A day of hail, snow, rain, thunder and sunshine

The Fresno BeeMarch 18, 2012 

The Valley was treated Sunday to a kaleidoscope of weather -- light blue skies, dark gray clouds, patches of bright sunshine followed by squalls, hail and, in the foothills, snow -- as the tail end of a storm front swept across the region.

The storm contributed to numerous traffic collisions on Valley roads and prompted chain controls on Sierra highways.

At China Peak ski resort, deep snow was blamed for the death of a 30-year-old snowboarder who fell head-first into soft snow and suffocated.

The storm is expected to be gone by today, leaving behind clear skies and cool temperatures. Fresno's daytime high is expected to reach 57.

A ridge of high pressure heading into the Valley will bring warmer weather later this week, with daytime highs reaching the low 70s by Wednesday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Dudley.

Dudley attributed Sunday's sporadic downpours and hail to storm cells with a small core, which produce intense rainfall over a small area for a short time.

"Behind a large storm, unstable air is prone to allow these cells to bubble up," Dudley said. "They form clouds which will drop precipitation in small areas."

The storm produced scattered power outages across the region. About 1,900 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers in Fresno, Tulare and part of Kings County lost power Sunday as a result of downed electrical wires and broken poles, PG&E spokeswoman Jana Morris said.

The largest outage affected about 1,528 customers from Auberry Road to Millerton Lake around 6 p.m.

Another 235 customers on two different circuits in the Burrough Valley area near Tollhouse lost power early Sunday morning when electrical wires came down and the equipment on a broken pole was destroyed, Morris said.

Some customers might not get power restored until today, Morris said.

Highways 180 and 41 were hot spots for traffic accidents, said Sgt. Craig Hinch of the California Highway Patrol.

Officers responded to fender benders, spin outs and collisions, some with minor injuries.

The accidents were due to a combination of wet weather and drivers who do not slow down, Hinch said.

"People continue to drive just as they would if the roads are dry," Hinch said. "They're not paying attention, and when traffic slows down, they don't slow down and continue to drive until the last second."

The storm also brought heavy snow -- up to 5 feet in higher elevations -- but that did not deter visitors from heading to China Peak ski resort, said Tim Cohee, China Peak's owner and general manager. Despite difficult road conditions, about 1,000 people visited China Peak on Saturday, he said.

The storm "ensured that we'll run through the end of April," he said.

Cohee said the man who died was snowboarding alone about 2 p.m. Sunday on one of the slopes when he fell head-first into deep snow. Another visitor to the resort saw the base of the man's snowboard sticking out of the snow and pulled him out.

"It's tragic," Cohee said. "You have to be careful in this snowfall. That's why we always tell people to go with a buddy."

The accident happened about 2 p.m. on the Face -- one of the steepest slopes at the resort, which has a base area of 7,200 feet near Huntington Lake.

The victim had previously been riding with others but was by himself at the time of the accident, Cohee said.

The snowpack on the Face is deep, Cohee said, especially after the area received 64 inches since 2 a.m. Saturday, including 29 inches overnight Saturday. Cohee referred to the snow quality as "very, very light."

"Outside my office it was waist-deep, and I could have run through it. It literally was no resistance," he said.

The death is the first of the year at China Peak, he said. A similar accident occurred at the resort last year, in which another snowboarder fell into deep snow head-first into a tree well.

Sheriff's deputies are investigating Sunday's accident, said Fresno County sheriff's Lt. John Reynolds.


How wet did it get?

Weekend rain totals as of 5 p.m. Sunday in some Valley areas:

Oakhurst: 4.92 inches

Bass Lake: 5.54 inches

Yosemite Valley: 3.71 inches

Madera Municipal Airport: 2.78 inches

Clovis: 2.51 inches

Hanford: 1.42 inches

Fresno: 1.78 inches

Visalia Airport: 1.27 inches

Staff writer Marek Warszawski contributed to this report. The reporters can be reached at atavlian@fresnobee.com, blee@fresnobee.com

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