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Heavy Rain Heads for California—and the Oroville Dam

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The Oroville Dam spillway releases 100,000 cubic feet of water per second down the main spillway in Oroville, California on February 13, 2017. Image Credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

California is bracing for a life-threatening and potentially historic storm today, February 17, with the arrival of some of the nastiest weather to hit the state in many years. Conditions will go downhill in a hurry through the day as the dreary slog of driving rains, gusty winds, and intense mountain snows blankets the Golden State to begin the weekend.

The latest forecasts from the National Weather Service paint a bleak picture for California and its sprawling countryside. A sustained thump of heavy rain will cover the state during the day on Friday, but the system will begin to pick up steam as it approaches shore closer to nightfall. Heavy rain and strong winds don't seem like too big of a deal to most of us around the country, but California, with its population of around 39 million, is home to more people than 22 other states combined. Any major weather event that affects such a large segment of the population will create huge problems, especially in such a disaster-prone region of the country.

The Weather Prediction Center's forecast rainfall between February 17 and February 24, 2017. Image Credit: Dennis Mersereau

 
Several inches of rain are possible just about everywhere in California save for the mountains, where the precipitation will fall as many feet of snow, and the southern half of the Central Valley, where the Coast Ranges will block rain from reaching the low-lying center of the state in a phenomenon known as a rain shadow. The heaviest rain will fall in southern California near Los Angeles, where up to six inches of rain are possible in the more intense showers and thunderstorms that develop.

Rainfall totals could reach record territory in L.A., where this storm could make today one of the 10 wettest days ever recorded at Los Angeles International Airport, and it could come close to the top of the list in downtown L.A. The storm system causing all of the trouble could rank among some of the strongest low-pressure systems ever recorded off the coast of California; some weather models are predicting a minimum central pressure lower than 990 millibars—a pressure you'd expect to find in a weak hurricane.

Flash flooding will be a major concern in areas that experience sustained heavy rainfall. The National Weather Service's latest assessment of the flash flood risk in California shows that rainfall rates of only around one inch of rain per hour could lead to flash flooding. The threat for flooding from this storm is compounded by multiple factors that many other parts of the United States don't have to worry about, including rough terrain, burned ground from wildfires, and the fact that the soil is still recovering from the years-long drought that's just now starting to wane. These natural factors, in addition to urban sprawl, limit how quickly rainwater can run off into sewage systems and natural waterways.

Areas that suffered under an immense drought for most of the past decade wished for rain every winter, but this winter's steady rains have been too much of a good thing. Not only do residents now have to worry about flash flooding and mudslides, but folks who live downstream of the Oroville Dam have some extra concerns. Recent rains pushed Lake Oroville, situated north of Sacramento, California, beyond its capacity, sending water cascading down its two spillways. Tens of thousands of people had to evacuate last week when the dam's emergency spillway came perilously close to failing due to water eroding the soil and rock near the structure. The lake's water level has slowly receded in the days since, but this rainstorm could push water back to the same dangerous level we saw just a couple of days ago.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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