Storm brings surfers to Lake Tahoe, street flooding to Sacramento

Shallow roots in saturated ground contributed to the demise of a large tree that fell across 59th Street, striking a vehicle, right, north of Fruitridge Road on Thursday.
Shallow roots in saturated ground contributed to the demise of a large tree that fell across 59th Street, striking a vehicle, right, north of Fruitridge Road on Thursday. rpench@sacbee.com

It may not have been the storm of the century, but Thursday’s rain and wind left a mark on creeks, roads and businesses throughout the Sacramento region.

Traffic impacts

The storm caused spinouts and crashes throughout the day in the area, including several lane-blocking crashes on local freeways. But overall, highway officials said the road conditions were much better than expected, and both the morning and afternoon commutes went relatively smoothly.

“We were really worried about the combination of high wind and rain, and that happened, but only really briefly,” Caltrans spokesman Dennis Keaton said.

Officer Chad Hertzell of the California Highway Patrol said there were considerably fewer cars on the freeways and major thoroughfares than usual for a workday.

“My guess is people have stayed home, people are avoiding the storm,” Hertzell said.

Six miles of Highway 16 were closed Thursday morning in the Capay Valley in west Yolo County because of a mudslide and likely will remain closed through Saturday, Caltrans officials said.

As Sacramento commuters left work, cars slowed on Interstate 80 heading toward Placer County as rain pounded windshields. Drivers faced near whiteout conditions and puddles built up on the roadway in several spots. But no major delays were reported.

Sacramento Regional Transit officials reported no service issues Thursday, but 11 flights were canceled at Sacramento International Airport, mainly to and from San Francisco International Airport, which was hard-hit by morning wind and rain. Some evening flights from other cities had delays of between 20 and 60 minutes.

Arcade Creek rises

Arcade Creek near American River College was the most troublesome stream in the metro area. The creek level rose steadily throughout the day, increasing nearly 10 feet since the rain began in the early morning hours. Its water level reached flood monitoring stage around 6 p.m. at Winding Way.

On Pasadena Avenue, a few blocks from the college, residents hustled to fill sandbags. Sacramento County officials had dumped a truckload of sand on the street for residents to use if necessary. But resident Randy Smith said the storm was turning out to be less severe than expected – the creek was 2 feet below flood monitoring stage at his street.

“We’re doing this as a precautionary measure,” he said. “There’s no story here.”

Nearby, Bentley Mymka, 53, stopped at the Pasadena Avenue footbridge over the creek to snap photos with his iPhone. Mymka, wearing shorts and a neon-colored shirt, was finishing up his daily 25-mile commute to downtown.

“Two weeks ago, there was no water, just a sandy bottom,” said Mymka, pointing to the water spilling over the banks. “It hasn’t been this high in a while.”

There was localized street flooding from clogged storm drains elsewhere in the Sacramento region, but no sign of creek flooding.

Flooding elsewhere

It was a different story north of Sacramento. In Red Bluff, a low-lying area on the southern edge of town flooded, inundating several businesses with shallow water and threatening some apartments. About 20 people from the Brickyard Creek Apartments on Walnut Street were forced to evacuate to a Red Cross shelter. But with a lull in the rain, they were able to return home after a few hours.

Most residents had placed sandbags in front of their apartments in case of flooding, but it turned out the high water was confined to the parking lot. Darlyne Owensby, 29, was relieved. When she left her apartment to reach a bus to evacuate, she said she had to wade through water up to her hips in the parking lot.

“I was just hoping I wasn’t coming back to wet carpet,” Owensby said.

Officials decided to leave the Red Bluff shelter open in case flooding resumed. The Sacramento River was expected to crest nearly 4 feet above flood stage at about 10 p.m. Thursday.

“We’re at the calm between the storms right now,” said John Berry, 66, a Red Cross volunteer from Redding.

