Storm soaks Auburn, more rain on way for parched Placer

Traffic reopens both ways after temporary shutdown east of Auburn
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - A late-winter storm drenched Auburn, with almost three inches of rain soaking the foothills by early Wednesday. After several months of near-drought conditions, Auburn got the precipitation it had been waiting for. Umbrellas and rain slickers popped out on sidewalks. Saturated ground in the American River canyon created small rock slides. And rivers started to rise. The National Weather Service reported that Downtown Auburn recorded 2.45 inches of rain by 8 a.m. Wednesday from a storm that started the day before and strengthened during the night. The downpour was continuing throughout the day. Meteorologist Johnnie Smith of the weather bureau’s Sacramento office said that the warm storm would taper off Thursday, with a second wave hitting Friday. Colder temperatures were expected by Saturday, he said. Drier conditions were forecast to accompany the cold front coming from the north. But the weekend could bring some snow – as much as an inch – as low as 1,000 feet, Smith said. At 1,234 feet and higher, Auburn and its environs could be covered in a light coat of snow, Smith said. Wednesday’s storm was giving water providers like the Placer County Water Agency some relief. But snow levels at 4,000 to 5,000 feet meant reservoirs were filling. Einar Maisch, water agency director of strategic affairs, said Pacific Gas & Electric – a major water supplier – was running water through its reservoir power generators in the Sierra to avoid overflows. PG&E and the water agency have been preparing contingencies for the possibility of lower-than anticipated water supplies. Until this week’s storm activity, the area was looking at conditions very similar to the 1977 drought year, when upstream deliveries had to be halved, Maisch said. “It (the rain) is going to be a huge amount of help,” Maisch said. “It’s very good news.” Despite the late-season rain and snow, Maisch said water agency customers should be cognizant of the need to continue to conserve water and not waste it. April’s measurement of stored snowpack would give water purveyors a better gauge of how much supply will be available, he said. “Other areas are going to be in severe drought conditions and any help and assistance in eliminating any unnecessary water use is really going to help,” Maisch said. Snow was creating challenging driving conditions, with chain requirements over the Donner Pass along Interstate 80. Caltrans temporarily shut down Interstate 80 Wednesday morning due to downed power lines at Rainbow, east of Auburn. Traffic was stopped in both directions and eastbound traffic was turned back at the Drum-Whitmore crossroads. The road had reopened again just before 10:30 a.m. Ski resorts were reporting nearly a foot of new snow from the storm by Wednesday morning and the promise of as much as seven feet by Sunday. In Auburn, steady rain drenched the area throughout the early part of the day, slowing traffic along major thoroughfares like Highway 49. One occupant was taken to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital with reported moderate injuries after at two-vehicle crash at 11:24 a.m. Wednesday on Highway 49 at Shale Ridge Lane in North Auburn. Rivers and creeks were rising but none had reached flood stage in the Auburn area. Some small rocks slides were observed along Highway 49 in the Auburn State Recreation Area but none were blocking traffic. In Auburn, PG&E had stationed two tractor-treaded snow vehicles for use in getting to downed power lines during the storm. Brittany McKannay, corporate spokeswoman, said PG&E ramped up its preparedness this past week anticipating storms would cause damage. By late afternoon, the lone outage in the Auburn area was in Cool, where 80 customers lost power at about 2:30 p.m.