Rain soaks roadways as the latest winter storm pummels the region
A windy and sodden Pacific storm raked the central San Joaquin Valley on Friday, pushing rain totals toward records, triggering mudslides and road closures and threatening to rupture a levee near Tranquillity.
And more rain is on the way. A procession of storms is expected to keep the region largely gray and rainy through Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
Winds that accompanied Friday’s storm toppled power lines and big rig trucks around the region. Highways to the Central Coast were closed because of gusting winds and road blockage. The rains contributed to flooding and road closures, and prompted a flood warning to 80 homes in the Tranquillity area, where a levee was weakened by storm flows. Road crews and emergency workers were scrambling to keep up.
“We have guys working everywhere. We’re doing everything we can to keep the roads safe, but we’re running thin,” said Randy Ishii, division manager for Fresno County Roads Department. “We’re using everything we’ve got, but it’s not enough right now.”
Fresno’s rainfall total so far this season climbed the list of wettest seasons to fourth place by Friday afternoon.
Fresno also exceeded its average annual rainfall total on Friday, climbing past the 11.50 inches that normally is recorded by the end of the rain year on Sept. 30.
By Friday afternoon, the rain total for the season was at 11.83 inches, passing 1996-97 for fourth wettest year up to this point. The third highest rainfall total by Friday’s date was in 1982-83, Fresno’s wettest year on record. By this date in 1983, 13.67 inches of rain had fallen.
By about 4:30 p.m., Fresno had recorded 0.65 inches of rain, setting a new record for the date. The old record, set in 1941, was 0.58 inches.
“We still have a lot of rain coming,” said Bill Peterson, a National Weather Service technician in Hanford.
He said the rain systems coming in over the next several days will bring significant moisture and nudge the region closer to the 1982-83 numbers. Back then, Fresno recorded 23.57 inches by the end of the rainy season.
Bass Lake and Shaver Lake were nearing two inches of rain by 4 p.m. North Fork, Oakhurst and Coarsegold had exceeded an inch of rain by then. In the central San Joaquin Valley, Avenal recorded nearly an inch, while more than two-thirds of an inch had fallen in Clovis and Visalia since midnight.
In the southern Sierra Nevada, a winter storm warning was in effect through 4 a.m. Saturday above 7,000 feet from Yosemite National Park to the Kern County line.
Rainfall has been steady throughout the Valley and Sierra, and trouble grew as the day wore on.
Highways 41 and 46 were closed Friday afternoon at Highway 33 in Kings and Kern counties due to strong winds. Caltrans officials said three big rigs overturned because of the high winds. The highways reopened later Friday, but Highway 269 near Huron was closed after power poles fell across the roadway. Wind gusts of 58 mph were reported in the Kettleman Hills area along Highway 41 near the road closure. There was no estimated time for the highways to reopen.
Along Interstate 5, the California Highway Patrol office at Lebec recorded a wind gust of 56 mph and at the San Luis Reservoir on Highway 152 winds gusted to 46 mph early Friday afternoon.
A rock slide reportedly blocked three lanes of southbound Interstate 5 through the Grapevine and sent a large boulder into the fast lane. The CHP later reported the boulder had been cleared from the freeway, but northbound Interstate 5 through the pass was briefly closed because of a mudslide.
A fallen tree near Piedra Road slowed traffic along Highway 180 in Fresno County on Friday morning and traffic had to be rerouted.
Up to 15 power poles were reported down Friday afternoon in western Fresno County, and several vehicles including a school bus were trapped between the fallen poles, said Ishii, with the Fresno County road department.
Capt. Jeremiah Wittwer said power lines were on the school bus and that lines were de-energized just after 4 p.m. County road crews were en route to El Dorado Avenue and Highway 145, near Five Points to assist in getting the road cleared. There were no injuries.
Mount Whitney and Dickenson avenues also were closed because of downed poles. Other problems were reported at Highway 145 and Excelsior Avenue, Highway 269 and Jayne Avenue. Winds near Huron peaked around 36 mph in mid-afternoon.
Mount Whitney Avenue was closed at the California Aqueduct near Five Points where water was flooding onto the road, said Ishii.
“It’s always been a trouble spot,” Ishii said. “It’s one of our few roads that goes east to west out there.”
Northwest of Tranquillity, state and local agencies were monitoring a weakened levee near the Fresno Slough, where the San Joaquin and Kings rivers meet.
Should the levee break, two to three feet of water could flow into an area bordered by Manning Avenue, James Road, Tuolumne Avenue and the Fresno Slough, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti said.
Botti said crews from the sheriff’s office, California Office of Emergency Services, Cal Fire, Fresno County Public Works Department and the Tranquility Irrigation District were monitoring the area around the clock. Botti said the sheriff’s office will post any new information on its social media websites as it becomes available.
In Kings County, problems were reported at Fargo Avenue and 23rd Avenue and near 21 1/2 Avenue and Elgin Avenue, north of Lemoore, where winds gusted to 48 mph around 4 p.m. Friday.
Near Madera, Road 28 1/2 was closed at Avenue 15 about 4:30 p.m. Friday because of a downed power pole and power lines.
The Valley’s wet year
Season to date
Normal for the date
Full seasonal average
(As of 4:30 p.m. Feb. 17)
Source: National Weather Service