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Weather related problems stack up

Posted: Wednesday, Jan 4th, 2017

Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian A field worker helps pump excess rain water off of an agriculture file on a farm on Beach Road Wednesday as major rain moves through the region.

Sierra snowpack to get huge boost

WATSONVILLE — Winter continues to make its mark in the Monterey Bay Region with a blast of rain, wind and road troubles.

Over Tuesday night, five separate mud slides sloshed onto Old San Jose Road east of Soquel. Road crews were forced to shut the heavily travelled corridor down altogether for much of the day.

In Watsonville, area farmers fought to keep their fields draining of pooling rainwater. Paulsen Road, between Whiting Road and Green Valley Road, was closed due to very deep flooding. One man, who tried to ford the flood in a pickup, made it through but then stalled completely once out of the water and had to seek help.

In Santa Cruz, Highway 9 had to close in several spots due to mud and rock slip-outs. North Rodeo Gulch Road at Ponzo Lane was also closed for debris on the pavement.

Highway 1 was also shut down due to mudslides from Fuller Point in Monterey County to Ragged Point in San Luis Obispo County, a 30-mile stretch. The CHP did not estimate a time of reopening.

A utility pole crashed into a stand of eucalyptus trees on Felker Street in Santa Cruz around 10:30 a.m. Santa Cruz City firefighters and the CHP had to block the end of Felker Street and a heavily travelled bike and pedestrian bridge that spans the San Lorenzo River for safety purposes until a crew from Pacific Gas and Electric could de-energize the lines.

During the current rain periods, those living in areas of greatest risk may receive emergency alerts for potential debris flow, said Maia Carroll, a spokesperson for the County of Monterey. When the National Weather Service issues a flood watch or warning, Monterey County Office of Emergency Services will notify for public safety.

“It’s important to know that a flood watch and a flood warning are two distinct messages – not duplicates,” Carroll said.

A flood watch is issued when conditions are favorable for flooding. It does not mean flooding will occur, but it is possible.

A flood warning is issued when flooding is imminent or occurring.

Meanwhile, while California grapples with a drought that has plagued the state for years, the Sierra snowpack is slowly edging toward normal.

The first manual survey this year of California's snowpack revealed Tuesday that it holds about half as much water as normal, casting a shadow on the state that's hoping to dodge a sixth straight year of drought, officials said.

Surveyors, however, took the reading at 6,000 feet, near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada as major cold and windy storms were expected to dump four to five feet of snow through Thursday in areas above 4,500 feet in Northern and Central California. Mountain areas below that could get two to three feet, forecasters said.

The current and forecasted storms should boost the snowpack that provides roughly a third of California's water in normal years for drinking, farming and wildlife when it melts in warm, dry months.

What surveyors find between now and April 1 will guide state water officials in managing the water supply of the nation's most populous, agriculture-rich state.

Electronic monitors at elevations throughout the Sierra in late December showed the overall snowpack had a water content of 72 percent.

At Tuesday's reading at Phillips Station, the water content measured at 53 percent of normal, said Frank Gehrke, chief snow surveyor at the state Department of Water Resources.

Gehrke said the level "seems a little gloomy" as the state tries to avoid another year of drought. But he also called it a good start because higher elevations were showing a deeper snowpack. Gehrke also pointed out that the survey was taken at an elevation below the snowline for December's storms.

A year ago, the snowpack was slightly above normal levels, but Gehrke recalled that the rain and snow essentially stopped in February and March, leaving the state at a nearly average year for precipitation on April 1.

"This year, it looks like (storms are) lined up off the coast and will continue to increase the snowpack," he said as he stood on about three feet of snow.

At the height of the drought in 2015, snowpack surveyors stood on a dirt patch for the April 1 measurement at Phillips Station, finding the least snow since records had been taken in more than 50 years.

Gov. Jerry Brown responded by ordering residents statewide to use 25 percent less water, letting lawns turn brown — or tearing them out — and flushing toilets less often. The drought eased last year and so did regulations, officials said. In February, the state water board will again consider the conditions and decide whether the state needs to take a stronger stand on conservation.

This winter started strong. More rain fell in October than in the same month over the past three decades, raising the state's major reservoirs in Northern California along with hopes that the drought would soon end.

Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the state's Department of Water Resources, said it is too early to predict if the wet weather will end the drought.

"It could change immediately and stop snowing and raining," he said.


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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