Storm watch

It’s still raining, but the drought is not over

Some flooding reported and more trees are down in foothill towns along highway 49 in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. Dodge Ridge expected to re-open today, Bear Valley cancels re-opening due to ongoing storm

By Guy McCarthy, The Union Democrat, @GuyMcCarthy

Between Friday, the last clear break in the weather in the Mother Lode, and Tuesday Sonora had received at least 4.43 inches of rain and the area east of Groveland got 6.75 to 7.25 inches in 96 hours, according to federal weather data.

For some long-time Calaveras and Tuolumne County residents, that hardly qualifies as a storm of the decade, as recent weather forecasts billed approaching weather systems last week. Around downtown Sonora some business owners and residents are less than impressed, saying winter rains are normal.

Nevertheless, as rains and higher-altitude snows continued Tuesday, high waters have flooded some creeks and low-lying parks and roads in Highway 49 towns in both counties, and a library in Murphys closed Tuesday due to flooding. Gusting winds have brought down some trees and tree limbs, and caused more scattered outages in some locations.

Farther up in the mountains, more weather impacts have been evident, with staff at both Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley opting to close for a time earlier this week due to rain on snow, and then what resort representatives described as minor structure flooding. Both ski areas planned to open for business today until about 8 p.m. Tuesday night when Bear Valley sent an email and posted on their website that “Lifts will not operate Wednesday due to heavy wind and avalanche conditions.”

Downtown

Rick Vixler, owner of Downtown Shoes at 4 S. Washington St., had three sandbags outside his store’s front door on Tuesday morning.

“Since Caltrans changed the curb and the drainage about three years ago, when it rains really hard the water can come up here by the door,” Vixler said. “It hasn’t rained hard yet, just steady. But it sure has killed our business.

“That and all the warnings from the news media, like ‘stay home, stay home,’ ” Vixler said. “It’s just rain. It’s nothing extreme so far. It’s normal to have rain in winter.”

At Terzich & Wilson Funeral Home on Rose Street next to Sonora Creek, sandbags were stacked three high in a row to prevent runoff from entering a covered driveway. Water in the creek rushed steadily Tuesday, and it appeared there was room for more runoff in the waterway before noon.

A long-legged snowy egret took advantage of high waters to hunt Tuesday in Sonora Creek, stepping into runoff to jab at times with its shiny, sharp black beak, and spreading its white wings wide to move further upstream.

Donna Watson, office secretary at Terzich & Wilson, said she’s lived 25 years in Sonora, and her place on a hilltop is fine.

“The rain is a blessing, we need it, the reservoirs need it,” Watson said at an entrance to the funeral home. “It’s been so dry the past few years. I like to garden and all this rain will be good for that come spring.

“Right here the rain is all running down the hill,” Watson said. “The creek sounds good right now. It’s gushing.”

A few steps away on the other side of Sonora Creek, Gloria Rucker said she’s been living there 50 years and she said the current rain spell is one of the bigger storms she can recall.

“The creek is a bit higher than usual,” Rucker said Tuesday. “A few years ago it came up and went over the driveway but hasn’t done that this time yet. This is probably in the top five storms I can remember.”

Flooding

Over on Rawhide Road northwest of downtown Jamestown, Tuolumne County road workers used shovels and a power vac Tuesday morning to draw water out of a blocked culvert next to the road.

From Parrotts Ferry Bridge, the Stanislaus River was running strong Tuesday in the area known as Snake Gulch downstream from the bridge. There was some whitewater visible on the river’s surface and a log jam downstream as the Stanislaus flowed into New Melones Reservoir, which was holding 31 percent of capacity.

Angels Creek was running high Tuesday in Murphys, and runoff flooded part of Murphys Park. Water several inches deep rose high enough to isolate a half-dozen picnic tables and benches, and water flowed through the park as it surged downhill. In addition, Murphys Library was closed due to flooding Tuesday. A sign on the door said people at the library hope to be open today.

Outages

Earlier Tuesday, an estimated 106 customers were without power in the Cold Springs area due to trees in contact with electrical equipment, according to Pacific Gas & Electric. The outages were reported before noon and resolved Tuesday afternoon.

By 2 p.m., there were 154 customers without power, mainly in Arnold, with scattered outages in Camp Connell, Dorrington, West Point and Wilseyville, said Brandi Ehlers Merlo with PG&E.

Phone and internet provider AT&T was reporting outages up and down California and Nevada due to “crumbling infrastructure” exacerbated by the first major storm of 2017. It was not clear Tuesday how these outages impacted users in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. AT&T representatives did not respond to questions.