A flood warning was in effect in most rural areas of the Sacramento Valley until 1:45 a.m. Friday, including Glenn, Shasta, Plumas, Yuba, Sutter and Colusa counties. Extensive street flooding was reported in Gridley, in Butte County, as a result of heavy flow in local streams.

Farther up the Sacramento River, the city of Dunsmuir in Siskiyou County – upstream from Lake Shasta – faced a flood threat as heavy rainfall in the surrounding mountains continued Thursday afternoon.

“The river is flowing pretty darn quick,” Dunsmuir Fire Department Chief Dan Padilla said. “It hasn’t crested over the banks, but it’s getting close.”

Surf’s up

The high wind created by the powerful winter storm transformed Lake Tahoe’s normally tame surface.

At least a dozen Lake Tahoe residents braved the cold air and water Thursday morning to surf the estimated 7-foot waves created by the storm.

“I’ve never seen waves that big on (Lake) Tahoe,” said Tristan Roberts, a Lake Tahoe real estate broker with cblaketahoe.com.

Trying to surf big lake waves has become something of a tradition for sports crazy Tahoe residents, said Roberts. He said the waves between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. were cresting at 7 or 8 feet. He shot video of a half a dozen people surfing. Another group was farther down the beach. The water was a brisk 50 degrees with sustained winds of 35 mph and gusts up to 60 mph at the Lake Tahoe Airport, according to the National Weather Service office in Reno.

“It was definitely a big wind event for the lake,” said Wendell Hohmann, meteorologist with the weather service. Some mountain locations experienced extreme wind speeds, with at gust of 147 mph recorded at Mount Lincoln near Sugar Bowl Ski Resort at 9 a.m., Hohmann said.

As of 4:30 p.m. it was still raining at lake level, but that was expected to turn to snow over the evening. Hohmann said higher elevations experienced significant snowfall.

Caltrans imposed chain controls on Interstate 80 between Kingvale and Donner Summit at noon Thursday, and said the requirement would likely continue into Friday amid heavy snow. Highway 50 did not require cars to use chains.

Due to widespread power outages in South Lake Tahoe, Lake Tahoe Unified School District released students Thursday afternoon. The district will be closed Friday for a snow day due to the forecast of serious winter weather conditions.

Businesses, power affected

High winds prompted at least two Sierra ski resorts to close for the day: Boreal and Mt. Rose. The threat of flooding shut down work on the new Sacramento Kings arena, with cranes and other machinery moved out of the construction pit at Downtown Plaza and onto paved surfaces.

Some businesses had their employees work from home, or sent them home during the day. The law firm of Weintraub Tobin closed its Sacramento and San Francisco offices at midafternoon so employees could get a jump on what was expected to be a difficult evening commute.

At least one industry welcomed the storm without reservation: agriculture. “This is the time of year when it’s supposed to rain,” said Dave Kranz of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Despite occasional strong winds, Delta winemaker Warren Bogle said he wasn’t worried about damage to the vineyards. “All the leaves are off so the wind should go right through the canopies,” said Bogle, president of Bogle Vineyards.

By early evening, utility companies reported about 23,000 customers had lost power in Sacramento, El Dorado, Yolo and Placer counties. All but 800 of them had been restored by 6 p.m.

“The storm was less severe than was expected​,” said Sacramento Municipal Utility District spokesman Robert Tokunaga. SMUD had a total of 5,600 customers experiencing outages by early evening.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Paul Moreno offered a similar assessment of the utility’s experience with the storm in Yolo, El Dorado and Placer counties.

SMUD did experience one injury to a maintenance worker who was hit by a car while trying to repair service, Tokunaga said. The employee was alert at the scene of the accident but was brought to a hospital nonetheless.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat. Bee staff writers Matt Weiser, Tony Bizjak, Ed Fletcher, Richard Chang and Brad Branan contributed to this report. Bee correspondent Barbara Barte Osborn and Quinn Western also contributed.

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