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‘Atmospheric river’ drenches drought-stricken California

SAN FRANCISCO — A powerful atmospheric river storm swept through California, set rainfall records, and helped douse wildfires. But it remained to be seen how much of a dent it made in the state’s drought.

The weather system weakened as it moved south but still dropped enough rain Monday evening to cause mudslides that closed roads in the San Bernardino Mountains northeast of Los Angeles.

The atmospheric river storm, a long and wide plume of moisture pulled in from the Pacific, came ashore in Northern California over the weekend.

Drenching rains caused widespread flooding and rock slides. Strong winds knocked down trees and toppled two big trucks on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge near San Francisco. Pacific Gas & Electric reported that 646,000 homes and businesses lost power, though most had it back by Monday.

By early Tuesday, light rain and snow were still falling in northern parts of California, and the lone remaining flood warning was in Sonoma County north of San Francisco, where stream levels were slow to fall.

Despite the problems, the rain and mountain snow was welcome in Northern California, which is so dry that nearly all of it is classified as either experiencing extreme or exceptional drought.

The wet weather also dramatically reduces the chances of additional wildfires in a region that has borne the brunt of another devastating year of blazes in the state.

The National Weather Service called preliminary rainfall totals from the storm “staggering.” Four inches (10 centimeters) fell Sunday in downtown San Francisco, making it the fourth-wettest day on record for the city. “It’s been a memorable past 24 hours for the Bay Area as the long-talked-about atmospheric river rolled through the region,” the local weather office said Monday. “We literally have gone from fire/drought conditions to flooding in one storm cycle.”

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