California dries up – and sinks – after powerful New Year’s storm

California was drying up and sinking on New Year’s Day after a mighty storm brought torrential rain or heavy snowfall to much of the state, clogging traffic and closing major highways.

Dozens of drivers were rescued on New Year’s Eve along Interstate 80 near Lake Tahoe after cars spun through snow during the blizzard, the California Department of Transportation said. The key route to the mountains from the San Francisco Bay Area reopened early Sunday to passenger vehicles with chains.

“Roads are extremely slippery, so let’s all work together and slow down so we can keep I-80 open,” the California Highway Patrol said on Twitter. Several other freeways, including State Route 50, have also reopened.

More than 4 feet (1.2 meters) of snow had accumulated in the upper Sierra Nevada, and the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area said the heavy, wet snow would cause major delays in the opening of the chairlifts. On Saturday, the resort reported numerous lift closures, citing high winds, low visibility and ice.

California Storms
This Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, a photo released by Caltrans District 3 shows the Sierra Freeway is open again, but chain checks remain in effect as crews clean up in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Caltrans District 3 via AP

In the state capital, crews cleared downed trees from roads and sidewalks as at least 40,000 customers were still without power early Sunday, up from more than 150,000 a day earlier, according to an online map of the Municipal District of Sacramento.

The National Weather Service extended the flash flood warning Sunday after a levee failure on the Cosumnes River in East Central Sacramento County.

A so-called atmospheric river storm drew in a long, wide plume of moisture from the Pacific Ocean. Flooding and landslides closed portions of roads across the state.

Rainfall in downtown San Francisco reached 5.46 inches (13.87 cm) on New Year’s Eve, making it the second wettest day on record, behind a deluge in November 1994, said the National Weather Service. Videos on Twitter showed mud-colored water flowing down the streets of San Francisco, and a staircase in Oakland turned into a veritable waterfall by heavy rain.

In Southern California, several people have been rescued after floodwaters inundated cars in San Bernardino and Orange counties. No major injuries were reported.

With the area drying up on New Year’s Day and no rain expected during Monday’s Rose Parade in Pasadena, spectators have started staking out their seats for the annual flower show.

The rain was welcomed in drought-scorched California. The past three years have been the driest on record in the state, but it takes a lot more precipitation to make a significant difference.

It was the first of several storms expected to cross the state within a week. Saturday’s system was warmer and wetter, while this week’s storms will be colder, said Hannah Chandler-Cooley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

The Sacramento area could receive a total of 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 centimeters) of rain during the week, Chandler-Cooley said.

Another round of heavy downpours was also forecast for Southern California on Tuesday or Wednesday, the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles-area office said.

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