Clovis News

Storm drenches Valley; Fresno sets rain mark

The central San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Nevada should begin drying out this morning after the first storm of the season moves on, leaving behind power outages and a mind-boggling amount of rainfall.

Nearly 14 inches of rain fell in the last 24 hours in Dinkey Creek, 10 inches at Wishon Dam, 8 inches at Shaver Lake and 9.25 inches at Mariposa Grove.

"It's nuts," said Jim Dudley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford. "It doesn't happen very often. That's a lot of rain."

Dudley said he had been watching the rainfall figures climb through the night. "It's been pretty interesting."

Other areas recording high amounts of rainfaill include Yosemite Valley with 4.83 inches and Oakhurst with 4.46 inches.

Dudley said he couldn't say for sure whether the Dinkey Creek monsoon was a rainfall record, but it may well be. "It's definitely the most anybody we've been talking to has seen," he said.

On the Valley Floor, Fresno received 1.39 inches, Hanford 1.26, Merced 1.66 and Visalia 1.8. Fresno's rainfall set a record for the date; the previous high in the city was 0.88. Emergency crews worked into the night Tuesday as the powerful Pacific storm turned power poles into matchsticks, toppled trees and created deadly road conditions.

After a long, dry summer, the first big storm of the season had many effects in the Valley: cars veered off roadways, about 29,000 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers lost electricity, and many residents lugged sandbags to their homes to prevent flooding.

A flash flood warning issued this morning was canceled. The warning had covered Rancheria Creek, Balch Camp and all locations along the North Fork of the Kings River downstream to Pine Flat Reservoir. Residents who live along streams and creeks were advised to move to higher ground.

Along with the rainfall comes clean air. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District forecasts good air quality throughout the region.

Elsewhere in the state, the news was even more dramatic, with flooding evacuations in the Santa Cruz Mountains and a critical power transmission line knocked out in Moss Landing.

The good news was that there could be an early ski season.

A spokesman for Sierra Summit ski area said today that several inches of snow fell at its highest elevation, but lower elevations received rain. Boomer Devaurs estimated the snow accumulation at about four inches.

The forecast calls for a 50% chance of showers in Fresno this morning, then a cloudy sky that gradually becomes sunny. The high should reach near 72 degrees, and winds could gust to as much as 23 mph.

29,000 lost power

PG&E reported about 29,000 customers lost electricity Tuesday night from 75 outages scattered around Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties.

The three largest outages -- affecting a total of 23,500 customers -- were in north Fresno and Clovis, bounded roughly by the San Joaquin River and Copper, Sunnyside and Bullard avenues.

Another outage caused night classes to be canceled at the Willow International campus in northeast Fresno.

By 2 p.m. today, power was restored to all but 115 PG&E customers across Fresno County, utility spokesman Denny Boyles said.

Ground soaked up threat of flooding

Fresno County reported few flooding problems, as dry ground soaked up much of the rain. But some trees were blown down by heavy winds, said Bob Palacios, manager of the county's road maintenance and operations division.

The storm was not severe enough to warrant distributing sandbags, said city spokesman Randy Reed, but Clovis, Merced, Visalia and other communities distributed them.

The Fresno Fire Department, however, was busy responding to a number of power-pole fires.

Dust and dirt can build up on lines during the summer. Once rain comes, it can cause electrical shorts, said city fire spokesman Gary Eberhard.

In Tulare, a power pole caught fire about 1 p.m. at Cherry Street and Merritt Avenue, causing a power outage in the neighborhood that included Tulare District Hospital. The hospital had to activate backup generators.

Meanwhile, the Kings County Fire Department reported four power-pole fires from the rain. Two occurred east of Hanford at Fargo and Avenue 8 1/2 and Grangeville and Avenue 8 1/2, causing a power outage affecting 1,019 customers, said Southern California Edison region manager Cal Rossi. Power was restored to most customers by late afternoon, he said.

The storm is unusually strong for this time of year, partly because it has remnants from Typhoon Melor, which hit Japan this month, said James Brotherton, a Weather Service meteorologist.

Rain fell hardest in the northern part of the Valley, and in the eastern foothills and the Sierra, he said.

The snow level also dropped to around 8,000 feet Tuesday night, with Sierra Summit getting a couple of inches of new snow, Brotherton said.

At least two killed

The California Highway Patrol said heavy rain and high winds contributed to dozens of traffic accidents, including two that turned deadly.

About 2:30 p.m., a motorist ran off Auberry Road near Table Mountain Casino in the foothills of Fresno County. Another car then struck and killed someone who was trying to help out. In all, several cars got tangled up, the CHP said.

Though no rain was reported in Bakersfield, high winds kicked up dust and contributed to a pileup on Interstate 5 north of Highway 119 about 5:15 p.m. At least one person was killed, the CHP said.

Rain and a flash-flood watch will remain in effect through this morning in Mariposa, Madera, Fresno, and Tulare counties, as well as in the Sierra, from Yosemite to the Kern County line.

Mudslides could still occur, especially in areas where fire has scarred the landscape and loosened the soil, Brotherton said.

NorCal evacuations

The storm swept the state, and the main fear was that the rains would cause mud and debris to rush down hillsides made bare from the summer fire, state fire spokeswoman Colleen Baxter said.

Authorities urged evacuation of about 60 homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains town of Davenport, 50 miles south of San Francisco, where an August wildfire stripped vegetation from about 12 square miles of land.

More than 6 inches of rain fell in the Santa Cruz range, the National Weather Service said.

High winds knocked out power to more than a quarter-million Pacific Gas & Electric customers in central and northern areas, but crews had managed to restore power to more than half, said utility spokesman Joe Molica.

Gusts also knocked down a 500 kilovolt transmission line near Moss Landing at the center of the Monterey Bay coast, forcing the state's electrical grid manager to declare a power emergency.