Severe winter storms wrack parts of western U.S. states

The Pacific Northwest was slammed by a record-breaking storm on Sunday and Monday, as heavy snows and plummeting temperatures hit many of the normally temperate areas of California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington states where snowfall is rare.

The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) reported that “measurable and disruptive snowfall accumulations are also on tap again in the Pacific Northwest,” including the Portland and Seattle metro areas.

Record-breaking freezing temperatures swooped down on Seattle and Portland on Monday along with up to six inches (15.2 centimeters) of snow in some areas, as winds also swept across the Canadian border into Montana.

“It’s cold!” Seattle resident Aaron Rose told Xinhua.

“We’ve been below freezing for five days,” said a San Francisco resident, who called herself Tina. It was an unexpected freeze, she told Xinhua.

UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab reported the highest snowfall for any December, setting a record with 492 centimeters.

Ice, snow, and high velocity wind gusts from 50 to 100 miles per hour (80 to 160 kilometers per hour) are predicted, resulting in a “perfect storm” that made driving on roads quite dangerous. Residents are advised to stay off the roads and avoid travelling.

Amid heavy snowfall combined with gale force winds, 20 cars piled up on a Nevada highway Sunday night and forced several highway closures there as well as in Northern California, making travel nearly impossible in certain areas.

In the pileup, at least six people were hurt and hospitalized, and one unlucky driver rammed into the back of a Nevada highway patrol vehicle.

“If you do not need to be out and about today, please stay home,” Nevada’s Washoe County Sheriff’s Office advised motorists.

Further south in San Francisco, heavy rainstorms resulted in two fatalities when motorists were trapped in their car under a flooded underpass. Rescue workers rescued two other people who managed to escape from the car and climb onto the roof above the flood waters.

The frigid weather carrying heavy snow and rainfall also affected southern California, where a winter storm warning has been issued for the mountain regions in counties like Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Bernardino.

“If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency,” the warning said.

Additional freeze warnings stretching from late Monday night through Tuesday morning have been issued for Santa Clarita and Ventura valleys. And other advisories may be handed out for Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The NWS also issued warnings of small flooding in low-lying areas around San Francisco Bay. Floods had already disrupted a stretch of Highway 1 along the California coast in San Luis Obispo County and Route 101 in Santa Barbara County.

A flood watch has been forecast for regions in Southeast and East Los Angeles as massive downpours are expected due to trailing plumes of moisture from the Pacific called “atmospheric rivers” that leave massive precipitation in their wake.

Potential flood damage and dangers are exacerbated by the wildfires that swept much of California earlier this year and denuded the hillsides and forests. With nothing to hold the soil, mudslides and flooding is rampant, prompting evacuation orders on Thursday in Orange County.

Authorities in the western U.S. states are concerned that the subzero temperatures and storms may seriously disrupt transportation, communications, and power infrastructures, and threaten the homeless or residents with inadequate heating systems.

Reacting to record-breaking snow, ice and freezing temperatures in Oregon State, Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency and has ordered homeless shelters to be opened throughout the region, which will stay in effect until Jan. 3 before it is reassessed.

One important glimmer in the unrelenting atmospheric gloom is that the exceptionally high precipitation rate this year has relieved what some experts have been calling California’s “megadrought,” bringing much needed moisture into the parched California ecosystem.