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Heavy Rains In California Turn Roads Into Rivers

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Winds and heavy rains have toppled trees, turned roads into rivers, delayed flights and closed some school districts in Northern California. Weather forecasts call for up to five inches of rain in some areas and blizzard conditions are expected in parts of the Sierra Nevada. The powerful storm is courtesy of the so-called pineapple express. It's funneling tropical moisture to the West Coast and bringing some relief to parts of the state.

NPR's Richard Gonzales waded his way into our San Francisco office and joins us now. And, Richard, what can you tell us about conditions near you and in the surrounding communities?

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Well, Robert, electricity has been knocked out to tens of thousands of homes. As you said, schools were closed in this area so a lot of parents had to stay home today. As of this morning, almost 240 departing and arriving flights had been canceled at San Francisco International Airport. And you could just name any freeway, highway or major thoroughfare, and there are reports of localized flooding and flood advisories issued nearly everywhere. And so on my way into work this morning, I spotted Oakland Public Works worker Riley Scott marking an overflowing sewage line.

RILEY SCOTT: This - lot of water like this - too much volume for the pipes. We've been going - we've been rocking and rolling all night, man.

GONZALES: There are legions of workers out there soaking wet, and they're trying to mitigate the impact of the storm.

SIEGEL: Well, describe what meteorologists are talking about when they use the words pineapple express?

GONZALES: Well, typically we see a lot of cold air come in from the north, near Alaska. And the pineapple express is - well, I'll let the meteorologist Jan Null of the Golden Gate Weather Services describe it. He calls it an atmospheric river.

JAN NULL: It's when we get this this long fetch of air coming up from the southwest, which is about the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands, so going well deep into the tropics. So this warm tropical air holds a lot more moisture than for example, a cold front out of the Gulf of Alaska. And so these are the types of storms that give California its biggest rainfall.

SIEGEL: And the pineapple designates Hawaii, I get it. Well, what could all this rainfall mean for California's historic drought?

GONZALES: Well, it's really good news for the drought, but it does not end the drought. We're three years into this very dry period and so we have a very big - a huge deficit to make up in order to replenish our reservoirs before we can say this drought is over. I asked Jan Null about this, and here's how he put it.

NULL: It's sort of akin to balancing our credit cards this month, paying them off. But we still have to pay off those balances that we have lagging from previous months.

GONZALES: So the good news is that according to Null, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is gaining from the storm and that's the water we will be using later this year.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Richard.

GONZALES: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Richard Gonzales in San Francisco reporting on the massive storm in California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.