Rescue workers used boats and firetrucks to evacuate dozens of Northern California residents from their flooded homes Wednesday as a drought-busting series of storms began to move out of the region after days of heavy rain and snow that toppled trees and created havoc as far north as Portland, Oregon.
Reports of the flooding started about 2 a.m. Wednesday as water from a quickly rising creek in the small rural town of Hollister deluged homes on a two-lane stretch of road called Lovers Lane.
Torrents of rain gushed down the street even after rescuers finished evacuating residents more than seven hours later. Some homes had mudlines about five feet high, marking how far the water rose. The water by that time was receding but still waist-deep in places.
"It's just a lot of water," said Kevin O'Neill, emergency services manager for San Benito County. "Fields that look like lakes. The ground just can't soak it up. Vehicles that are partly submerged, homes have water damage."
Hollister resident Richard Sanchez said he didn't evacuate because he wanted to look after his animals after seeing his yard flood.
"My yard is just an ocean," Sanchez said. "I decided to stay because I have animals. I wasn't being hardheaded. I just wanted to make sure they were safe."
Forecasters said precipitation would continue through Thursday, but the brunt of the back-to-back systems fueled by an "atmospheric river" weather phenomenon had passed after delivering the heaviest rain in a decade to parts of Northern California and Nevada.
The massive rain and snowfall that prompted a rare blizzard warning in parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains is helping much of Northern California recover from a six-year drought. The series of storms has also added 39 billion gallons of water to Lake Tahoe since Jan. 1.
Stormy weather extended north where Portland, Oregon and Southwest Washington were slammed with a surprising foot of snow, unusual for an area that normally sees rain. Crater Lake National Park in Oregon closed Tuesday and into Wednesday with more than 8 feet of snow on the ground.
The staggering snow totals in the Sierra Nevada —up to 11 feet the past week at some ski resorts around Lake Tahoe — was great for easing drought conditions but bad for area ski enthusiasts as road closures and avalanche threats kept most resorts closed for the third day in a row Wednesday.
"In all my years, it's so rare to have too much snow," said Dan Lavely, who moved to Lake Tahoe in 1968 and now lives in Reno. "Having a season pass, you pretty much live for these conditions. You want 2 or 3 feet of fresh powder, and you want to go play in it."
In Southern California, as the latest round of rain tapered off, a 9,000-pound of concrete wall and foundation slid down a rain-soaked, unstable hillside in Los Angeles' Hollywood Hills neighborhood.
It landed on a roadway that had been closed because of concerns about the undermined home. No injuries were reported.
The home, built in 1925, was red-tagged as unsafe to occupy while two neighboring homes were yellow-tagged, meaning residents can stay inside but can't go into their backyards.
A Kern County Sheriff's Office helicopter flying grand jury members over areas affected by flooding spotted an elderly woman in distress and rescued her Tuesday, the office said.
Along the Russian River, north of San Francisco, some residents began to assess the damage.
Lorin Doeleman, 62, said so much water flooded her house in Guerneville that she decided to kayak through it to survey the damage and rescue a treasured bottle of brandy.
"I rescued my brandy," she said, laughing. "You've got to have a little bit of fun with it. I feel grateful: Nobody got hurt, the house can be fixed."
Near Sacramento, a small tornado tore tree limbs and ripped awnings late Tuesday, National Weather Service meteorologist David Rowe said.
No injuries were reported from the twister, which was about 100 yards wide and registered on the low end of the tornado scale.
Some 50 homes were affected in Hollister, about 95 miles south of San Francisco, said O'Neill, the emergency services manager. About 60 residents evacuated on their own. Personnel using boats, Jeeps and firetrucks rescued about 50 people.
It wasn't just people who needed rescuing: Nearly a dozen cows sought refuge on top of a mound of dirt in their pen at a Hollister farm, which was completely flooded.
|© Bob Strong/Reuters. A car is buried in snow in a parking lot after a heavy winter storm in Incline Village, Nevada on January 11, 2017.|
Tornado, flooding, fatalities and a piles of snow as California deluge continues
Weeks of pounding rain and snow have increased the Sierra Nevada snowpack — a key source of water for California — to 158% of normal, officials said Wednesday.
The weather situation was more dire to the north, however, as heavy rain and snow in the Sierra Nevada and rain in the San Francisco Bay Area continued to raise river levels and a weak tornado touched down early Wednesday near Sacramento.
According to the weather service, the tornado struck the community of South Natomas just after midnight and left a clear track of damage about a half-mile long in its wake. The twister shredded tree branches and dislodged a few awnings and shingles, forecasters said. No injuries were reported.
Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes due to flooding near rivers, and some homes were damaged. At least four deaths have been attributed to the storms.
The second of three successive storms expected to hit Southern California this week drenched Los Angeles early Wednesday.
Southern California forecasters predicted that Wednesday’s storm would dump just a quarter-inch to three-quarters of an inch of rain in Los Angeles, posing little risk of mudslides in recent burn areas.
The rain caused a concrete patio at a home in the Hollywood Hills to teeter, prompting officials to close Laurel Canyon Boulevard at Kirkwood Drive.
A much colder storm expected to hit the area Thursday and Friday could cause larger problems, however. Weather service forecasters said that snow levels could drop to as low as 3,500 feet and that winter driving conditions could slow or stop traffic on Interstate 5 along the Grapevine and other mountain passes.
“That’s not unusual for this time of year,” said Tom Fisher, weather specialist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard. “This is more seasonal. What’s happening in the Bay Area is unusual.”
On Wednesday, Northern California was still reeling from a major storm that inundated rivers, flooded parts of Napa Valley wine country, and blanketed the frigid Sierra Nevada with heavy snow.
Although the precipitation was expected to decrease on Wednesday, the risk of flooding was expected to last through Thursday as runoff continued to swell rivers.
Some 3,000 Sonoma County residents were placed under an evacuation advisory as the Russian River continued to rise. Officials red-tagged seven homes, ordering residents out, when a rain-soaked embankment came crashing down.
Late Tuesday, people were briefly evacuated from homes and businesses in the North Bay town of San Anselmo after a nearby creek overflowed its banks.
The Corte Madera Creek rose about one foot over its flood stage in Ross Valley, according to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. Police in San Anselmo said the creek reached about 8 inches above flood stage.
Flood sirens blared in San Anselmo, Fairfax and Ross Valley, about 20 miles north of San Francisco, and officials asked residents to seek higher ground.
Roads in downtown San Anselmo were shut down, but just before 9 p.m., officials lifted the evacuation order.
Since the storms began on Friday, roughly 350 billion gallons of water have poured into the state’s largest reservoirs, according to the East Bay Times.
Heavy Rain, Floods Drench California as Thousands Urged to Evacuate
A powerful band of thunderstorms over California this week has swollen rivers, downed trees and prompted many people to evacuate, with more days of heavy rain in the forecast.
Authorities urged thousands of residents in Northern California to evacuate as pounding rain threatened to overflow rivers. About 2,000 people in Wilton, a rural community near Sacramento, were asked to leave their homes Tuesday night, according to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, some 3,000 residents in Sonoma County were under an evacuation advisory as the Russian River crested Monday at 35 feet, flooding several low-lying neighborhoods, according to ABC's San Francisco station KGO.
ABC News meteorologists say the Russian River will continue to rise Wednesday and will approach 39.8 feet in the evening at Guerneville, the largest town along the river.
ABC News meteorologists are monitoring other rivers for flooding. The Napa River was causing moderate inundation Wednesday morning but is expected to begin receding in the afternoon. Rain sent the Navarro River significantly over the flood stage Wednesday morning, but it will recede by the afternoon, ABC News meteorologists said.
Multiple school districts in Northern California were closed Wednesday because of the weather, according to ABC affiliate KXTV. Dozens of states, from California to New Jersey, were under winter weather alerts as of Wednesday morning.
In the past seven days, Central California has received over 2 feet of rain, causing rivers to overflow and flood roads, cities and many of the Golden State’s famed vineyards, according to ABC News meteorologists
While rain drenches the state’s lower-lying areas, snow is blasting elevated regions. The Mammoth Mountain ski resort in the eastern Sierra Nevada reported 15 feet of new snow in six days.
“The resort is approaching their all-time snowiest January on record,” ABC News senior meteorologist Max Golembo said.
A small tornado touched down near Sacramento early Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. The twister ripped limbs off trees and awnings from buildings, but no injuries were reported.
“This is the time of the year when California would see them — in the winter,” Golembo said of tornadoes, adding that the twister was at the bottom of the tornado scale, an EF-0.
The storm is forecast to move out of Central California on Wednesday and bring snow to the Rocky Mountains and rain to the Los Angeles area in Southern California, which is entering its sixth year of severe drought.
Meanwhile, a new weather system is moving in from the west and will dump even more rain beginning late Wednesday into early Thursday. The storm will approach Northern California by Wednesday night before moving into Central California.
ABC News meteorologists predict the new system will produce locally over 2 inches of rain in California through Friday.