Lyons spilling

Pacific Gas & Electric infrastructure at Pinecrest Reservoir and Lyons Reservoir was working as designed, Ehlers Merlo said.

Pinecrest is not spilling yet but PG&E has been increasing releases in anticipation of it spilling, Ehlers Merlo said. Pinecrest’s water level was at 5,606.4 feet and PG&E was releasing about 200 cubic feet per second as of Tuesday. Lyons has been spilling through the duration of the storm and PG&E was passing about 1,250 cfs through the spill gates.

“We are experiencing very high flows and a lot of runoff but no equipment issues at this time,” Ehlers Merlo said.

The utility giant, one of the nation’s largest, has been urging people since Friday to be cautious if anyone goes near rivers in the Central Sierra.

“Take precautions and be aware of higher flows as the coming rain fills many PG&E reservoirs, causing them to spill,” PG&E corporate communications staff said. “After years of drought conditions, people may be caught off guard by the higher water flows.”

PG&E is managing and monitoring water conditions on the Mokelumne, Stanislaus and other rivers where it has hydroelectric powerhouses, dams, canals and flumes. The rivers can accommodate higher flows like those that can occur during wet years.

PG&E reservoirs in Tuolumne County spilling now or expected to spill later this week include Relief, Pinecrest and Lyons.

It’s not unusual for PG&E’s reservoirs to spill during the wettest parts of normal winters, because they tend to have less storage and are located at higher elevations than state and federal multi-year water storage reservoirs like Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, PG&E corporate communications staff said.

Dodge Ridge opening today, Bear Valley cancels re-opening

Dodge Ridge off Highway 108 closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday due to rain and snow, and staff and a contractor there dealt with minor flooding in an administrative area in one of the resort’s buildings on Monday, said Jeff Hauff, advertising and creative director for Dodge Ridge.

Dodge Ridge staff were planning to open this morning with at least 3.5 feet of new snow, Hauff said.

Bear Valley off Highway 4 closed Monday and Tuesday, said resort spokesman Marc Gendron.

“The conditions were not great/safe for getting to the resort, nor skiing on the mountain,” Gendron said. “There was some very minor flooding in the lodge, but no real damage to speak of.”

Bear Valley staff were also planning to open today with more fresh snow, Gendron said but since decided to wait for better conditions. Bear Valley will stage its Winter Explosion event this Saturday, with a torch parade down the mountain and fireworks.

Forecasts say . . .

For foothill towns in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, the current rain spell, described as yet another atmospheric river storm, is expected to continue today and perhaps into Thursday. A flood warning was in effect for much of the Mother Lode through Thursday afternoon.

Higher up the hill in towns like Arnold on Highway 4 and Mi-Wuk Village on Highway 108, a blizzard warning was in effect for gusting winds and blowing snow through noon today. The current weather system is expected to clear out Thursday and Friday is expected to be clear and sunny, National Weather Service forecasters in Sacramento say.

Sharon Torrence, a spokesperson for Calaveras County, advised residents flooding can take several days to recede in some areas after rains stop, and there’s still a possibility of debris flows in recent burn scars, including the footprint of the 2015 Butte Fire.

Visitor access to Yosemite Valley via Big Oak Flat Road, off Highway 120, and Highway 41, also known as Wawona Road, was open Tuesday. Hetch Hetchy Road remained closed due to rockfall.

Highway 140, also known as El Portal Road, was closed for rockfall that happened early Sunday and is now reopened, according to Yosemite National Park staff. The road was expected to stay open with controlled traffic throughout the day Tuesday, but park staff intended to close the road at 6 p.m. due to continuing rockfall concerns.

Access to Yosemite Valley was closed from 5 p.m. Friday through 8 a.m. Tuesday due to forecasts for Merced River flooding. Park staff said the Merced reached its 10-foot-high flood stage at Pohono Bridge on Sunday afternoon.

The river peaked at 12.7 feet at 4 a.m. on Monday. Park roads and infrastructure including water systems, sewer systems and visitor facilities were impacted by flooding.

Overnight accommodations and commercial services operated by the park concessioner, Aramark, were scheduled to fully reopen today. Campgrounds in Yosemite Valley are open.

Even though this winter season has been a wet one so far, scientists with the U.S. Drought Monitor said last week that 67 percent of the Golden State remained in stages of drought, from moderate to severe, extreme and exceptional. All of Calaveras County and Tuolumne County remained in stages of severe or extreme drought.

Drought Monitor staff expect to update their calculations Thursday this week. New estimates are expected to include wet weather since Friday.

16138558
The Union Democrat
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