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Possible Flooding, High Winds Put Local Officials on Alert

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An atmospheric river storm targeting California has prompted meteorologists to warn of possible flooding starting Thursday afternoon. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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A moisture-laden storm arriving Thursday with heavy rains could create localized flooding on the Valley floor and at elevations up to 4,000 feet in the foothills.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for the region starting at 4 p.m. and continuing until 10 a.m. Sunday.

Highway 168, which was closed last week due to a rockslide, reopened to limited traffic on Wednesday morning. Caltrans said that only residents, homeowners, and ski resort visitors should plan to use the highway for now. Sno-parks along Highway 168 remain closed.

But it’s not clear how long the highway may remain open if heavy rains from the upcoming storms cause more boulders to break loose and tumble onto the road. Fresno County officials, the CHP, and Caltrans will be keeping a close eye on the highway, particularly on the Four Lane area where the last rockfall occurred.

The National Weather Service is continuing to forecast 2 to 3 inches of rain for Fresno and other Valley communities, and as much as 8 inches at Shaver Lake and other mountain communities, meteorologist Dan Harty said Wednesday.

Red Cross Evacuation Center in Sanger

The Fresno County Office of Emergency Services is working with the Red Cross to open a shelter to assist residents who wish to evacuate. The shelter will be at the Sanger Community Center, 730 Recreation Ave. and will open as of 3 p.m. on Thursday.

The shelter originally was to be at Reedley College, but concerns about Kings River flooding prompted officials to switch to Sanger.

Residents are asked to bring only essentials such as medication, clothes, and toiletries. Pets that can be kenneled are allowed. The shelter is ADA-compliant and will have restrooms and showers.

The Red Cross says it will provide cots, blankets, pillows, and a few meals. The shelter will be open until evacuation orders and warnings have been lifted.

Fresno County’s website includes links to emergency services, updates, and where to find sandbags and sand.

Fresno County Emergency Services asks the public to sign up for alerts from the Fresno County Sheriff’s office via the QR codes above and to heed all evacuation warnings.

National Park Closures

Yosemite National Park, which has been impacted by deep snow, will remain closed through the weekend and possibly beyond, the park said Tuesday in a tweet.

Sequoia National Park will close its entrance station at 6 p.m. Thursday because of the oncoming storm’s potential hazards.  Kings Canyon National Park also may close due to the storm.

Storm Strengthens

Thursday’s storm will arrive in the afternoon and will be accompanied by gusty winds that could reach 30 to 35 mph in the Valley and 45 mph in the mountains, Harty said.

The storm is expected to intensify overnight Thursday and into Friday, he said.

So if you’re planning to put out sandbags, you’ll want to do it before you head to bed Thursday night.

Some showers could continue into Saturday, and there might be some clearing on Sunday before the arrival Monday of a new storm. Harty said it’s not clear yet whether that storm will be as powerful as Thursday’s, which was described on Tuesday by another National Weather Service meteorologist as “unprecedented.”

Flooding is a big concern from Thursday’s storm, but not the only one. The ground, already saturated by recent storms, will be even more waterlogged and could give way to rockslides and mudslides in the mountains and foothills, and trees and utility poles could topple over.

Snow levels will start at 6,000 feet but then rise to 8,000 to 9,000 feet before lowering on Saturday to 7,000 feet, Harty said.

While rainfall will melt snow at lower elevations, contributing to the storm runoff, snow at higher elevations should absorb the rain, he said.

Valley Counties, Cities Urge Residents to Be Ready for Storm

Tulare County officials said Wednesday that they are closely monitoring the forecast for the upcoming storm, as well as more storms expected next week.

Sandbags are available at many locations in Tulare County. A map of the locations is at this link.

Officials also said that foothill and mountain residents who could be isolated by snow or bridge closures should:

  • Stock up on several days’ worth of food, water, medications, and other necessary supplies;
  • Refill home propane tanks and/or secure adequate firewood for heating;
  • Refill primary and backup fuel supplies for generators and vehicles;
  • Charge backup batteries for electronic devices;
  • Sandbag vulnerable structures in low-lying areas and near creeks, streams, rivers, canals, or other waterways;
  • Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle with food, water, and blankets in case you become stranded;
  • And, don’t leave your vehicle if you are stranded in the snow.

Merced Preparations

City officials say they are clearing storm drains, beefing up creeks banks, and making other preparations ahead of the storm.

Merced also has reactivated its Storm Information Webpage to provide information and updates about local impacts, including flood caution and preparedness information, evacuation warnings, and orders, if necessary. Sandbag supply updates and other storm-related information will be posted there.

Madera County Evacuation Warning

The Madera County Sheriff’s Office issued an Evacuation Warning on Wednesday due to the upcoming storm because of flooding concerns.
Cascadel Woods, the Bass Lake Mobile Home Park in North Fork, and the Wildwood Mobile Home Park on the San Joaquin River are among the affected areas. Learn more at http://MaderaAware.com. It has an interactive map with the current evacuation status.

PG&E Mobilizes for Storm

PG&E officials said Wednesday that the utility is mobilizing personnel ahead of the storm.

“The incoming adverse weather could result in trees, limbs, and other debris falling into powerlines, damaging equipment, and interrupting electric service,” PG&E said in a news release.

Blocked access could lead to longer power outages, said Scott Stenfel, PG&E’s director of meteorology and fire science.

“The wind combined with heavy rain and flooding risks can lead to access issues for our crews if trees fail and roadways flood.”

Customers can view real-time outage information at PG&E’s online outage center and search by a specific address, city, or county. This site has been updated to include support in 16 languages.

Additionally, customers can sign up for outage notifications by text, email, or phone. PG&E will let customers know the cause of an outage, when crews are on their way, the estimated restoration time, and when power has been restored.

(GV Wire’s Bill McEwen contributed to this story.)

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email