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Sandbagging stations in California

California braces for strongest storm in five years

Dalia Ibrahim
Digital Reporter

Thursday, December 11, 2014, 11:30 AM - A fierce storm is expected to hit California with drenching rain, heavy snow, pounding surf and powerful winds.

The National Weather Service says the barrage is "expected to be one of the strongest storms in terms of wind and rain" since storms in October 2009 and January 2008.

A high wind warning is in effect for San Francisco until 10 p.m. local time. 

As much as 200 mm 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,” Diana Henderson, a National Weather Service forecaster, told the New York Times. “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.”

SEE ALSO: California drought 'worst in decades'

Moderate rain and gusty winds began hitting Northern California late Wednesday. Officials in San Francisco, Oakland and Marin County said schools would be closed Thursday because of the heavy rains and hurricane-force winds. San Francisco closed the Great Highway, a road that runs along the far western side of the city, next to the Pacific Ocean, because of possible storm surge and flooding. 

Many residents rushed to buy emergency supplies, with some stores running out of water, batteries and flashlights. 

The bulk of the storm is expected to hit the San Francisco Bay Area by late Thursday morning, with the storm moving south through the day.

CLICK BELOW TO WATCH: San Francisco windy conditions-towercam shakes.

SEE ALSO: NASA joins California in fight against drought

The storm is expected to later pound parts of Southern California before weakening and moving east through Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico. The states could get rain and snow, but nothing like what California is expected to experience, forecasters say. 

In San Francisco, where as much as 100 mm of rain was forecast, crews cleared storm drains and removed loose rocks from a hillside to prevent them from crashing down.

CLICK BELOW TO WATCH: Heavy rain hits Santa Rosa early Thursday morning.

A system fueled by the "Pineapple Express" is delivering a steady stream of moisture directly from Hawaii to the West Coast starting Wednesday. Meteorologists describe the Pineapple Express as a long, narrow plume that pipes moisture from the tropics into the western United States. 

Oregon and Washington were the first to see the storm's effects Wednesday. At least 24,000 customers had lost power by Wednesday afternoon because of the rain and wind in western Washington, with more outages and rough weather forecast through Thursday. 

The intense rain from this storm still won't be enough to end the region's drought, although it will be a major step in the right direction, AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said. 

CLICK BELOW TO WATCH: Top Five Rainiest Canadian Cities

With files from The New York Times, USA Today, The Associated Press and CNN

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