More cold rain and snow is in forecast, and many residents of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties are preparing for a chilly weekend with near-freezing or below freezing overnight temperatures expected Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Friday afternoon and evening brought intermittent downpours of freezing rain and occasional spatterings of hail in the Sonora area. Mother Lode snow levels could come down as low as 2,000 feet by early Saturday, then down to 800 feet elevations by early Sunday morning, before rising back up to 1,000 to 1,500 feet by mid-Sunday morning.

Snow levels that low could rival what Sonora-area residents saw during a low-elevation snow storm last week.

Joey Napoli, 27, who works at the Red Barn Saloon in Tuttletown, around 1,400 feet elevation, had a wood-burning stove going inside the place Friday to keep the chill outside at bay.

“Before last week, five years ago was the last time I think we had snow down here,” Napoli said. “But it’s never snowed into the daytime like it did last week. It snowed here until about 4 p.m. last Tuesday.”

Napoli said hard rain Thursday put a creek 15 inches deep, up to his knees, over the back patio. Runoff swelled up the seasonal Pigeon Creek and completely washed out the Red Barn’s lower campground. Napoli and others had to move one trailer out and fill dirt back in where it washed out. He said he built a little dam to keep water out of the saloon.

“It hailed and rained down here this morning,” Napoli said. “Between 11:30 and noon we had a downpour of hail.”

Also about 11:30 a.m., heavy snow and whiteout conditions prompted Caltrans workers at Cabbage Patch Maintenance Station to close Highway 4 about 1.5 miles east of Camp Connell in Calaveras County, temporarily cutting off Bear Valley and Bear Valley Resort, both in Alpine County. No one answered phones at Bear Valley Resort.

Snowing faster than the plows

By 1 p.m., California Highway Patrol personnel on Highway 4 said snow was coming down faster than snow removal crews could plow it.

“It’s locals only right now,” Brian Wold, manager at Bear Valley Cross Country, said in a phone interview after 3 p.m. Friday. “There’s at least a hundred primarily residents and resort workers, and another hundred people in the village, some who work at the hotel. There’s a couple hundred of us up here.”

Wold didn’t sound concerned about being cut off by heavy snows. The town of Bear Valley is known for its deep snowfalls and many residents keep multiple snowmobiles tuned up and ready for this time of year.

Down in the foothills of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, many workers were still busy cleaning up storm damage from earlier this week and re-opening roads that were closed Thursday due to flooding, erosion, falling trees, downed power lines or rockslides and mudslides.

Road closures

Roads that remained closed in Tuolumne County before sundown Friday included Bell Mooney, Sims Road and Red Hills Road, outside Jamestown and Chinese Camp. Roads that were reopened included Marshes Flat at First Creek, and Kewin Mill Road, which was closed between Comstock Ranch and Belleview Elementary School at 3 p.m. Thursday due to flooding.

“We still urge the public to use caution in the area while this storm continues,” Tuolumne County Roads Division staff said of Marshes Flat Road and Kewin Mill Road.

Over in West Point, above the North Fork Mokelumne River in Calaveras County, a resident said the storms on Thursday were major, they tore up his driveway, and damaged his road. He said he went “down in the canyons” at one point and he found large rocks and boulders displaced, exposing what looked to him like real gold or fool's gold. He declined to have his name published with the information he called to share.

Heavy rains Thursday

Flash flood warnings were issued Thursday for the Mother Lode because a line of strong, slow-moving thunderstorms formed about 8 a.m. in the lower foothills of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, said Idamis Del Valle, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento.

The strong, slow-moving thunderstorms were producing heavy precipitation, with rainfall rates of 1 inch to 2 inches per hour, Del Valle said. The bulk of the system lingered through about 11:30 a.m. then moved southeast toward Yosemite and into the Hanford coverage area.

Historic rainfall data shows the previous Sonora record for Feb. 14 was 1.87 inches in 1937. Tuolumne Utilities District treatment plant operators in Sonora Friday measured in 1.73 inches from 7 a.m. Thursday to 7 a.m. Friday.

Other Sonora-area rainfall gauges measured 1.86 inches at Columbia, 2.28 inches at Telegraph Hill, and 2.36 inches at Mt. Elizabeth near Twain Harte, from 12 a.m. Thursday to 12 a.m. Friday.

Plenty of water for now

As of Friday morning, major watersheds in Mother Lode had received 31.6 inches of precipitation since Oct. 1, more than the 29.7 inches the same region received during the entire 2017-2018 water year, which was below average.

New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River was 81 percent full at 12:01 a.m. Friday and it looked a lot fuller than that by noon Friday. From the Tuolumne County side below the Highway 49 Stevenot Bridge, and from the Calaveras County side overlooking where the old town of Melones is now underwater, the reservoir surface looked like it was still rising. Snow was visible on slopes above New Melones to the east, and gray-and-white shards of ripped-up storm clouds approached the reservoir from out of the west.

A few deer were out and about near Heron Point Day Use Area. A cautious pack of gray-colored, topknot-feathered mourning doves or rain doves picked their way slowly across a paved exit road from Tuttletown Recreation Area on the Tuolumne County side of New Melones. White patches of unmelted hail clung to green grass on the switchbacks heading down and back up towards the Red Barn Saloon.

Some Sonora-area schools let out early Friday afternoon as increasingly colder winter conditions clamped down. A recorded message from the superintendent for Summerville Union High School District was relayed to many parents’ cell phones and it stated in part, “Due to the continuing drop in snow levels today we will be releasing students after they have had lunch today at 1:25 p.m. Buses will run for all routes at that time. . . . We will have a warm place where the students can wait for your arrival. Student and community safety comes first.”

Earlier Friday, Ellen Beck of Sonora texted from the parking lot at Sonora Lumber, “Half the people coming out of store have purchased snow shovels. Crazy weather.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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