(Reuters) - California is bracing for its wettest storm of the winter as the “Pineapple Express” is set to dump up to 8 inches (20 cm) of rain and 8 feet (2.44 m) of snow on areas of the state, raising risks of flooding and mudslides, meteorologists said.
The weather system, known as an atmospheric river, gets its name from the flow of moisture that periodically heads east from waters adjacent to the Hawaiian Islands to soak the U.S. West Coast. It blanketed parts of Hawaii with snow over the weekend and was expected to drench California this week.
The San Francisco Bay area could be hit by flash flooding and falling trees as saturated ground gets up to 8 inches more rain and strong winds blow in, the National Weather Service said.
To the northeast in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, passes could see between 80 and 100 inches (2-2.54 m) of snow through Friday.
Valley areas face flood watches over fears the relatively warm Pineapple Express system could initially drench areas as high as Lake Tahoe with rain, melting snow and swelling rivers.
“It’s looking like the wettest storm we’ve seen this winter,” said Cory Mueller, a NWS meteorologist in Sacramento, California.
The system was among multiple winter storms hammering the United States from Seattle to Boston, causing commuter headaches and risks of power outages for millions of Americans.
The Central and Southern California coast can expect flash flooding and possible mudslides near recent wildfire burn areas, the NWS reported.
Up to 2 inches (5 cm) of rain were expected in the Los Angeles area between Tuesday evening and Thursday morning, the weather service said.
“The morning commute is going to be a mess tomorrow,” said Scott Rowe, an NWS meteorologist in the San Francisco Bay area.
A string of winter storms have swelled snowpack in California to above-average levels, delighting farmers in need of water and skiers in search of powder.
Seattle had its snowiest month in 50 years after being hit by three winter storms in February, according to AccuWeather.
Ski areas like Sierra-at-Tahoe in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains have received 129 inches (3 m) of snow in the past 30 days. The resort was forced to close on Sunday after 30 inches (76 cm) of snow fell overnight, shutting nearby highways.
“It made for an incredible powder day yesterday,” said resort spokeswoman Sarah Sherman.
Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney