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With ‘atmospheric river’ winding down, flooding risk peaks and snow removal proves tricky

Seen Folsom Dam lately? Watch water released at 25,000 cubic feet per second

Folsom Dam, in preparation for more rain to the region, was releasing water at 25,000 cubic feet per second on Wednesday, February 27, 2019.
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Folsom Dam, in preparation for more rain to the region, was releasing water at 25,000 cubic feet per second on Wednesday, February 27, 2019.

Northern California has been pounded by rain and snow over the past three days as the latest atmospheric river storm set rainfall records Tuesday in Sacramento, flooded roads and towns, and shut down Interstate 80 in the Sierra.

Sacramento saw just over a half-inch of rain Wednesday, a stark departure from the record-shattering 2.52 inches recorded Tuesday. It didn’t set any records, but the half-inch is still about .4 inches above the average for Feb. 27, according to the NWS.

National Weather Service forecaster Johnnie Powell said this storm is generally winding down, with winds slowing and rain letting up across the Valley on Thursday and Friday; another system is expected to bring more rain over the weekend.

Flood risk peaks through Thursday, Powell said. Widespread flooding has been reported across the region, and a flood warning is in place until 11:15 p.m. Thursday that stretches from north of Redding to Stockton.

A wind advisory that has been in place for several days expired at 6 p.m. as winds died down.

A winter storm warning, however, in the Sierra Nevada is still in place through Thursday morning. Friday is expected to provide some relief before another storm moves in over the weekend.

Three-day rainfall totals reported Wednesday evening exceeded 10 inches in parts of Butte County, including Paradise, which received 11.12 inches, according to the NWS. Whispering Pines in Lake County received nearly 13 inches of rain, and rain measured near Whiskeytown in Shasta County topped 21 inches.

Downtown Sacramento recorded 4.06 inches of rain over 72 hours.

Widespread flooding across Northern California causes evacuations

Flooding from this week’s storm “landlocked” Guerneville and nearby Monte Rio, along the Russian River. All roads in and out are flooded, and evacuation orders were issued for 4,000 residents, according to the Associated Press.

Cache Creek at Rumsey in Yolo County was in “major flood stage” as of 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, reaching 84.45 feet. Water begins to flood over the levee at 84.1 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

The Yolo County Sheriff’s Office issued mandatory evacuations Wednesday afternoon for the area due to the levee flooding. Evacuations were in place north of Cache Creek to County Road 13 between Highway 113 and County Road 97, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Evacuees can head to Lee Middle School in Woodland.

Dry Creek near Elkhorn Boulevard in Rio Linda reached flood stage Tuesday and remained in flood stage Wednesday afternoon. The swollen creek left residents with flooded streets.

Roadway flooding closed Interstate 5 at South Avenue in Corning Wednesday, with the southbound lanes still closed as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Caltrans. Traffic was being detoured over the freeway via the on and off ramps at South Avenue.

Drivers should avoid driving through flooded roadways and should heed barricades, not moving or driving around them, said the NWS.

Dams opening the floodgates, releasing water from reservoirs

Folsom and Shasta Dams were releasing water Wednesday to make room for further expected rains.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said it’s begun ramping up water releases from below Shasta Dam, significantly increasing flows on the Sacramento River. The releases will nearly quadruple, to 25,000 cubic feet per second, by mid-afternoon Thursday.

Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, was 81 percent full Wednesday afternoon, but that’s 12 percent above normal for this time of year. The bureau said it needs to release more water to meet flood-space requirements.

Folsom Dam was also releasing water at 25,000 cubic feet per second Wednesday.

Valley temperatures: not too hot, not too cold

While the valley has certainly been wet, it hasn’t been particularly cold, said Powell, with temperatures remaining around average for rainy days.

High temperatures of about 60 degrees for Thursday and Friday, which Powell said will probably be pretty dry, are just a few degrees below the average of 64-65. The coming rain on Saturday and Sunday will bring temperatures back down into the 50s, which is the average for rainy winter days in Sacramento.

Low temperatures will hover around the mid-40s, a little warmer than average thanks to cloud cover. If weather was clear, Powell said, low temperatures could drop into the 30s.

‘We’re buried’: Heavy snow stalls freeway, trains

Travel to the Sierra is still heavily discouraged, with conditions making travel difficult. For those currently stuck in the Sierra, Powell said Friday may be the best bet to head home, with a pretty clear forecast – that is, if the road is open.

Heavy snow closed Interstate 80 for part of Tuesday and all of Wednesday, with no estimated time of reopening as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Peter Mann, public information officer for the California Highway Patrol Truckee.

Highway 50 was open with no controls Wednesday, Mann said, so access to and from Tahoe was possible. For those trying to get to Tahoe City or areas near I-80, travelers can go around the east shore of the lake, which is open. Part of Highway 89 along the western shore, near Emerald Bay, is closed to traffic.

Mann said that the CHP and Caltrans are working on clean up along I-80, and are hoping to reopen late Wednesday or Thursday, but the amount of snow that is being moved is immense, and snow that’s being moved off I-80 is “avalanching” back on to the roadway.

“We’re buried,” Mann said.

A woman in South Lake Tahoe was literally buried in snow, and was rescued after a snow plow bumped her car, according to the Associated Press. Authorities believe she was living in the car, which had a dead battery when the woman was found.

She said she had been in the car for about five hours and “seemed unconcerned about what could have happened had the snowplow not hit her car,” the AP reported. She declined medical attention and left, and the vehicle was towed.

A plow train, which Mann said was trying to clear tracks that have “stalled trains all over the area,” derailed in Soda Springs. Mann said rotary plows are being called in to finish moving the snow so trains can get moving again.

Train tracks blocked by an avalanche and fallen boulders between Truckee and Colfax stopped Amtrak’s California Zephyr route Tuesday, according to previous reporting by The Bee. Trains stopped in Reno and Roseville and turned back, heading to Chicago and Emeryville, respectively. Travelers dropped off in Reno were provided hotel accommodations and a bus charter to finish their journey, and travelers on the train that stopped in Roseville were taken back to Emeryville, where they departed.

The Bee’s Michael McGough and Dale Kasler contributed to this report.
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Hannah Darden covers breaking news and feature stories for The Bee and is a political science and journalism student at Sacramento State. A Sacramento native, she previously worked as editor in chief of her community college newspaper, the American River Current.


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