El Niño left little doubt Saturday that it had returned to Northern California, blowing through the Sacramento area with drenching rain, high winds and significant power outages. At least two major roadways in Yuba County were shut down for flooding.
Fierce winds pounded the region as Northern California endured Day 2 of the first storm in two weeks. The National Weather Service issued a high-wind warning until 10 p.m., forecasting gusts of as much as 50 to 60 mph. By early evening, a 41-mph gust was reported at Mather Airport and a 44-mph gust at Sacramento International Airport.
“It was windy, and we expect it to get even windier,” said the weather service’s Johnnie Powell as darkness began falling.
Numerous car accidents were reported by the California Highway Patrol throughout the day. Caltrans said Highways 70 and 65 were closed in both directions near Olivehurst due to flooding; in Trinity County, flooding closed a portion of Route 299 near Big French Creek. The weather service issued urban and small-stream flood advisories for 13 Northern California counties, including Sacramento, and put a flash-flood watch in effect for Calaveras, El Dorado, Lake, Placer and Tuolumne counties.
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More than 26,000 Sacramento Municipal Utility District customers lost power Saturday evening, most of them in north Natomas and the Arden area. The north Natomas outage, caused by palm fronds striking power lines, was fixed by around 7:30 p.m. The Arden area outage, whose cause was unknown, left about 15,000 customers without power, said SMUD spokesman Jonathon Tudor. These twin outages followed an early afternoon problem in the Cal Expo area that left about 9,000 customers without power.
SMUD’s problems apparently were felt at Sleep Train Arena, where the lights dimmed during the waning moments of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship basketball game between Sacramento High and Antelope.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. reported smaller outages in Davis, Rocklin, Yuba City, Grass Valley and elsewhere.
Water officials have been watching the storm closely since it began rolling in Friday. The rains ended a 14-day dry spell that left some officials fretting that El Niño, after a promising start, was in danger of running its course before it could make much progress against the epic California drought. Analysts said a wet March will help ease the drought but probably won’t end it completely, but they were pleased to see that rain was finally falling again in Northern California.
“Lots of rains and wind, that’s for sure,” said Travis Wilson, a weather service forecaster. Sacramento County’s Office of Emergency Services advised residents to bring pets inside because of the risk of falling trees, limbs and power lines.
By late in the day, much of the region had received at least a half-inch of rain in a 24-hour stretch, with the most falling in Auburn: 1.5 inches. Between three quarters and one inch were expected to fall Saturday night, and as much as an inch of rain is forecast for Sunday.
In the Sierra Nevada, relatively warm temperatures meant the precipitation was falling as rain at elevations as high as 7,000 feet. But cold weather was expected to descend on the Sierra by late Saturday, turning the rain to snow as low as 3,500 feet. A winter storm warning was in effect through Monday afternoon; motorists were advised to carry chains and emergency provisions, and a total of 3 feet of snow was expected for the weekend.
One inbound flight from San Francisco was reported canceled at Sacramento International Airport, while 14 flights were running at least a half-hour late. NBC News reported that a total of 196 flights were canceled at San Francisco International Airport. Meanwhile, a gale warning was in effect for boaters in the Bay Area, where a wind gust of 67 mph was reported at Mount Diablo.
Back in Sacramento, the weather forced cancellation of several events, including Sacramento’s Midtown Farmers Market and Pig Day in Davis, an annual celebration of pork-centric foods. Also scrubbed was the Oak Park Pinewood Derby race, in which participants race model cars on a wooden track. The event, scheduled as part of Sacramento Beer Week, has been reset for March 19, said Tom Karvonen, owner of event sponsor Oak Park Brewing Co.
But the annual Donut Dash in William Land Park went on as planned. The race, which benefited children’s programs at Sutter Children’s Center and UC Davis Children’s Hospital, began with a heavy rain at the starting line, but organizer Zack Wandell said runners weren’t scared off.
“We were all sopping wet, but it wasn’t the end of the world,” Wandell said. He said the event raised $100,000.
The 2016 Capitol Beer Fest, expected to draw 1,500 guests to Capitol Mall on Sunday afternoon, will go on as scheduled, said event spokesman Patrick Harbison. “We’re saying rain or shine, so at this point we’re encouraging people to bring their umbrellas and dress appropriately,” he said.