Powerful thunderstorm rolls through central San Joaquin Valley

The Fresno BeeFebruary 27, 2014 

The latest installment of this week's storm is hitting the central San Joaquin Valley on Friday with some of wildest weather the region has seen this winter.

The Valley floor is experiencing strong winds, hail and thunderstorms -- and "even a weak tornado" is possible, according to National Weather Service meteorologists.

Thunderstorms are possible through Friday, although severe lightning warnings in the Fresno area expired earlier in the afternoon.

Radars clocked gusty Fresno County winds at up to 70 mph in places such as Reedley, Dinuba, Orange Cove and into Squaw Valley, said Jim Andersen, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

An urban and small stream flood advisory was in effect for Friday afternoon throughout most of the Valley, Andersen said. Additionally,a winter storm warning remains in effect until 4 a.m. above 6,000 feet in elevation in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Friday afternoon, snow was falling between 7,000 and 8,000 feet in the high Sierra, but the snowline could drop to 5,000 feet overnight, Andersen said.

Storms were taking a "little break" Friday afternoon, he said, but "another round of energy" should be moving into the Fresno area by the late afternoon, continuing overnight.

Heavy rain in the Valley and snow in the Sierra are expected, but should taper off into the weekend.

"We're thinking these storms will be a little stronger than what we normally might see," said weather service meteorologist Jim Bagnall with the Hanford office. "We might get larger hail and stronger winds."

The latest storm is the second of three systems. The first blew off the coast on Wednesday, Bagnall said. This second wave should mean rain through Saturday in the Fresno area, with partly sunny skies expected Sunday. After that, a third band of rain might brush the Fresno area Wednesday night into Thursday.

As of Thursday afternoon, Fresno's seasonal rainfall total (rain years run July 1-June 30) was 2.83 inches -- much lower than the 7.74-inch average the city should have received by late February, Bagnall said.

24-hour rainfall totals through 3 p.m.

Foothills, mountains:

North Fork, 1.84 inches

Bass Lake, 1.79

Wawona, 1.44

Oakhurst, 0.96

Mariposa, 0.89

Trimmer, 1.60

Pinehurst, 1.51

Valley:

Fresno (airport), 0.54

Clovis, 0.63

Hanford, 0.68

Lemoore Naval Air Station, 0.70

Avenal, 0.83

Tulare, 0.83

Visalia, 0.72

Coalinga, 0.52

Downed power lines

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Denny Boyles, who is based in Fresno, said maintenance crews were at full staffing beginning early Friday to deal with downed power lines due to high winds. Crews were fanning out across the Valley, including needed repair work along Kearney Boulevard just west of Fresno and on Weber Avenue in central Fresno.

With more rain expected through Friday night, PG&E said nighttime power outages are possible. As of about 5 p.m. Friday, power outages throughout the region had diminished to 57 outages affecting 934 customers, Boyles said. A large outage near Reedley, affecting about 2,700 customers, was reduced to nearly 300 people about 5 p.m. (See PG&E's outage map)

Boyles offered some tips for staying safe during the storm:

-- Stay away from downed power lines and immediately call 911, then notify PG&E at 1-800-743-5002, and keep candles away from children and flammable materials, like drapes and lampshades. If you have a stand-by generator, notify PG&E and make sure it's installed safely to avoid damaging property and endangering PG&E workers who could be working on power lines in your neighborhood.

-- If power goes out, unplug or turn off electric appliances to avoid overloading circuits, which can cause fires when power is restored. Leave a single lamp on to indicate when power returns. Turn appliances back on one at a time when conditions return to normal.

South Valley gets hit

In Porterville, fierce winds toppled 10 trees alongside city streets, and some downtown streets had minor flooding, public works director Baldo Rodriguez said.

"We had 20 to 30 minutes of wind," he said. Street crews were removing the trees Friday afternoon after the rain stopped, he said.

Several traffic signals stopped working or began flashing red, he said. In one case, a car hit a signal pole, he said.

In Visalia, a falling limb brought down a power line to a home, fire department battalion chief Doyle Sewell said. The loss of electricity was confined to the home, he said.

Also, a surge of air pressure from rainwater filling underground culverts caused about five or six manhole covers to pop off, he said. City crews put them back, he said.

The city experienced minor street flooding at some intersections, which receded, he said.

To help residents combat heavy rain, Visalia officials announced sandbags and sand is available outside the corporation yard, 335 N. Cain St. Visalia residents should bring their own shovels to fill bags. For more information, call (559) 713-4428. Visalia residents with flooding concerns can call (559) 713-4403.

Elsewhere around the state

The rain contributed to a major traffic tie-up in Bakersfield, where a tractor-trailer crash early Friday morning forced the California Highway Patrol to close Highway 99 at Highway 58 for a time.

In Los Angeles, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for about 1,000 homes in two eastern foothill suburbs beneath nearly 2,000 acres of steep mountain slopes left bare by a January fire.

Read more here.

Snow in the Sierra

A National Weather Service winter storm warning went into effect Thursday night and will continue through 4 p.m. Saturday for elevations above 6,000 feet.

Up to 3 feet of snow is likely in the high Sierra on Friday, Bagnall said, with a couple inches of snow possible as low as 5,000 feet in elevation.

On Thursday, China Peak Mountain Resort in Lakeshore reported 6 to 9 new inches of snow, and Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite National Park reported 6 fresh inches.

The state Department of Water Resources took a new survey of the Sierra Nevada snowpack and found the water content at only 24% of average for the date. The northern and central Sierra snowpack normally provides about a third of the water used by California's cities and farms.

Previous story: Valley farmers happy to see rain at last

Check www.fresnobee.com/weather for more including current conditions and detailed forecasts.

Webcam: China Peak

Webcam:
Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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