‘Bomb cyclone’ slams California, toppling trees and causing blackouts
LOS ANGELES — At least one person was killed as a wet and windy storm arrived in California on Tuesday, delivering more rain, snow and hazards to residents of the Golden State on the second day of spring.
The person, who has not been identified, was killed when a tree fell onto a vehicle on Alpine Road in Portola Valley, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The death was reported as the low-pressure system rocked the Central Coast, where widespread rain and damaging wind gusts also snarled traffic, knocked glass out of skyscrapers and left tens of thousands without power.
The storm came in “much stronger than expected,” particularly in the southern half of the San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay areas, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said in a briefing Tuesday. He said the system had reached the benchmark for a phenomenon known as bombogenesis, or a “bomb cyclone,” which indicates a rapid drop in pressure.
Unlike an earlier bomb cyclone this winter — which occurred about 100 miles southwest of San Francisco — “this is very close to the coast,” Swain said. “So the impacts are actually more immediate and greater than they were back then.”
The National Weather Service has issued high wind warnings from San Francisco to San Diego, as well as inland areas, including Palmdale, Lancaster and the Antelope Valley.
Heavy rain is likely to lead to rapid runoff and areas of flooding as the storm moves south Tuesday. Heavy snow will pose hazards in the mountains of Southern California as well as the central and southern Sierra Nevada, where up to 4 feet could accumulate at higher elevations.
Although rain and flooding were concerns in the San Francisco Bay Area, “mostly it’s the wind with this system,” said Rick Canepa, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Monterey
“The winds have really ramped up quite significantly because we’re dealing with not just one low-pressure center, but at least two and possibly a third one that are just kind of rotating around each other,” he said.
The rare occurrence, known as the Fujiwhara effect, has contributed to peak wind gusts “upward of 60 to 75 mph in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” Canepa said, with strong 50- to 60-mph winds across Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.
Up and down the San Francisco Peninsula, high winds and heavy rains were flooding streets, knocking down trees and causing power outages — just a week after a similar, high-intensity storm rocked the generally weather-placid area.
Visibility was minimal on Interstate 280, which follows the peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose. Ferocious gales blew rain horizontally across the freeway, turning the high-speed interstate into a slow-motion crawl.
In Menlo Park, trees were toppled across small side streets and major arteries such as Santa Cruz Avenue, where a crew was summoned to chainsaw a 60-foot cedar that had been uprooted and was blocking two lanes of traffic. The city’s high school lost power, prompting teens to call their parents to see whether the lights were on at their homes.
By Tuesday afternoon, about 150,000 Californians were without power, primarily in Santa Clara, Alameda, Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties, according to outage trackers.
David King, a meteorologist at the weather service in Monterey, said the storm could develop a “sting jet,” or a localized acceleration of winds next to a center of low pressure, which could result in particularly severe wind near Monterey Bay.
“The lower pressure is directly west of Santa Cruz County out over the ocean, and so if a sting jet develops, it would likely be impacting our area,” he said. Even without such a development, winds are expected to remain strong throughout the day.