Chimney Sweep

California faces menace of heavy snow, rain and floods that would put lives in ‘nice hazard’

LOS ANGELES — Rain and snow battered huge swathes of California on Friday, forcing statewide highway closures and a major dam to open its spillway for the first time in nearly four years.

About 9,000 people were under evacuation orders in the state, said Nancy Ward, director of the California Office of Emergency Services.

In Tulare County, evacuation orders have been issued for parts of the small community of Springville and the city of Exeter due to flooding and swollen waterways, the sheriff’s office said. Evacuation warnings were issued along the Tule River in Porterville of 62,000 people.

President Joe Biden on Friday approved an emergency motion from Gov. Gavin Newsom, triggering federal assistance to state “tribal and local response efforts” caused by ongoing “severe winter storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides,” the White House said.

“We’ve been here about 20 years and really haven’t seen anything of this magnitude,” said Eric Diekmann of Soquel in Santa Cruz County, whose home is across a washed-out road.

Even after Friday night’s flood concerns taper off, more bad weather is in store for the weekend and the coming days, National Weather Service forecaster David Lawrence said.

John Bays clears snow from his driveway on March 8, 2023 after a series of storms in Lake Arrowhead, California.Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

“We will see more rounds of rain and heavy mountain snow throughout much of northern and central California throughout the weekend,” Lawrence told reporters at OES headquarters in the Sacramento suburb of Mather. “And we’ll also likely see that weather pattern continue as we head into at least the first half of next week.”

Weeks of incessant snowfall have kept the state transportation agency busy clearing roads of 45 million cubic yards of snow over the past month, enough to “fill more than 100 rose bowls,” said California Department of Transportation assistant director Mike Keever.

Recent storms prompted the state to release water from the main spillway at Lake Oroville on Friday noon, with snowmelt likely to continue to raise lake levels in the coming months.

This is only the second time water has been released from the rebuilt spillway, following the 2017 disaster that turned life upside down around Gold Country and forced the evacuation of more than 180,000 people.

People walk along a path at the Golden Gate Overlook in San Francisco on Thursday.Jeff Chiu/AP

Some of California’s most famous and busiest roads were temporarily closed Friday due to flooding.

  • A portion of Monterey County’s Scenic Highway 1 has been closed due to falling rocks, water and debris.
  • U.S. Highway 101 southbound near Gilroy State’s Garlic Center could not be used.
  • Interstate 580, a major highway through San Francisco’s East Bay, finally reopened around noon.
  • Main Street in Soquel, a Santa Cruz County community of about 9,900, was washed away. Evacuation orders were issued in Kernville, northeast of Bakersfield, due to flooding in the Kern River.

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State authorities have warned California residents that lots of running water can be dangerous.

As little as 6 inches of flowing water can easily knock a person off their feet, while one foot of water has the power to sweep a car away, the San Luis Obispo Office of Emergency Services warned Central Coast residents Friday.

“Remember, don’t walk, swim or drive through flood waters and avoid unnecessary travel today,” the agency said.

Transportation Department officials urged residents of the state to check their weather before going outside.

The department warned drivers to “be prepared for delays and pack extra food, water, blankets and other essentials, and pack cell phone chargers.”

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The heaviest rain had pulled out of northern California by Friday afternoon, but not before dumping about 3 to 4 inches of rain in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, according to the National Weather Service.

Flood watches were in place for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties through 4 a.m. Saturday, but the National Weather Service in Oxnard said Friday night the heavy rain had stopped and the water was beginning to recede.

More than 10 inches of rain fell in Rocky Butte in San Luis Obispo County through 10 p.m., the weather service said, although other areas were lower. More than 5 inches of rain fell in the village of Cambria, where evacuation orders had been issued for some residents but were later lifted.

In Paso Robles, Chimney Rock Road was washed away. A spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County said they had had road problems and temporary fixes since January, but these failed as of Friday morning.

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Fresno County first responders rescued, including three women, two in their 80s and one in 104, who were trapped in their home after a culvert was washed out, Sheriff John Zanoni said Friday.

Difficult weather conditions will also bring heavy snow to parts of the northern plains on Friday and parts of the upper Mississippi Valley on Saturday.

Rain is also expected to develop over parts of the middle Mississippi Valley and snowfall is expected to make its way to the Great Lakes by Sunday.

A storm system threw snow and rain across the Great Lakes of the Northeast and Southeast on Friday, with totals of 12 inches in Mequon, Wisconsin, 10 inches in Milwaukee, 9 inches in Woodstock, Illinois and 4 inches around Detroit.

Rain and snow showers will continue to move from the eastern Great Lakes through the mid-Atlantic region.

Western New York and Northeast Pennsylvania could get between 4 inches and 8 inches of snow.

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