Wicked weather plagues the West as motorists left stranded, residents evacuated

Jan. 7, 2017: A man walks in the rain along a covered shopping in San Anselmo, Calif.


RENO, Nev. – Hundreds of homes were evacuated in northern Nevada, and the stranded motorists were pulled from cars stuck on flooded Northern California roads as a storm came as part of a major winter storm, the largest to slam the region in more than a decade.

Crews in California cleared trees and debris Sunday after mudslides caused by the steady rain accompanying the system that could dump 15 inches in the foothills of the Sierra and heavy snow on the mountain tops before it’s expected to move east early Monday. Forecasters warned a second storm is expected to hit the already soaked field Monday night.

In Nevada, emergency officials voluntarily evacuated from a total of 400 homes affects approximately 1300 inhabitants in the south Reno area Sunday afternoon as the Truckee River began to leave its banks and ditches began to overflow, south of U.S. Interstate 80.

No injuries were reported, but high water forced the closure of many area roads, a series of bridges in the center of Reno and a few of the Interstate 80 off-ramps in the neighboring Sparks, where the worst flooding is expected to send a few metres from the water early Monday in an industrial area where 25,000 people work.

Bob Elsen of Sparks said he saw a lot of wet weather in his former hometown of Bremerton, Washington, but he had not expected this in the high desert of Nevada, where only 8 inches of rainfall a year on average.

“I don’t think I’ve seen this much rain since I moved here six years ago,” Elsen said he looked to the Truckee River waters increase in Sparks. “It is the reason why I moved from Washington to get away from this stuff.”


An avalanche is also a closed section of the Mount Rose Highway connecting Reno to Lake Tahoe for the second time in three days, after more than 6 meters of snow fell on the summit of the Sierra over the past week.

Schools were ordered closed Monday in the Reno-Sparks area. Gov. Brian Sandoval — who declared a state of emergency on Saturday — told all non-essential state employees to stay home Monday.

“All emergency services workers are all hands on deck,” Washoe County Emergency Manager Aaron Kenneston told reporters at a briefing in Reno Sunday afternoon.

Bob Leighton, the Reno Fire department’s chief of emergency operations, called it “a very dynamic situation that happens so fast that it is difficult to keep up with the road closures.”

The storm surge stretching from Hawaii — an atmospheric river — comes as California enters its sixth year of drought. Every drop of rain is welcome, but officials said a number of major storms needed to replenish depleted groundwater.

In Northern California, fallen trees on Sunday crashed against cars and houses and blocked roads in the San Francisco Bay area, and rescued stranded motorists out of the cars stuck on flooded roads on Sunday. A giant tree fell in the southern lanes of the Interstate 230 in Hillsborough, injuring a driver who could not break in time and drove into the tree. A woman was killed Saturday by a falling tree while they took a walk on a San Francisco Bay Area golf course.

There were mudslides and floods in Northern California, that led to road closures, especially in the North of the Bay, one of the areas hardest hit and where the Napa River jumped the banks.

Further to the north, U. S. highway 395 was temporarily closed in both directions in Mono County due to flooding.

Authorities are watching the rising water levels of several rivers, including the Cosumnes, Truckee, Merced, American and the Russian.

All roads lead to Yosemite National Park in the valley remained closed in the midst of the fear that the Merced River can overflow the banks and cause widespread flooding.

“It’s kind of surreal how empty the park is. There is no one here,” said Gary Kazanjian, a freelance photographer who spent the night in Yosemite, and drove out Sunday as part of a caravan of stragglers.

At the Santa Cruz Diner in the centre of Santa Cruz, the customers kept the crew relatively busy. Manager Garin Peck said the restaurant was a quiet Saturday, but Sunday was a typical day for dinner in the vicinity of the San Lorenzo River.

“Many of the people expected that the storm is a lot bigger and stayed home Saturday night” Peck said. “We were expecting a little more of the storm, but until now there has not been any major problems. I’ve seen a lot worse.”

Forecasters said the storm will begin tapering off late Sunday, but another storm is expected in the area by Monday night.

Relatively mild temperatures were causing the snow line is above 9000 feet in the Sierra Nevada, causing the drain in the lower areas, where the ground is already saturated. Forecasters said Sunday was tracking pretty much as they expected.

“For the players who have been here a decade or more, this is one of the most impressive, attractive setups, which we have seen in a long time to potential flooding in the region,” said Chris Smallcomb, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Reno. “If you had to write a book about how a flood in the region, would you make use of a scenario, like this.”

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