Note to Mother Nature: We’ll take it.
In a parched, drought-ravaged, where’s-our-snowpack 2015, Sacramento happily embraced Tuesday’s rain, every drop of it. And on a soggy, stormy change in the weather, Mother Nature sent a heaping helping of snow to the Sierra for good measure.
Steady showers from a chilly Gulf of Alaska-fed weather system soaked much of the Sacramento area Tuesday. More than a half-inch of rain fell before noon in Sacramento, Roseville and Elk Grove, giving way to darkening skies, rumbling thunder, pelting hail and at least one funnel cloud sighted in south Sacramento by midafternoon.
By 4 p.m., the Sacramento area received a good soaking with 24-hour totals at 1.22 inches at Sacramento International Airport; 1.15 inches in Rio Linda; 0.96 inches at Sacramento Executive Airport; 0.97 inches in Auburn; and 0.87 inches in Elk Grove. Those numbers were reported by the Sacramento-based California Nevada River Forecast Center.
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Farther north, tornado warnings were issued Tuesday afternoon in Glenn and Butte counties, the latter lasting until 5 p.m.
The Valley rain was nowhere close to easing California’s historic four-years-and-counting drought, but Tuesday’s rain was already more than fell the entire month of January (0.01 inches, to be exact), and easily surpassed the 0.16 inches that fell in March, slaking the region’s thirst, if only for a day.
March’s rainfall, incidentally, fell on a single day – March 11, according to National Weather Service data
“Any amount of rain is beneficial,” said Sacramento National Weather Service forecaster Tom Dang. “It helps, but it’s a drop in the proverbial bucket.”
Snow was the story in the Sierra Nevada foothills, with snowfall as low as Colfax at the 2,400-foot mark, where Caltrans chain controls were in effect before noon from Colfax to the Donner Lake interchange. The afternoon brought worsening weather, enough for authorities to turn back westbound traffic on Interstate 80 at the Donner Lake interchange because of multiple spinouts, and to close the Donner Lake Rest Area, Caltrans reported.
The snow came down hard above the Yuba County foothill hamlet of Strawberry Valley at 3,700 feet, where 8 inches of new snow had fallen by early afternoon, said John Fowler, while digging into newly fallen snow at timber firm Soper-Wheeler Co.
“It’s coming down hard right now – I’m in the middle of shoveling,” Fowler said between breaths. “It’s snowing.”
Thundersnow – a snow storm condition where thunder and lightning occur – was reported Tuesday afternoon in Twain Harte in Tuolumne County, according to a posting on National Weather Service Sacramento’s Twitter feed.
Heavier snow fell in the higher elevations, welcome news to the battered Sierra ski industry, where resorts from Donner Ski Ranch to Sugar Bowl had already been forced to shut down their chair lifts and call it a season.
Heavenly Ski Resort’s massive snowmaking operation has kept it open during a paltry snow season, but staffers were watching for flakes on Tuesday, hopeful this system would add to the 2 to 5 inches that fell during the previous 48 hours.
“The refresh was awesome,” Liesl Kenney, a Heavenly resort spokeswoman, said of Sunday’s snowfall. “Getting snow from Mother Nature itself really brings the excitement for people.”
Tuesday’s spring snow also extended the season at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows to April 19, said spokesman Michael Rodlick, who was monitoring conditions for the two resorts from his San Francisco office.
Both resorts are anticipating 5 to 10 inches after a second system pushes through, he said.
“The snow’s still falling – it’s 19 degrees right now,” Rodlick said. “We’re excited for the resort to have this last burst of spring skiing. We’re stoked to be able to extend the season a little longer.”
A fast moving storm cell dumped hail and whipped up a funnel cloud in the south Sacramento area just after 2 p.m., said National Weather Service forecasters. Callers spotted the cloud at about 2:22 p.m. south-southeast of the Pocket area, and a funnel cloud image was captured by a Sacramento Municipal Utility District employee from the utility’s 65th Street offices.
Three minutes later, at 2:25 p.m., forecasters received another report of a funnel cloud near Highway 99 at Calvine Road.
Forecasters said it was likely the reports were about the same cloud. The funnel did not touch down, according to the National Weather Service.
The weather kept SMUD crews busy Tuesday. About 800 customers – a small fraction of the utility’s 650,000 customers – were without power due to weather-related outages. Lightning knocked out power for a time to about 1,400 customers in the North Highlands area before crews restored service. Scattered fuse and circuit breaker-related failures were also reported, said SMUD spokesman Chris Capra.
The welcome wet weather comes courtesy of a cold low pressure system from the Gulf of Alaska situated just west of the California-Oregon border, a system that most years would be “pretty typical,” said Dang of the National Weather Service.
“It’s a normal winter storm,” Dang said. “But, this winter was anything but normal.”
Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.