The first day of a three-day weather system billed as a heavy snowstorm brought rain to Mother Lode foothill towns Thursday, wet, heavy snow loading trees along Highway 4, and flurries and slush on the Highway 108 corridor.
Forecasts that the storm would bring the most significant snowfall to foothill towns in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties since 2011 appeared laughable as of Thursday afternoon. Near-freezing and freezing conditions creating snow at higher elevations stayed well above 3,500 feet most of the day.
Snow could still come down today or Saturday as low as foothill towns like Sonora, Columbia and Angels Camp. The only snow that’s stuck in Sonora this winter fell a week ago Thursday night and left a quarter-inch to half-inch of melting snow that later froze and turned icy in places.
With the current storm underway, overnight lows for the Sonora area are expected just above freezing tonight into Saturday, then dipping into the high 20s Saturday night.
Some forecasts call for no snow in the Sonora area through the duration of the storm, which is expected to end Saturday night. Other forecasts indicated chances of rain or snow in the Sonora area from last night into today, again tonight, then Saturday into Saturday night.
Calls for help
Between 12:01 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday, rain-slick roads and wind gusts coincided with three traffic collisions and a tree down in the San Andreas area patrolled by the California Highway Patrol.
The collisions were reported at Garibaldi Street and Mountain Ranch Road in Mountain Ranch, Watertown Road and Paloma Road in Valley Springs, and Kirby Street and Jenny Lind Road in Valley Springs.
Officer Toby Butzler with the San Andreas-area CHP said the tree came down at Highway 26 and Woodhouse Mine Road, between Glencoe and West Point.
Dispatchers with the Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit in San Andreas handled four calls about power lines or trees down and more than a dozen medical calls, including three traffic incidents.
One resident was taken to a hospital with burns that were not life-threatening sustained in a structure fire reported at 12:14 p.m. at 2530 Highway 4 in Murphys, Chief Mike Johnson with Ebbetts Pass Fire District said in a phone interview.
“There was a mattress on fire,” Johnson said. “The occupant removed the mattress before we got there. We’re confident the cause of the fire was electrical.”
Johnson advised people using electrical appliances to always use the right gauge extension cord to avoid overloading the cord. He also cautioned people to avoid extension cords when using electrical heaters, because of the power load they require.
Weather-wise, the fire chief said the storm’s not over.
“This snow storm is a lot wetter than originally forecasted,” Johnson said. “A lot of trees are loaded with wet snow, and the slushy nature of it makes it slick for drivers. If it gets colder and windier, and it’s freezing, that could really add to the load on the trees and push their integrity. We’re working with Calaveras OES (Office of Emergency Services) to stay updated and coordinate with them when we’re needed.”
Between 12:01 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Sonora City Fire responded to three emergency medical calls and no traffic incidents, fires or major weather incidents, Chief Aimee New said. Sonora CHP personnel handled 15 traffic calls before 3 p.m. Thursday, said Officer Faustino Pulido.
At the snowline
Before noon Thursday, a group of men from Mi-Wuk Village, Crystal Falls, Sonora and Jamestown stood in the snow-and-slush covered parking lot in front of the Mi-Wuk General Store. Fine-grain snow drifted down at times, dusting slush on Highway 108 just up the hill from Andy’s Mountain Grill.
Some of the men said they were hoping to take their trucks higher up Highway 108 and find a place to get stuck. Some of them said they were going to have fun and try to help people out if they needed it.
“If we can get some people unstuck or fall some trees, we’ll do it,” said Wyatt Kollenborn, 23, of Sonora. “It’s charity work.”
Kollenborn was with Jacob Reed, 27, of Sonora, and Talon Worth, 28, of Mi-Wuk Village. They had two Dodge four-wheel-drive pickups with chains on the tires. They took time checking the chains on each truck. One of the trucks had multiple chainsaws on a rack over the truck bed.
Inside the store, employee Michelle Perkins was checking a grocery order by stacks of unsold, multi-colored, plastic sleds and snow discs.
“It’s been very quiet up here today,” Perkins said. “Seems like people are staying off the roads. There were plows going earlier, but I’m not seeing as many now.”
Perkins lamented the lack of rain and snow this winter so far and said she hopes for more snow.
“It hasn’t been a regular winter, so dry,” Perkins said. “This storm, I don’t know. Forecasters forecast, but it’s a wait-and-see deal. Hope for the best. Hope for a lot of snow.”
Andy’s Mountain Grill was open for business and neon signs in one window advertised “Tire Chains” and “Take & Bake Pizza.”
Further up the hill at Sierra Village Market, Marcos Mora, of Modesto, unloaded cases of beer and malt liquor from his Delta Sierra Beverage delivery truck. He was wearing two hooded jackets, knee-length shorts and high-top shoes with no visible socks.
Asked if he was underdressed and toughing it out on purpose, Mora said, “It’s too late to regret it now.”
Mora, who previously stopped at the Mi-Wuk General Store, said he intended to continue farther uphill to make a delivery in Pinecrest.
What the forecasters say
Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Sacramento continued Thursday calling the current storm the “snowiest storm for the foothills since 2011.”
The cold and snowy winter storm is expected to continue in the Central Sierra through Saturday, with a winter storm warning for most of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties in effect until 10 p.m. Saturday.
Snow accumulations at pass levels for the current storm are still billed as significant. Ebbetts Pass could get more than 6 feet of snow, Sonora Pass could get up to 5 feet, and Tioga Pass could get as much as 4 feet of new snow by Saturday.
Depending on how cold an expected cold blast comes in and how far south it penetrates the moisture-laden storm, some foothill locations could still get up to 2 feet of snow, forecasters said.
Snow levels could come down to as low as 1,500 feet elevations by Friday, but that may not happen in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.
“This storm combines cold air and a significant moisture supply to bring very heavy snow, down into low levels,” NWS forecasters said Thursday. “Major impacts to travel across a wide range of elevations are expected. … Another storm is possible for the middle of next week, but timing and details remain uncertain as this point.”
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.