Storm’s first wave soaks a thirsty state

The atmospheric river system makes its presence felt in Sacramento region as rain falls on downtown Davis on Friday.
The atmospheric river system makes its presence felt in Sacramento region as rain falls on downtown Davis on Friday. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

The first major storm to strike California this year brought lightning, high winds and a good dose of rain to drought-plagued California. More is on the way through the weekend as the powerful atmospheric river storm sweeps across the state.

No significant flooding was reported from the storm, which delivered fairly steady rain throughout the day. High winds and lightning, however, caused a number of power outages and disrupted light-rail service Friday morning in Sacramento.

Showers are expected to continue throughout Saturday. The National Weather Service predicts a second major wave of rainfall to begin about 10 a.m. Sunday and continue into the evening, then taper off Monday.

“Overall, it looks like a fairly beneficial system,” said Alan Haynes, service coordination hydrologist at the California-Nevada River Forecast Center, a branch of the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “It will be good for water supply because the reservoirs are so low.”

In Sacramento, lightning strikes on Friday caused power outages and halted service on one Regional Transit light-rail line.

About 34,000 Sacramento Municipal Utility District customers were without power at various points during the day Friday, or about 5 percent of the utility’s entire customer base. Spokesman Chris Capra said the bulk of the outages were likely caused by lightning striking two substations.

The outages affected customers in Sacramento’s Land Park, Oak Park, Curtis Park and Arden neighborhoods, as well as parts of Rancho Cordova and Carmichael. Power was restored to most customers by around noon.

The outages were not unusual for a heavy winter storm with wind and lightning, Capra said. SMUD plans to have full crews at work through the weekend.

“We don’t see the rest of the weekend to be as much potential concern as (Friday),” Capra said. “It is wind more than rain. The last storm that came through got rid of a lot of weak branches on trees.”

By Friday night, Sacramento International Airport recorded an inch of rain, and Sacramento Executive Airport reported 0.94 inches, said Tom Dang, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Downtown Sacramento recorded 0.74 inches.

Dang said the Sacramento region dodged the worst of the wind, with speeds of 10 to 25 mph. Stockton, to the south, as well as areas to the north saw winds of 40 to 50 mph.

A bolt of lightning struck a Sacramento Regional Transit overhead line just before 9 a.m. Friday, cutting off power to the Blue Line. RT spokeswoman Devra Selenis said buses were used to ferry riders between the 13th Street and Meadowview stations.

Brooke Bingaman, a weather service forecaster, said the lightning and thunderstorms were caused by instability from the large storm. Most of the lightning occurred between Sacramento and Galt, she said.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company reported that 636 customers in the Clarksburg area along the Sacramento River were without power. PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said the Clarksburg outage, along with a few isolated outages in the Sierra foothills, were all weather-related.

Winds knocked down numerous trees and power lines around Truckee, causing localized power outages. At the Safeway grocery store in town, some customers continued shopping by flashlight. Those customers without flashlights were walking from aisle to aisle, following those who had them.

Several thousand additional customers lost power in Shasta and Plumas counties due to high winds that knocked out trees and power lines.

In Plumas County, 8,000 customers were without power, said Paul Moreno, PG&E spokesman. Some began losing power as early as 4 a.m. Friday. Multiple power poles were down, in some cases taken out by falling trees.

In Plumas and eastern Shasta County, there are 30 points of damage on transmission lines. PG&E is bringing crews from as far away as Fresno for repairs and some customers may be without power into Saturday, Moreno said.

The northern part of the state also received significantly more rain around Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, helping to refill those crucial drought-starved reservoirs. Dang said a total of 7 inches was reported Friday in Sims, in Shasta County, above Shasta Lake.

“A good part of the Shasta Lake drainage received 4 to 7 inches,” he said.

Another positive development for the drought: The storm proved to be colder than originally forecast, with snow levels dropping to about 5,500 feet Friday and prompting chain controls on Interstate 80 over Donner Summit. Snow was also falling Friday afternoon at lake level around Lake Tahoe.

“It’s maybe 1,000 feet or so lower than what we were earlier anticipating,” said Craig Shoemaker, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

The colder conditions caught many motorists by surprise on Interstate 80 over Donner Summit. Caltrans imposed chain controls in both directions Friday afternoon and later closed the highway in both directions after numerous spin-outs.

Several Tahoe-area ski resorts also closed Friday due to winds that exceeded 60 mph, but expected to reopen Saturday so customers could enjoy some fresh snow.

The rain and wind were expected to taper off substantially by Saturday morning, with lighter showers expected through the day.

Then on Sunday, Shoemaker said, a second wave of heavy rain was expected to begin about 10 a.m. and last through the day, bringing another threat of thunderstorms and lightning. Another 1 to 2 inches of rain is expected.

By Sunday night and into Monday, the storm will taper off to showery conditions, he said.

Call The Bee’s Matt Weiser at (916) 321-1264. Follow him on Twitter @matt_weiser. Staff writers Cathy Locke, Tony Bizjak and Bee correspondents Jane Braxton Little and Barbara Barte Osborn contributed to this report.

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