A storm expected to be one of the windiest and rainiest in five years pushed across parts of Northern California early Thursday as schools canceled classes and residents stocked up on supplies.
Moderate rain and gusty winds hit the area north of San Francisco with heavier rain expected in the coming hours across the region, the National Weather Service said. The storm could also cause debris slides, especially in areas affected by this year's intense and widespread wildfires. Big waves are expected along the coast.
As much as 8 inches of rain could fall on coastal mountains over a 24-hour period, the weather service said.
"It's a short amount of time for that amount of water," forecaster Diana Henderson said. "We are anticipating some localized flooding, maybe some downed trees and downed power lines. It could have an effect on a wide range of people."
Meteorologist Charles Bell predicted that major elements of the storm would hit the San Francisco Bay area by late morning.
The storm is "going to be advancing toward the south through the day today," Bell said Thursday. Winds were also picking up, he said, noting gusts of up to 50 mph were hitting some buoys off the coast.
Residents rushed to buy emergency supplies, with some stores running out of water, batteries and flashlights. Some cities announced on their Twitter accounts that they had no sandbags or sand left by Wednesday evening.
The Citrus Heights Police Department tweeted Wednesday: "Sandbag locations in CH are closed. All bags and sand has been taken. All sand & bags were taken in 3hr period."
Ski resorts in the northern Sierra Nevada could get more than 2 feet of snow.
The storm is expected to later pound parts of Southern California before a weakening system moves east through Nevada, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico. Those states could get rain and snow, but nothing like what California is expected to experience, forecasters say.
In San Francisco, where as much as 4 inches of rain was forecast, crews cleared storm drains and removed loose rocks from a hillside to prevent them from crashing down. Residents were advised to sweep up leaves and debris in front of their properties to prevent them from clogging drains.
"We have crews working starting tonight in 12-hour shifts," said Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for San Francisco's public works agency. "It will be all hands on deck."
Public schools in several Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, and some private schools canceled Thursday's classes.
Wind gusts of up to 70 mph were expected on mountain tops, creating possible blizzard conditions in the Sierra. Rain, pounding surf and gusty winds were forecast for Southern California starting Thursday evening.
The weather service issued a high-surf advisory from the Central Coast to Ventura County, saying "waves will over-top jetties and sea walls at times" and "will potentially wash into low-lying beach areas or parking lots."
In California's agricultural heartland, farmers were looking forward to the dousing after three consecutive dry years. Parts of the state have experienced above-average rainfall this year but not enough to make much of a dent in the drought.
James McFarlane, a third-generation farmer in Fresno County, said workers would have to stop picking citrus crops during the storm, but rain this time of year makes fruit bigger, allowing it to fetch higher prices.
"If we're not getting some Mother-Nature-dictated time off out in the field, that probably means we're going to have a hard time finding surface water in the warmer months," he said.
The rain and the snow in the Sierra Nevada fill reservoirs that supply irrigation water during hot, dry months.
Farther north, a series of strong weather fronts with high winds and heavy rains could lead to flooding and landslides in western Washington.
The weather service expects as much as 14 inches of rain between Monday and Thursday in the Olympic Mountains west of Seattle.
Saturated soils will bring the risk of mudslides, while winds could topple trees.
High winds were also forecast in Oregon.
Associated Press writer Scott Smith in Fresno contributed to this report.