Rain, snow and winds in latest storm hit central San Joaquin Valley

A powerful storm system dropped heavy rains on much of the central San Joaquin Valley on Friday, flooding roadways and briefly shutting down Fresno’s airport.

City spokesman Mark Standriff said Fresno’s drainage system can handle a “once-every-two-years” storm, or about a half-inch of rain in an hour.

“We got hit by more than that this afternoon,” he said.

Areas in northeast Fresno around Woodward Park and the intersection of Cedar and Shepherd avenues were hit the worst, Standriff said.

Around 4 p.m., Fresno Yosemite International Airport closed its ramps because the storm brought lightning to within three miles of the terminals. No passengers were allowed to board, and no employees were permitted to load luggage. The airport issued the all-clear around 4:30 p.m.

In Clovis, Armstrong Avenue between Bullard and Barstow avenues was closed due to roadway flooding.

The California Highway Patrol initiated chain control on Highway 41 near Oakhurst. Anyone driving higher into the mountains was required to have tire chains in their vehicle and faced putting them on at any moment.

The National Weather Service issued a special weather report at 4:15 p.m. warning of half-inch hail and winds up to 30 mph for most of the central San Joaquin Valley. It also issued a flash-flood warning.

The fast-moving storm had moved into southern Fresno County and Tulare County by 6 p.m.

In the mountains, heavy snow fell at Hume Lake Christian Camps in Sequoia National Park, which is at an elevation of 5,200 feet. And snow also was falling hard on Highway 168 near Shaver Lake.

Earlier in the day a wind advisory was issued. Around 10:45 a.m. the weather service said winds were blowing at 50 mph on the Grapevine.

A winter storm warning was issued for the Sierra above 6,000 feet. Four to eight inches of snow were expected at that elevation, and eight to 15 inches were to fall above 7,000 feet.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. warned Valley residents to stay away from any downed power lines, and to call 911 and PG&E at 800-743-5000 if downed lines were seen.

Fresno officials reminded residents to turn off their irrigation systems when rain falls, and keep them shut down for two days after a storm. This is state law, said Standriff.

Storm drenches California

The storm also drenched Los Angeles on Friday with brief but fierce downpours that snapped power lines, sent hikers up a tree and prompted a spate of flood advisories.

The afternoon rain fell in torrents in foothill areas, dumping nearly a quarter-inch in five minutes in the northeastern suburb of La Canada Flintridge, the National Weather Service reported.

In Riverside, east of Los Angeles, the storm snapped a dozen power poles, littering roads with electrical lines, closing streets and leaving about 3,000 customers without electricity, city and fire officials said.

In Los Angeles, a power line fell on a car in the San Fernando Valley, trapping the driver until the line could be de-energized so firefighters could move in for a rescue, fire department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said.

In the Hollywood Hills, firefighters rescued two hikers who climbed a tree and were afraid to risk a rain-soaked trail on Mulholland Drive, Stewart said.

However, no major flooding was reported, she said.

Skies began to ease after a few hours, but forecasters also warned of gusty winds – potentially reaching 60 to 75 mph – in mountains and deserts with some snow in the mountains.

The storm was expected to move south and east before leaving the state Saturday.

Northern California was hard hit earlier. Schools were shuttered, and residents snapped up sandbags. Nearly 400 flights were delayed because of weather at San Francisco International Airport and about 75 were canceled, most of them smaller planes, officials said.

Roads were closed because of floods and mudslides. The closures included a portion of Highway 1 in Mendocino County where overnight slides nearly toppled a California Department of Transportation dump truck with an employee inside. The truck hit a guardrail – stopping its fall – and landed at a 45-degree angle. The employee was uninjured.

Scattered power outages affected several thousand people.

Several Sonoma County schools closed Friday because of fears that the Russian River would flood. But by the afternoon, forecasters had cancelled warnings for major rivers.

Still, the Russian River was running high and fast Friday with vineyards submerged and streets closed. At a trailer park in Forestville mere feet from the river, a resident was moving his dog and trailer to drier land.

Rory Appleton: 559-441-6015, @RoryDoesPhonics. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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