Piling it on: Rain, wind, snow pummel Auburn, Sierra

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The wind and rain kept on coming Thursday, buffeting Auburn and environs in the latest of a series of winter storms expected to continue into the weekend. And while that translated into more snow in the mountains – and increased risks for Sierra residents for everything from collapsed roofs to chimney blockages – Auburn was weathering the storm relatively well. Downed tree limbs and trees were causing most of the danger. One lucky motorist barely escaped having a limb fall through the roof of her SUV (see story and photo on this website). In Granite Bay, a downed power line in the 6700-block of Auburn Folsom Road created some anxious moments. And another tree came crashing down on Ridge Road in Newcastle around 12:30 p.m. By late afternoon, National Weather Service measurements at the Auburn Airport showed 0.7 inches of rain had fallen since Wednesday evening. But a new rain cell passing through the area from the west was expected to bring that total to at least 1.1 inches by the time the major part of the storm had moved in later Thursday night. Pacific Gas & Electric had dealt with 35 outages in Placer County that cut power to 1,700 customers by mid-afternoon Thursday, said spokesman Denny Boyle. The largest electrical cut was restored in the early afternoon and affected 476 Granite Bay customers, he said. The strongest gusts of wind occurred at about noon in the foothills, with wind speeds hitting as high as 42 mph. Auburn had just 27 customers temporarily off the grid in the afternoon while Foresthill – usually a trouble spot when wind and snow hits – had one customer without power. “It’s the storm,” Boyle said. “We’re having strong winds and the ground is already saturated, bringing trees down. It’s hitting us pretty well across all of our service area.” Low visibility on Interstate 80 that veered into whiteout conditions Thursday afternoon forced Caltrans to shut the freeway down between Colfax and the Nevada-California state line about 65 miles away. California Highway Patrol Officer David Martinez said some minor fender benders were reported related to drivers going to fast for the wet conditions but no major injury crashes. With a strong storm system piling the snow up in the Sierra and creating flooding dangers in the lowlands and along foothills creeks, Placer County temporarily activated an emergency operations center in Auburn to take calls on storm-related issues, including wind, rain, snow and other damage. By 8:30 p.m. the center had shut down. Rui Cunha, Office of Emergency Services program manager, said the center was activated to better respond to inquiries from both the public and the media on the storm and the accumulated effects of the numerous waves of wind, rain and snow that have hit the area in the past few weeks. The Office of Emergency services has been monitoring forecasts that were anticipating snow levels would drop down into foothills areas Thursday afternoon. The county was also expecting some flooding in low-lying areas. By Friday, it was anticipating the stormy weather to let up a little, with several weaker storms rolling through late Friday and Saturday. Another is being forecast to move through the area Sunday. The Office of Emergency Services was particularly concerned about businesses and residents in buildings in areas of the county above 5,000 feet. They should monitor roof vents, chimneys and flues to ensure unobstructed access to outside air to provide proper ventilation. The blockages can lead to carbon-monoxide buildup in buildings. Heavy snow loads can also cause chimneys to shift. While the storm was heavy at times, the foothills was bearing up well. Sharon Watts, at Applegate Garage, said the upper foothills community had experienced plenty of rain all day but no real snow – just a couple of flakes mixed with rain. But Watts said she was expecting that to change later in the day as temperatures dropped. At 2,000 feet, Applegate was expected to be below the snow line Friday. The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office was forecasting snow levels dropping to 2,400 feet Thursday evening, then rising to 3,200 feet on Friday.