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Northern Calif. braces for major storms

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Northern California residents are bracing for gusty winds, heavy rain, high seas and snow in the mountains as the area prepares for a series of storms.

In the first of three storms, rain was expected to begin falling Wednesday, with snow in the mountains. Two more storms were forecast to follow, delivering more rain and snow across much of Northern California through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Wind gusts could reach as high as 70 mph in coastal areas.

“There's an atmospheric river coming directly toward the coast,” National Weather Service meteorologist Charles Bell told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/WtKw2M ).

With large waves expected to be generated by the storms, the U.S. Coast Guard is warning people to stay away from jetties and rocky areas along the coast.

The Coast Guard is also urging boat owners to avoid taking to the water during the next few days, and to make sure their boats are properly secured during the storms.

In the inland areas, a flood watch has been issued for the Sacramento Valley, where areas that were burned in recent wildfires are particularly vulnerable to mudslides. There is also the potential for urban and small stream flooding along the North Coast, where meteorologists say some areas could see as much as 12 inches of rain over the five-day period.

In eastern Butte and western Plumas counties, rainfall could exceed 20 inches, according to the National Weather Service. The Sierras could see as much as 2 feet of snow.

California's Emergency Management Agency warned of potential power outages from downed trees and encouraged residents to make preparations, including clearing rain gutters and trimming tree branches.

Mark Ghilarducci, the agency's secretary, said in a statement that the agency was monitoring the storms and was ready to assist local response efforts.

Still, other officials said they were not too worried at this point in the season.

“This would be the (season's) first significant, really wet storm over Northern California,” Jeanine Jones with the state Department of Water Resources told the Sacramento Bee (http://sacb.ee/10PggnM ).

There is room in reservoirs for additional water, she said, and the storms would replace soil moisture.

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