California Sees Record Rainfall 10/26 06:06
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A powerful storm that swept through California set
rainfall records and helped douse wildfires. But it remained to be seen how
much of a dent it made in the state's drought.
The system weakened as it moved south but still dropped enough rain Monday
evening to cause mudslides that closed roads in the San Bernardino Mountains
northeast of Los Angeles.
In the northern part of the state, drenching rains caused widespread
flooding and rock slides over the weekend. Strong winds knocked down trees and
even toppled two big rigs on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge near San Francisco.
Pacific Gas & Electric reported that 380,000 homes and businesses lost power,
though most had it back Monday.
Despite the problems, the rain and mountain snow were welcome in Northern
California, which is so dry that nearly all of it is classified as either
experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. The wet weather also greatly
reduces the chances of additional wildfires in a region that has borne the
brunt of another devastating year of blazes in the state.
The National Weather Service called preliminary rainfall totals
"staggering," including 11 inches (28 centimeters) at the base of Marin
County's Mount Tamalpais and 4 inches (10 centimeters) in downtown San
Francisco, the fourth-wettest day ever for the city.
"It's been a memorable past 24 hours for the Bay Area as the long
talked-about atmospheric river rolled through the region," the local weather
office said Monday. "We literally have gone from fire/drought conditions to
flooding in one storm cycle."
Northeast of San Francisco, 5.44 inches (13.82 centimeters) fell on downtown
Sacramento, shattering the one-day record for rainfall that had stood since
Along the central coast, nearly 5.4 inches (13.72 centimeters) of rain was
recorded at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo County.
In Southern California, 1.1 inches (2.79 centimeters) fell in Beverly Hills.
Interstate 80, the major highway through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to
Reno, Nevada, was shut down by heavy snow early Monday. In California's Colusa
and Yolo counties, state highways 16 and 20 were shut for several miles because
of mudslides, the state Department of Transportation said.
The same storm system also slammed Oregon and Washington state, causing
power outages that affected tens of thousands of people. Two people were killed
when a tree fell on a vehicle in the greater Seattle area.
Lake Oroville, a major Northern California reservoir, saw its water levels
rise 20 feet (6.10 meters) over the past week, according to the state's
Department of Water Resource. Most of the increase came between Saturday and
Monday, during the height of the storm, KHSL-TV reported.
Justin Mankin, a geography professor at Dartmouth College and co-lead of the
Drought Task Force at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said
the cycle of going from years-long drought to record-breaking downpours is
something expected to continue because of climate change.
"While this rain is welcome, it comes with these hazards, and it won't
necessarily end the drought," Mankin said. "California still needs more
precipitation, and it really needs it in high elevations and spread out over a
longer time so it's not hazardous."
Christy Brigham, chief of resource management and science at Sequoia and
Kings Canyon National Parks, said the rain was a huge relief after the Caldor
Fire torched an unknown number of the giant trees in the park, along with
thousands of pines and cedars.
"This amount of rainfall is what we call a season-ending event," Brigham
said. "It should end fire season, and it should end our need -- to a large
degree -- to fight this fire."
The Caldor Fire has burned for more than two months. In early September, it
prompted the unprecedented evacuation of the entire city of South Lake Tahoe.
Firefighters now consider it fully contained, a status that -- thanks to the
rain -- also now applies to the Dixie Fire, the second-largest in state history
at just under 1 million acres.
During the weekend, the California Highway Patrol closed a stretch of State
Route 70 in Butte and Plumas counties because of multiple landslides within the
massive Dixie Fire burn scar.
Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, wasn't ready to declare the
wildfire season over or to cut staffing to winter levels. "We'd like to see
some more rain coming our way before we look at reducing staffing," spokesman
Isaac Sanchez said.
The long-term forecast for California shows drier-than-normal conditions,
"To end different aspects of the drought, you are going to need a situation
where parts of California get precipitation over the next three months that's
about 200% of normal," he said, adding that "despite this really, really insane
rainfall, the winter is probably going to be drier than average."