The leading edge of what is expected to be a series of winter storms arrived in the central San Joaquin Valley early Tuesday, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a hazardous weather outlook for the region.
Thunderstorms are possible Tuesday afternoon, along with heavy rain, gusty winds, lightning and small hail. Between a quarter- and a half-inch of rain is expected.
From midnight through 2 p.m., Fresno had received .37 of an inch of rain, but the totals were higher to the north, with Merced getting .58 of an inch and Madera .41. To the south, the totals were Visalia, .20 and Hanford, .25.
Despite the precipitation, traffic was moving smoothly in early reports from the California Highway Patrol, although a rollover collision occurred at Fruit and Herndon in north Fresno.
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Around the Valley, workers on Monday prepared for the stormswere making sandbags available to residents and pumping water through the local basin systems, but the storms are expected to drop large amounts of rain over a long period instead of brief, strong showers that frequently cause flooding.
“It will pretty much be a steady rain,” said David Spector, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hanford.
Tuesday’s rains will amount to between 0.75 inches and 1.25 inches in the Valley. On Wednesday into Thursday, a second, slightly colder storm will bring about half an inch of rain. Two more weaker systems could bring additional rain Friday and Saturday, Spector said.
As of Monday, Fresno’s seasonal total was 5.20 inches, which is 1.51 inches – or 29 percent – above the normal for the date of 3.69 inches.
Preparations were made Monday around the Valley to ensure roads won’t flood and basins will have enough capacity to store excess water.
Some of the flood-prone locations in the city of Fresno, such as Shields and Wishon avenues and Marks and Shaw avenues, likely will handle the storms without flooding provided there isn’t a sudden torrent, said Mark Standriff, Fresno city spokesman.
If there is, he said, the city has a “storm SWAT team” ready to combat emerging //any problems.
About 160 water-retention basins around the Fresno-Clovis area have capacity for a record 48-hour storm, said Alan Hofmann, general manager for the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District.
He said the “winter criteria” is to keep enough room in the basins for a storm that will drop 3.5 inches in the Valley, the largest 48-hour downpour on record.
“When we have trouble is when there are a continual series of storms on consecutive days and we can’t pump the basins out as fast as the water comes in,” he said.
In Clovis, streets have been cleared since most trees are bare of leaves, said Luke Serpa, the city’s public utilities director.
A storm over a few days totaling 1.5 inches to 2 inches “shouldn’t cause us too much of a problem,” he said.
Fresno County has some localized problems in the Fig Garden, Mayfair and Tarpey areas, said Alan Weaver, the county’s public works and planning director, but he doesn’t expect the forecasted series of storms to cause issues.
In rural areas, maintenance crews are always on the alert for problems near Mendota, along Belmont Avenue and the Panoche Creek, and the Highway 269 bridge north of Huron, officials said.
A $24 million Huron bridge replacement is expected to begin some time next year, which would allow passage during the worst storms. The project is expected to be finished in 2018, said Tony Boren, executive director for the Fresno Council of Governments.
A winter storm warning has been issued by the weather service for the Sierra above 6,000 feet from Yosemite National Park to the Tulare-Kern counties line. Up to 16 inches of new snow was forecast by late Tuesday night.
Under such a warning, motorists need to use caution when driving in the mountains and be prepared to put on chains if required. Roads also could be closed. To check road conditions, call Caltrans at 800-427-7623 or visit its website.
Another storm is expected Wednesday, and it will be colder and pack less precipitation. The snow level will drop to 4,500 feet by Wednesday afternoon.
The colder storms expected Thursday afternoon through Friday morning will drop snow levels to 3,500 feet.
The precipitation is the result of the El Niño condition that exists along the West Coast.
Do-it-yourself flood protection:
Sand and sandbags are available 24 hours a day to people living in unincorporated areas of Fresno County at the following work yards. Residents need to take their own shovels to do the filling:
▪ Biola, Area 4 Road Yard, 12855 W. G St.
▪ Fresno-Clovis area, Area 7 Road Yard, 9400 N. Matus Ave.
▪ Sanger, Area 8 Road Yard, 9525 E. Olive Ave.
Clovis residents can fill sandbags at the City Corporation Yard, 155 N. Sunnyside Ave.