Given the rain and snow reports over the past week, and what the National Weather Service is expecting through the middle of January, this year may have the potential to be a blockbuster — exactly what California needs to get its multiyear drought under control.
Squaw Valley ski resort reported an incredible 173-mph wind gust on its 8,700-foot peak Sunday morning. The National Weather Service in Reno doesn’t keep official records at that location, but it was the highest gust any of the forecasters could recall.
The Truckee River in Reno crested at 12.3 feet — more than three feet over flood stage — early Monday. It was the highest crest since the historic flood of 2005 when the river rose to 15.7 feet.
San Francisco has seen more rain during the first eight days of 2017 than it did in all of 2013, noted Capital Weather Gang contributor Phil Klotzbach. North of San Francisco, the Napa River rose Sunday to nearly 27 feet, or five feet above flood stage, which was just three feet short of the record flood in 1995.
Officials have logged more than 100 reports of flooding or landslides in California between Sunday morning and Monday morning, weather.com reports, and the Sierra Avalanche Center said there was considerable avalanche danger above and below the tree line Monday.
“Dangerous avalanche conditions still exist, and large, deep, destructive human-triggered avalanches remain likely due to deep slabs and wind slabs,” the center wrote in an advisory. “This danger rating is when the most avalanche fatalities occur.”
Interstate 80, the major thoroughfare that connects California and Nevada north of Lake Tahoe, was closed Monday morning after a massive mudslide swept onto the road about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Pacific Time. Caltrans had hoped to have the road clear within hours, but high-voltage power lines came down in the same area, which delayed the cleanup, CBS Sacramento reported.
As of 8 a.m. Monday, the road was closed eastbound from Colfax and westbound from Truckee. Temperatures have dropped and precipitation changed back to snow, which has made smaller highways more treacherous as motorists look for alternatives to the interstate.
To the south, torrential rain and strong winds likely caused a California icon to topple. The giant sequoia tree called Pioneer Cabin fell during the weekend. A car-size tunnel was carved into the tree in 1880, allowing tourists to pass through it.
Jim Allday, a volunteer at Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Calaveras County where the tree was located, posted photos to his Facebook page showing the icon splintered on the ground.
“When I went out there (Sunday afternoon), the trail was literally a river, the trail is washed out,” Allday told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I could see the tree on the ground, it looked like it was laying in a pond or lake with a river running through it.”
Since Friday, more than 10 inches of precipitation has fallen in the Sierra Nevada and the coastal range, according to the National Weather Service. High terrain has received the majority of the precipitation, where west winds are forced to rise, condensing water vapor into rain at warm low elevations and snow at cold high elevations.
The storm was California’s second major atmospheric river event in less than a week. Between Sunday and Thursday, nearly five feet of snow fell on mountain peaks west of Reno. Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows Ski Resort reported 4.5 feet, and Tahoe Donner reported four feet and was forced to delay opening due to heavy snow. On the south side of Lake Tahoe near Route 50, which usually sees slightly less snow because of its lower elevation, Heavenly reported three feet.
Nearly half of California remains under flood watches and warnings Monday afternoon as the next storm forms over the Pacific Ocean. Another round of rain and snow is forecast through Thursday, after which things should dry out for the weekend.