SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The third storm in a handful of days to hit Northern California was expected to give the region a wet and windy Christmas, bringing welcome moisture to the snowpack-dependent state but dangerous avalanche conditions to popular ski areas.
Tuesday's storm — the third to hit the region since Saturday — will bring more heavy rain to Northern and Central California and snow in the mountains, National Weather Service forecasters said.
With the ground saturated with rain from the two previous storms, forecasters were predicting a rapid rise in the water levels of streams and creeks. The wet weather has already proven dangerous, with an early-morning rescue Monday of a man who clung for hours to a clump of bushes in the fast-moving Los Angeles River.
Firefighters spent nearly two hours trying to rescue the man before an inflatable boat pulled him from waters estimated to be traveling at 30 mph.
In Northern California, a state Highway Patrol helicopter crew was credited with the dramatic rescue of a 58-year-old motorist clinging to the roof of his pickup after his truck was stranded in rushing flood waters on a rural roadway in Livermore late Sunday. He was plucked from the truck by a paramedic on a CHP helicopter and treated for hypothermia at a hospital.
The storms dumped fresh snow on ski resorts along the California-Nevada border. Squaw Valley USA near Lake Tahoe reported receiving more than 3 feet of new snow between Friday and early Sunday, helping the resort reach its second-largest Christmas Day snowpack since 1970, said spokeswoman Amelia Richmond.
"The conditions are phenomenal, especially for those who like fresh snow," Richmond said Sunday. "It's an incredible setup (for the holidays), and we're looking forward to a very white Christmas."
It also created deadly avalanche conditions in the Sierra Nevada. Authorities say a 49-year-old snowboarder died Monday at Donner Ski Ranch after he was buried under 2 to 3 feet of snow.
A veteran ski patroller at Alpine Meadows was hospitalized Monday after being buried in a slide that had been intentionally set with an explosive device. The patroller, who had 28 years of experience at the resort, was uncovered within eight minutes.
"The charge triggered the avalanche, which broke much higher and wider on the slope than previously observed in past snow safety missions," Alpine Meadows said in a statement.
On Sunday, two skiers at Squaw Valley — a 39-year-old woman and 16-year-old boy — were treated for non-life threatening injuries after they were swept up in an avalanche.
But the severe storms that saturated Northern California over the weekend helped give a much-needed boost to regional reservoirs and created ideal skiing conditions along the Sierra. The downpours have kept the grass green for cattle feeds and replenished reservoirs, San Joaquin County Agriculture Commissioner Scott Hudson said Monday.
"It's much better than what it was at this time last year when we were fairly dry," Hudson said. "This year's rain has come in intervals where it's keeping us saturated, but not flooded."
Hudson said the rain has not only helped grow grass for cows, but also helped build the water supply.
"That is a welcome sight for us," Hudson said. "As far as the reserves, what we get now will help our crops grow next summer."
Squaw Valley has received some 200 inches of snow so far this season, compared with nearly 250 inches of snow on Christmas Day 2010, when the region was en route to a snowpack twice the normal average. Squaw Valley averages 450 inches of snow a year.
With more snow expected in the mountains, a winter weather advisory was issued for the northern Sierra for Christmas Day, the National Weather Service said.