Conditions are improving after an atmospheric river system drenched the Sacramento Valley and blanketed the Sierra Nevada with snow, but a flood warning continues for Northern California through Thursday evening and mountain travel is still deemed hazardous.
On top of that, another storm is heading for Northern California this weekend. And then another storm will hit the mountains by the middle of next week.
In Sacramento, rain and wind have calmed considerably after a record-setting 2.52 inches soaked downtown Sacramento on Tuesday, and Wednesday saw gusts approach 40 mph. Thursday even brought the return of sunlight and blue skies to the Sacramento area.
The NWS flood warning, still in place through 11:15 p.m., notes that even though the bulk of the rainfall has ended, high river flows continue and water may be slow to recede in some areas. Mudslides are also possible at higher elevations.
Guerneville, a town of about 4,500 in Sonoma County, turned into a literal island when the Russian River floodwater partially submerged hundreds of buildings.
Photos taken Wednesday showed people navigating the town in rowboats, canoes and on paddleboards.
About 3,500 people remained under evacuation orders Thursday morning, as The Associated Press reported, and water level forecasts show the Russian River at Guerneville will remain above flood stage until late Thursday or Friday morning.
But early Thursday reports from emergency officials indicate water is starting to recede.
“Fire Department in Guerneville reported really slow night, no calls for rescues, water going down,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office tweeted just after 5 a.m.
Interstate 80, previously shut down from Colfax to the Nevada state line, reopened at 6 a.m. Thursday in both directions for passenger vehicles, while eastbound lanes remained closed to big rigs for another two hours, Caltrans said. I-80 reopened fully, to all traffic, about 8 a.m.
Low visibility had closed the stretch of road for all drivers since Tuesday night.
Highway 49 and Interstate 505 reopened Thursday morning and Wednesday night, respectively, after hours of flood-related closures.
Highway 20 between Nevada City and I-80 reopened to all traffic as of about 10:30 a.m., according to Caltrans.
Chain controls remained in place along Highway 50 and I-80 to start Thursday, but all chain controls were dropped as of 1 p.m.
Mountain travel still tricky
NWS Sacramento said snow showers Thursday morning will keep the Sierra passes hazardous to drivers, despite the increased visibility and I-80 reopening.
Snow levels will be between 3,500 to 4,500 feet Thursday morning, rising to the 4,500-5,500 foot range Friday evening through Sunday morning.
Strong winds are anticipated in the mountains as well, according to NWS forecasts.
If Sierra travel is necessary, Friday and Monday will be the best days to drive through the mountains.
When’s the next storm?
After a relatively dry Friday, the valley should see rain again Friday night through Sunday, and the Sierra will see another foot or two of snow this weekend.
The valley will get between a half-inch and an inch of rain between Friday and Sunday, NWS forecaster Hannah Chandler-Cooley said.
But NWS Reno notes yet another storm with “significant mountain snow” will arrive next Tuesday and stay through at least Thursday.