California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in six counties in the face of flooding rains and mounting snow from a storm that may be beneficial as well as destructive.
“The circumstances of these storms, by reason of their magnitude, are or are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment and facilities of any single county, or city,” Schwarzenegger said in his proclamation.
An estimated 17 feet (5.2 meters) of snow has fallen in less than a week at a monitor near the Kern River in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, according to the U.S. Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.
Central and Southern California have borne the brunt of a storm that has dropped rain by the foot in some places and heavy snow in the mountains, forcing evacuations. The counties covered in Schwarzenegger’s emergency announcement are Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo and Tulare.
The precipitation may bring relief from the state’s drought. Water storage in California’s seven reservoirs, measured in thousands of acre-feet, is at 7,601 for water year 2011, which began on Oct. 1, a 67 percent gain from water year 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Last year, the bureau cut off water deliveries to Central Valley farmers for the first time in 15 years because reservoir levels were low. The reservoirs collect rain and melted snowpack from the Sierra Nevada for transport to farm irrigation systems.
‘Fantastic’ in Fresno
“We’re doing fantastic,” said Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the not-for-profit Fresno County Farm Bureau. “Anytime you get a series of storms like this, it’s good. This is a welcome sight for agriculture.”
Fresno, the country’s largest agricultural county with crops worth $5.37 billion last year, focuses on growing grapes, tomatoes and almonds.
There are 19,876 homes without power in the Southern California cities of Orange, Redlands, El Toro and Rolling Hills, according to Vanessa McGrady, a spokeswoman for Southern California Edison in Rosemead, California.
“The worst of the storm for California is occurring right now,” said Eric Wilhelm, senior meteorologist with commercial forecaster AccuWeather Inc. “It is a pretty amazing storm; some places in California have had a year’s worth of rain.”
Tanbark in Los Angeles County recorded 21.58 inches (55 centimeters) of rain as of early today, according to the weather service. Twin Peaks in San Bernardino County measured 26.46 inches as of today.
Measuring Snow in Feet
In the Sierra Nevada mountains, snow totals are being measured in feet. The estimated 17 feet at the Pascoes near the Kern River is the highest. Other estimates are 16 feet at the West Woodchuck Meadow monitor near the Kings River and 15.9 feet at the Wet Meadow station on the Kern River, according to the hydrometeorological center in Camp Springs, Maryland.
Skiers are already benefiting. Eric Doyne, a spokesman for Ski Lake Tahoe, a marketing group for seven resorts, said this season’s opening was one of the strongest in at least a decade.
“The storms were so powerful, they just blew the lid right open,” Doyne said. About 8 feet of snow has fallen in the past week alone, he said.
Flood watches and warnings have been posted for much of Southern California, Nevada and Utah, as well as western Arizona, according to the weather service. The storm hasn’t caused any flight delays at Los Angeles or San Diego, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website.
This storm will cross the U.S. and may bring heavy snow to the East Coast this weekend, Wilhelm said. The computer models that help meteorologists make their forecasts don’t agree on whether that will happen, he said.
“It isn’t a mortal lock that this becomes a big problem for the Eastern Seaboard,” Wilhelm said.
Elsewhere in the U.S., a small storm may bring 3 inches of snow to parts of the Midwest, Wilhelm said. It may make driving hazardous in St. Louis the day after tomorrow, he said.
“The rest of the country, by comparison to California, is pretty quiet,” Wilhelm said.
Christmas Eve will probably just be windy and cold in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, he said.