Fresh storm hits California as it mops up and shovels out

California has emerged largely unscathed from drenching rainfall and heavy snow in the mountains as it prepares for a weaker round of storms likely to bring more relief to the drought-stricken state

ByJohn Antczak and Brian Melley Associated Press
December 15, 2021, 9:55 PM
In this photo provided by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, MMSA, snow continues falling with storm totals over four feet in Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., early Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Another storm is pushing into California as the state cle
In this photo provided by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, MMSA, snow continues falling with storm totals over four feet in Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., early Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Another storm is pushing into California as the state cleans up from a powerful weather system that coated mountains with much-needed snow and set rainfall records in the drought-stricken state. Wednesday's storm is expected to mostly impact Northern California. (Peter Morning/MMSA via AP)
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- California emerged largely unscathed Wednesday from a massive storm that brought drenching rainfall and heavy mountain snow, as it prepared for another weather system likely to bring much needed relief to the drought-stricken state.

Parts of the state were mopping up from small mudslides and restoring power that was knocked out. But the heavy rainfall — record-setting in some areas — didn't cause widespread flooding or unleash larger landslides in areas scarred by massive wildfires as feared.

It was still too early to tell what impact the multiday atmospheric river — a long plume of moisture from the Pacific Ocean that delivered remarkable precipitation as far inland as Nevada — will have on the state's water supply.

December kicks off the “big three months” for precipitation in California, with about half of the state’s annual rain and snow falling in December, January and February, said Michael Anderson, California’s state climatologist.

The storm that began over the weekend and what’s predicted to come this month will deliver “about average” precipitation, but that's far better than the past few years, he said.

“But you also started the year in record-setting drought territory,” Anderson noted. “In terms of making up those lost elements of storage, you’re making some progress but maybe not as much as you’d like.”

The storm dumped more than 11 inches (28 centimeters) of rain over three days at Mount Tamalpais, north of San Francisco. More than 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain fell in Santa Barbara County. More than 4.6 inches (12 centimeters) fell within 24 hours in Orange County’s Silverado Canyon, south of LA, unleashing mud that swamped some homes and led to damage and several rescues but no injuries.

A 40-mile (64-kilometer) stretch of the scenic Highway 1 in the Big Sur area remained closed to repair damage and clean up rocks that tumbled onto the road. The coastal route south of the San Francisco Bay Area got more than a foot (30 centimeters) of rain in 24 hours. It frequently experiences damage during wet weather.

Three cars washed down the concrete channel of the Los Angeles River when it became a raging torrent Tuesday. Two were pinned against a bridge abutment. No victims were immediately located and authorities had no updates Wednesday.

Drone footage showed a large homeless encampment of tents and tarps flooded on the banks of the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz. No one had to be rescued from the encampment in the city park and there were no injuries of deaths, city spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith said.

Only 50 to 60 in the camp of roughly 200 to 250 people heeded warnings to evacuate before the rains came and moved to a parking garage where a temporary shelter was created and they were offered food and blankets.

“It’s not a great situation for anybody,” Smith said. “The city is doing its best to support them in this time.”

The storm system brought a welcome dump in the Sierra Nevada, where ski areas that struggled in November reported upwards of 4 feet (1.2 meters) of fresh snow in advance of the busy Christmas and New Year's weekends.

The Palisades Tahoe ski resort — the newly renamed combination of Squaw Valley, home to the 1960 winter Olympics, and neighboring Alpine Meadows — reported more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow over three days.

The promise of fresh powder was diminished Wednesday by a power outage that kept Alpine closed on what was to be its opening day, said spokeswoman Alex Spychalsky.

Skiers and snowboarders who showed just after dawn at Olympic Valley had to wait hours for lifts to begin operating on the lower part of the mountain. Crews were working to get the upper lifts running by the weekend.

“When we get this much snow, it’s not like you can flip a switch to get things going,” Spychalsky said. “We’re starting from ground zero this week.”

The forests around Lake Tahoe were frosted in snow and new snow was already falling Wednesday afternoon.

Drizzle fell in San Francisco and other parts of Northern California expected showers and gusty winds, with snowfall in coastal mountains and the Sierra Nevada, where the snowpack normally supplies about 30% of the state's water needs.

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Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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