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Atmospheric River: San Francisco Bay Area Takes Wild One Day Ride From Extreme Drought To Flooded Streets

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- In just one stormy day, Mother Nature took San Francisco Bay Area residents on a wild rollercoaster ride, going from a months-long severe drought to flooded streets and overflowing creeks.

The potent atmospheric river, spun to life by a bomb cyclone off the Northwest coast, slammed into the Bay Area Saturday night with a fury. The downpours shattered the single October day record for rainfall in San Francisco history on Sunday and left behind a path of damaged homes, flooded neighborhoods and massive rockslides.

Nearly 5 inches of rain fell in Santa Rosa, more than 4 inches in San Francisco and more than 2 inches in San Jose. Totals exceeding the norm for the month.

"It's been a memorable past 24 hours for the Bay Area as the long talked about atmospheric river rolled through the region," the National Weather Service said in its forecast discussion. "We literally have gone from fire/drought conditions to flooding in one storm cycle. Some of the rainfall totals are staggering with our ever reliable observer in Kentfield reporting over 11 inches of rain on Sunday at the base of Mt Tamalpais."

Unlike a typical calendar year, the water year for California begins on Oct. 1, which has gotten off to a very encouraging start in 2021.

Last year was one of the driest on record and termed "abysmal for the second consecutive year" by National Weather Service forecasters.

According to the weather service, normal rainfall for Santa Rosa from Oct 1-Sept 30 is 36.28 inches. Last water year, the Sonoma County city received just 13.01 inches or 39% of normal.

For San Francisco, those totals were 23.65 inches for a normal year and just 9.04 inches fell during the 2020-2021 water year. It was the second-driest on record dating back over 170 years.

San Jose would be at 14.90 inches normally with just 5.32 inches falling over the last water year.

But state water officials insisted as the storm approached last week that there was no quick fix to the drought. It will take several storms to replenish the California's depleted reservoirs, rivers and aquafers.

Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager for the California Department of Water Resources, said people should not think about drought "as being just this occasional thing that happens sometimes, and then we go back to a wetter system."

"We are really transitioning to a drier system so, you know, dry becomes the new normal," she said. "Drought is not a short-term feature. Droughts take time to develop, and they usually linger for quite some time."

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