wind was just going crazy. We turned our TV off so we could hear it. And I was sitting in the kitchen. I heard a big whoosh and kind of the house moved.

MILLER: She stepped outside and saw a century-old towering elm tree had ripped through a neighbor's concrete driveway before crashing onto the residential street.

SPENCER-GODE: And it didn't hit anything, which is so amazing.

MILLER: Californians will need that kind of luck to continue. No less than three atmospheric rivers are forecast to sweep across the state this coming week. For NPR News, I'm Nick Miller in Sacramento. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nick Miller