Bay Area set for a soaking as stronger storm moves in

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The Bay Area is set to get a more serious soaking starting Wednesday afternoon and into Thursday morning with 1 to 3 inches of rain expected in the low lying areas and as much as 6 inches in the coastal mountains. 

But all the rain will be good news for skiers and snow boarders headed to the Sierra Nevada, where the National Weather Service expects 2 to 4 feet of snow at higher elevations. 

The incoming downpour is an “atmospheric river” storm, which are considered particularly moisture-heavy and intense storms. 

To that end, the weather service Tuesday issued a flash flood watch for the Bay Area and Central Coast beginning Wednesday and through Thursday morning. The weather service warns that urban and small stream flooding will be likely, along with rapid rises on main stem rivers. Small creeks and streams may also rapidly rise near or above their banks. 

Still, forecasters don’t expect major rivers, such as the Russian River in Sonoma County and the Guadalupe and Coyote Creek in San Jose, to flood. 

The heavy rain will, however, likely cause flooding on Bay Area roads and highways during the Wednesday evening commute and the California Highway Patrol reminds drivers to slow down and move over if police and firefighters are responding to a vehicle accident. 

Forecasters say the storm Wednesday could be the strongest this winter and will be beneficial to the annual water supply of California and other Western states.

“On a statewide basis, from the Oregon border to San Diego, I think everybody is going to benefit from this,” Ryan Walbrun, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey, told the Mercury News.  “A lot of snow will be dropped in the Sierra. It’s a pretty big storm, there’s no doubt about it.”

All the rain is expected to be accompanied by wind gusts, possibly reaching 70 mph. A “wind watch” advisory from the National Weather Service for Wednesday night advises that gusts of 50 to 60 mph are likely.

Meanwhile in Southern California, mandatory evacuation orders are going into effect for many areas near the south land’s wildfire burn scars as another Pacific storm approaches the rain-soaked region.

The National Weather Service says light-to-moderate rain Tuesday will become heavier with possible thunderstorms later in the day, bringing potential for flash flooding in burn areas. 

Authorities are afraid that the incoming storm will dump enough rain in a short time to send the bare soil sluicing down on foothill communities.

In Santa Barbara County, there also were concerns that roads might become impassable and strand people in the town of Montecito, which a year ago was inundated by a mudslide that killed 23 people.