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Sheriff declares state of emergency with more rain on the way
flooding map

For the second time in 2023, Stanislaus County is under a weather-related state of emergency.

But here’s what’s different this time: the National Weather Service says the current storm is warmer than those that pummeled the region earlier this winter, meaning snowpack at lower elevations could be melted, with reservoirs already near capacity.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse proclaimed a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon with the NWS guaranteeing as much as 2 to 2 1/2 inches of rain locally though Tuesday — more in the Tuolumne River Watershed — while saying as much as 5 inches remains a possibility.

The county’s Office of Emergency Services also issued an evacuation order for Newman residents between Crows Landing and Hills Ferry roads, along the east side of the San Joaquin River. An evacuation warning has been issued for residents along the west side of the river.

“The National Weather Service has said that this storm has been really unpredictable,” said Dirkse, who, in addition to being sheriff, serves as the Emergency Services Director for the county. “It’s not my intention to be an alarmist, but we also have to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Hopefully, we don’t get there, but we want to be ready if, in fact, we do get there.”

Meanwhile, in neighboring Merced County, Sheriff Vern Warnke has issued an additional evacuation warning for the Newman and Stevinson area near George Hatfield State Park, up to the Stanislaus County line.

If all this sounds like a recipe for the type of flooding that impacted the county in January, well, it is. But Turlock Irrigation District says it’s ready for the surge.

“The Tuolumne River Watershed and the TID service area are expected to see additional precipitation over the next few weeks, and the District has taken the steps necessary to be equipped to receive it,” TID said in a statement released Wednesday. “While the storm is projected to be a warm storm, TID is not anticipating any issues regarding flooding on the Tuolumne River or in our service territory during the coming weather event.”

TID began making flood control releases on Jan. 3 when the reservoir was at 746 feet, more than 50 feet below the flood-control line of 801.9 feet (the top of the spillway is 830 feet).

On March 7, hydrologist Olivia Cramer reported to the TID board that the Tuolumne River’s watershed is projected to receive between 18-20 inches of rain in the next 16 days. The snowpack in the watershed is currently 174 percent of average to date. Due to the density and the temperature of the existing snowpack, it’s not anticipated that it will cause an unmanageable amount of runoff into the river.

Since Cramer’s report to the board on Tuesday, that forecast has been amended, with an expectation of 10-18 inches over the next 16 days.

“We’re seeing a lot more volatility with this storm,” said TID communications specialist Brandon McMillan. “The forecast is all over the place. We’re anticipating a small break in storms by the middle of next week, and then it picks back up again.”

Eric Kurth, a meteorologist for the NWS, explained it this way: “You’re going to get some lingering storms and showers though Sunday. Beyond that, you’ll get a strong, warm atmospheric river system Monday, Tuesday and lingering into Wednesday.”

Kurth said the new system next week likely will bring 1 1/2 to 2 inches of additional rain to the region.

“It all kind of depends on what forecast you’re looking at,” said Dirkse. “As always, our No. 1 priority in a situation like this is the preservation of life. That is the single biggest thing we care about. So, please follow Stan Emergency (@stancoemergency) and we will keep you as updated as possible.”