An “atmospheric river” of rain and snow will continue to flow across the central San Joaquin Valley this weekend in a weather pattern not seen in California for years.
There will be a break from the first wave of rain and snow on Friday. Then a new storm Saturday will dump heavy rain and snow on the Valley and Sierra Nevada.
A flash flood warning for southern Tulare County and northern Kern County was issued Thursday morning by the National Weather Service.
Radar indicates five to nine inches of rain have fallen from the current storm as of 7 a.m. The area around Lake Isabella is especially affected, the weather service said.
Excessive rainfall over areas thinned by recent fires will lead to debris flowing through the White River, Kern River, Poso Creek and Deer Creek drainages, the weather service said.
Elsewhere, Yosemite National Park officials said it could close if flooding occurs along the Merced River, and advised travelers to have back-up plans.
Park officials said the park experienced severe flooding during January 1997, which forced closure for repairs until March of that year.
National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Harty said the long stretch of moisture moving into California from the Pacific is the result of a weather pattern that California has not experienced in some time.
“This is not a normal storm,” Harty said.
Rain that began falling Tuesday in Fresno had totaled 0.64 inches by noon Wednesday. In Visalia, about 0.41 inches of rain were recorded. As of midnight Tuesday night, Fresno’s rainfall total since Oct. 1, the start of the rain year, was 4.85 inches – well ahead of the seasonal norm for the date of 3.69 inches.
Higher elevations received much more precipitation. In Fish Camp, almost 3 1/2 inches of rain was recorded. In Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, 17 inches of new snow was reported.
New snow had plows running continuously Wednesday to keep roads open in the Sierra, Fresno County roads division Manager Randy Ishii said.
Ishii said Wednesday’s rain in the Valley was steady, with water soaking into the ground and causing little damage.
Ishii didn’t report major road hazards, except typical flooding at low points and ponding basins throughout the county.
A few trees were reported down in spots in Fresno County, but no one was injured.
An almond hull fire reported just after midnight Wednesday had Fresno County firefighters at the Central California Almond Growers for about five hours despite the rain.
Fresno County Fire Capt. Jeremiah Wittwer said the weather didn’t cause the fire, but winds did spread the flames to about three different piles of almond hulls at the plant.
Warnings and watches
Flash flood warnings remain in effect through Thursday for Madera and Fresno county foothills as well as the Tulare County mountains and foothills. About 1 to 2 inches of rain are expected for those areas, Harty said.
Flood watches will continue for several mountain areas below 7,000 feet through Monday of next week.
Rainfall on the Valley floor will range from 0.75 on the east side to 0.25 on the west.
A winter storm watch for 7,000 feet and higher in the Sierra will last until 4 p.m. Thursday. Two to four feet of snow are expected.
By Saturday, heavier rain and snow are predicted.
Three to six feet of snow above 7,000 feet will fall, the National Weather Service said.
In the foothills from Yosemite to Kings Canyon, up to 15 inches of rain will fall. In Tulare County foothills the totals will be 5 to 10 inches.
The east side of the Valley will receive between 1 to 3 inches of rainfall, while the west side gets a half inch to 2 inches.
Reservoirs get boost
On Wednesday, Millerton Lake was at 72 percent of its capacity. The lake is at Friant, on the San Joaquin River north of Fresno.
The heavy predicted totals for the weekend sound good to Steve Haugen at Pine Flat Reservoir. The water master at the Kings River Water Association says Pine Flat was at 28 percent capacity as of 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Officials at Pine Flat are releasing about 100 cubic feet of water per second, which holds space for about 1 million acre-feet of water.
About 750,000 acre-feet of storage currently sits empty and waits to be filled, Haugen said. If a heavier inflow does come in, Haugen said officials would release more water down the Kings River. (Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Pine Flat was releasing water at 2,500 cubic feet per second to open up water storage. The story also incorrectly reported the amount of available water storage as 850,000 acre-feet.)
The inflow of water fluctuates through the years, and there have been times where the capacity warning line at the reservoir was breached.
Haugen didn’t notice much of an increase with the first wave of rain. However, Saturday’s storm is one Haugen hopes will help increase Pine Flat’s level. “We have a big, empty bucket, and we hope it’s a bit more filled by Monday.”