The East and West coasts braced for a "double whammy" of powerful storms Tuesday, with storm-battered California facing potentially "catastrophic" flooding as the Northeast prepared for a powerful nor'easter, forecasters said.
A coastal low was expected to strengthen rapidly into a major nor'easter that will significantly affect the Northeast through Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Twenty-two million people across the region were under winter alerts Tuesday afternoon, and power outages nearly doubled from about 136,900 at 8 a.m. to 270,273 by 3 p.m., according to PowerOutage.us.
The weather service warned early Tuesday that precipitation of 2 to 3 inches-plus per hour and strong winds were expected to make travel “dangerous to impossible.” It said the heavy and wet nature of the snow, combined with maximum wind gusts of 55 mph, were also likely to cause power outages and damage to trees.
Snow totals of 12 inches or higher were forecast over parts of New England and upstate New York, with localized totals of 24 to 30 inches possible, it said.
By Tuesday afternoon, several towns in Massachusetts — including Rowe, Windsor and Ashby — had already accumulated over 2 feet of snow, while parts of Vermont had 14 to 28 inches.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont tweeted that as of 2 p.m., towns in the northwestern part of the state were reporting around 17 inches of snow and that "most of the state is expected to receive heavy wet snow beginning around 3PM, particularly in eastern and northwestern CT."
In Maine, all state offices were closed Tuesday, and Gov. Janet Mills urged people to stay off the roads. Parts of Maine and New Hampshire could get up to a foot of snow, according to the weather service.
The storm also led to dangerous road conditions in the Northeast.
New Hampshire State Police tweeted Tuesday afternoon that the snow was "causing white out conditions and making it very difficult to see while driving." The agency shared an image of a truck splayed across snow-covered state Route 101.
In Maine, two drivers crashed Tuesday morning, one of them suffering minor injuries, Maine State Police tweeted.
"In both cases, drivers were driving too fast for road conditions," state police said.
There were more than 120 crashes and cars swerved off the road from 5 a.m. to noon in New Hampshire, state police said, urging residents to "stay home or avoid unnecessary travel."
Two people in Goshen, Connecticut, sustained non-life-threatening injuries after a tree fell on a plow truck, state police said.
While Maine had just over 500 reported power outages as of Tuesday afternoon, New Hampshire had more than 76,500, most of them concentrated in the southern counties, according to PowerOutage.us. And Vermont had more than 31,500 tracked outages affecting the eastern and southern parts of the state.
Several Massachusetts counties had more than a foot of snow by Tuesday morning, according to the weather service. The state had more than 68,900 power outages Tuesday afternoon, most of them concentrated in western counties, PowerOutage.us showed.
"As expected the wet, heavy snow has caused widespread power outages across western Massachusetts," the weather service in Boston tweeted early Tuesday. "As rain transitions to snow across more of southern New England, outages are will become increasingly common."
Rain and snow are expected to move southeast across the state as the day progresses, according to the weather service.
The snow is expected to taper off across New England on Wednesday, but windy conditions are likely to persist.
Air travel also affected
The severe weather was already affecting travel by early Tuesday, with a ground stop issued for Delta Air Lines at LaGuardia Airport in New York until at least 6:30 a.m. ET because of snow and ice.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul warned at a news conference Monday that the storm could be “deadly” as she urged residents not to be complacent.
“We’re no strangers to snow here, but we also want to make sure that does not mean complacency sits in. That is our biggest fear,” she said. “This is one where we’re cautioning people that this could be deadly.”
Hochul said the storm could also bring a “serious loss of power” as she urged residents to stay home Tuesday.
By Tuesday afternoon, more than 77,700 New York customers had lost power, according to PowerOutage.us, the majority of them concentrated in the eastern counties. Some power was restored from midmorning to midafternoon after outages exceeded 100,000 earlier in the day.
Hochul declared a state of emergency that went into effect at 8 p.m. Monday for a string of counties, her office said.
More than 3,300 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were delayed Tuesday afternoon, and more than 980 had been canceled, according to FlightAware.
Personnel and supplies were also deployed Monday to several regions.
The National Grid utility company said in a statement that its storm readiness team was "monitoring the weather forecast and preparing to ensure reliability of the energy delivery system" ahead of the nor'easter.
By Monday night, the nor’easter had brought heavy rain to Philadelphia as it moved up the East Coast. Five New Jersey counties were under a weather-related state of emergency, and as much as a foot of snow was expected along Pennsylvania’s I-80 corridor, according to the weather service.
'Lives and property' at risk in California
In California, excessive rainfall over parts of the state’s central and southern areas could cause “severe, widespread flash flooding” that could imperil “lives and property,” the weather service warned.
A front extending from the northern Rockies to central California was expected to bring a wave of low pressure onshore over the state Tuesday, it said.
The storm is expected to bring heavy rain to parts of California, where 26 million people were under flood alerts and high-elevation areas faced heavy snow. Oregon and the Great Basin were also expected to get heavy precipitation, it said.
The severe weather could create considerable to “locally catastrophic flooding impacts” in parts of California as it shifts south across much of the coast, the Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills, the weather service said.
“Heavy rain, combined with snowmelt in terrain below 5,000 feet to result in more widespread flooding from Tuesday into Wednesday, particularly in low elevations and areas with shallow snowpack,” it said.
“Heavy rain absorbed into the particularly deep snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, along with heavy snow, measuring in feet above about 7,500 feet, will further compound ongoing snow load impacts and issues,” it said.
The weather service’s Weather Prediction Center declared a high risk of excessive rainfall over parts of central and Southern California through Wednesday morning.
“Areas that normally do not experience flash flooding will flood,” the weather service said, warning that “lives and property are in great danger from Tuesday into Wednesday.”
A weather service forecast discussion covering the San Francisco Bay Area from Monday night through Tuesday said, “Strong damaging winds, power outages, additional flooding, and road closures are all anticipated.”
“Avoid unnecessary travel and complete all preparations as soon as possible,” it said.
The threat of excessive rain was expected to decrease Wednesday to a marginal risk over parts of Southern California and the Southwest through Thursday morning, the weather service said.
Water rescues and levee breaches
The new round of severe weather follows major flooding and severe winds over the weekend.
First responders, including members of the California National Guard, have rescued more than 200 people in lowlands north of Salinas, authorities said at a news conference Monday. A video showed a member of the Guard helping a driver out of a car trapped by water.
Monterey County, a national agricultural center, was hit hard by the weekend storm. An estimated 2,000 residents of the town of Pajaro under evacuation orders after a 300-foot breach in an adjacent river levee started opening up early Saturday, officials said.
Images shared Tuesday on Twitter by Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, the director of the Army National Guard, shows members of the California National Guard helping load people into trucks from flooded streets where cars are nearly submerged in the background.
A second, smaller breach near the mouth of the river was reported Monday, said Maia Carroll, a spokesperson for Monterey County. Officials believe that one may be beneficial.
“The water is flowing to the ocean and relieving upstream flooding,” she said.
Meanwhile, the weather service in Sacramento confirmed Monday that a tornado touched down Saturday in the area of Tuttletown, about 50 miles west of Yosemite National Park. Forecasters said it was an EF-1 vortex, meaning it had sustained winds of at least 79 mph. Severe thunderstorms and hail accompanied the tornado, it said.