Multiple Storms Bear Down On California

By: Kimberly Chandler Email
By: Kimberly Chandler Email

Up and down the state, residents braced themselves for potentially devastating arctic storms that hovered off the coast early Friday.

The front was expected to lash California with fierce winds, heavy rain and paralyzing snowfall with forecasters warning the extreme weather would last through the weekend.

Home owners rushed to fill sandbags to protect houses lying beneath fire-ravaged hillsides in Southern California, while Northern California residents scurried to stock up on last-minute provisions as the first - and likely weaker - wave of rain, wind and snow began hitting the state Thursday.

In the eastern Sierra ski town of Mammoth Lakes, resident Barbara Sholle went to the local Vons supermarket after receiving a call from the town's reverse-911 system. She waited an hour to pay for her groceries amid a crush of residents.

"People were waiting in line for shopping carts," she said.

A storm that was expected to pound Southern California with 4 inches of rain in the valleys and 9 inches or more in mountain areas worried residents living in areas burned by last fall's wildfires.

"The last rain we had, it all went under my foundation and I don't like that. It was flowing under my house," said Cindy Darling, a receptionist at the Lake Arrowhead Chamber of Commerce who got sandbags from the local fire department to put above her house. "Everything up here's on a hill, so you have to do something."

The storm system, which began dumping rain and snow Thursday in parts of Northern California, brought high wind warnings along the coast and gusts of up to 50 mph at Sacramento International Airport, according to the National Weather Service.

Power outages, damaged electrical lines and downed trees were reported in the Sacramento area by Thursday night.

Nearly 2,000 Pacific Gas and Electric Company customers to the north and east of Sacramento were without power as a result of 20 outages, spokeswoman Susan Simon told the Sacramento Bee.

Ocean tides were expected to swell to 30 feet, prompting the U.S. Coast Guard to caution boaters to remain in port.

The U.S. Forest Service issued an avalanche warning for Mount Shasta, in the Cascade Range in far Northern California, while the weather service issued a rare blizzard advisory for the Sierra

"If you don't have to go out this weekend, it might be a nice weekend to stay at home after the holidays," said Frank McCarton, chief deputy director of the California Office of Emergency Services.

The state plans to activate its emergency operations centers in Los Alamitos and Sacramento on Friday and has been coordinating with the California National Guard, the Coast Guard and local authorities.

Riverside and San Bernardino counties have deployed swift-water rescue teams in case torrential rains bring flash floods and mudslides.

In Truckee, north of Lake Tahoe, the American Red Cross planned to open a shelter Friday for motorists stranded by the snow.

The weather service was forecasting snow levels dropping to 4,000 feet along the western Sierra, with 10 feet of snow possible at elevations above 6,500 feet.

The forecasts failed to deter one group from attempting to ski all California ski resorts in just four days. Two skiers, a snowboarder and a ski biker have completed runs on 18 of the state's 28 resorts since Jan. 1.

"They are not putting it on hold," said Julia Vitarello, spokeswoman for the group Across the Atlas. "The idea is to work through it and make it work."

Wind gusts forced some Tahoe-area ski resorts to shut down some or all of their ski lifts on Thursday, and gusts in some areas were expected to top 100 mph Friday and Saturday.

"We'll operate as much of the resort as we're able to," said Russ Pecoraro, spokesman for Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe.

In the Sacramento Valley, power crews prepared for wind gusts up to 65 mph, the strongest in a decade. The National Weather Service issued a high-wind advisory through Friday afternoon, with hurricane-force gusts expected to pummel communities along the northern coast.

Residents in low-lying areas of the Central Valley were warned to get sandbags and expect 3 to 6 inches of rain, enough to swell creeks to flood stage.

The rain is not expected to overwhelm the state's major rivers, in part because upstream reservoirs are at low levels after last year's dry winter and spring, said Don Strickland, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources.

The heaviest precipitation - and possibly the most rain Southern California has seen in three years - was expected Friday night and Saturday.

Some south-facing slopes could get downpours totaling 15 inches, including some areas particularly prone to mudslides after wildfires.

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