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Heavy Rain Heads for California—and the Oroville Dam

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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9 Things You Should Keep in Mind Around Someone Observing Ramadan
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To mark the ninth (and most holy) month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan. Often compared to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is all about restraint. For one month, Muslims observing Ramadan fast during the day and then feast at night.

By abstaining from food and water (as well as sex, smoking, fighting, etc.) during daylight, Muslims strive to practice discipline, instill gratitude for what they have, and draw closer to Allah. To be respectful and not annoy observers, here are nine things you should never say or do to someone observing Ramadan.

1. DON'T JOKE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS.

A traditional iftar meal.
A traditional iftar meal.
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Although it might be tempting to joke about Ramadan being a good excuse to lose weight, it is a time for spiritual reflection and is a serious matter. Observers undertake the challenge of fasting for religious and spiritual reasons rather than aesthetic ones. And, once the sun sets each night, many Muslims prepare a hearty iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) of dates, curries, rice dishes, and other delicious foods. The suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) is often fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and dishes that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. So the idea of a cleanse is pretty far from their minds.

2. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

An Indian Muslim student recites from the Quran in a classroom during the holy month of Ramadan.
NOAH SEELAM, AFP/Getty Images

There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, but not all of them observe Ramadan the same way. Although most observant Muslims fast for Ramadan, don't assume that every Muslim you meet has the same methods, traditions, and attitudes towards fasting. For some, Ramadan is more about prayer, reading the Qur'an, and performing acts of charity than merely about forgoing food and drink. And for those who may be exempted from the daily fasting, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or those with various health conditions, they might not appreciate the reminder from nosey busy-bodies that they aren't participating in the traditional way.

3. SAY "RAMADAN MUBARAK" INSTEAD OF "HAPPY RAMADAN."

A sign which reads
A sign which reads "Ramadan Kareem" in Arabic is seen pictured in front of the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
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Rather than wishing someone a happy Ramadan, being more thoughtful with your choice of words can show that you understand and respect the sanctity of their holy month. Saying "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the traditional ways to impart warm wishes—they both convey the generosity and blessings associated with the month. The actual party comes after Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an up to three-day festival that involves plenty of food, time with family, and gifts.

4. DON'T BE A FOOD PUSHER.

Muslim woman saying no to an apple.
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Even if the idea of not eating or drinking all day might be unfathomable to you, don't push food onto anyone observing Ramadan. While fasting all day for a month can cause mild fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness, don't try to convince participating Muslims to eat or drink something—they are fully aware of any side effects they may feel throughout the day. Instead, be respectful of their decision to fast and offer to lend a hand with something like chores, errands, or anything unrelated to food.

5. ACCEPT THAT WATER ISN'T ON THE MENU.

Dates and a glass of water.
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Muslims who observe Ramadan don't sip any liquids during daytime. No water, coffee, tea, or juice. Zilch. Going without water is even harder than going without food, so be aware of the struggle and accept it. It's all part of the sacrifice and self-discipline inherent in Ramadan.

6. RESPECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY.

Pregnant woman doing yoga.
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Some Muslims choose not to fast during Ramadan for medical or other personal reasons, and they may not appreciate being badgered with questions about why they may be eating or drinking rather than fasting. Children and the elderly generally don't fast all day, and people who are sick are exempt from fasting. Other conditions that preclude fasting during Ramadan are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menstruation (although, if possible, people generally make up the days later).

7. BE MINDFUL OF ENERGY LEVELS.

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Eschewing food and drink for hours at a time can cause lethargy, so be aware that Muslims observing Ramadan may be more tired than usual. Your Muslim friends and coworkers don't stop working for an entire month, but they may tweak their schedules to allow for more rest. They may also stay indoors more (to prevent overheating) and avoid unnecessary physical activity to conserve energy. So, don't be offended if they aren't down for a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. We can't all be elite athletes.

8. DON'T OBSESS OVER FOOD AND HUNGER.

Family playing in the park.
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One of the worst things you can do to someone on a new diet is to obsess over all the cheeseburgers, pizza, and cupcakes they can't have. Similarly, most Muslims observing Ramadan don't want to have in-depth conversations about all the food and beverages they're avoiding. So, be mindful that you don't become the constant reminder of how many hours are left until sundown—just as you shouldn't joke about weight loss, you shouldn't call attention to any hunger pangs.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT YOUR OWN FOOD.

Coworkers discussing a project on couches.
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Although it's nice to avoid talking about food in front of a fasting Muslim, don't be afraid to eat your own food as you normally would. Seeing other people eating and drinking isn't offensive—Muslims believe that Ramadan is all about sacrifice and self-discipline, and they're aware that not everyone participates. However, perhaps try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings or afternoon barbecues with your Muslim colleagues and friends. Any of those can surely wait until after Ramadan ends.

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