While Turlock actively prepared for what was originally forecast to be the storm of a decade this past weekend, the city came out relatively drier than other regions throughout California which were dealt blizzard warnings and flooding, leaving many residents without power or forced to evacuate.
“Coming into the New Year’s weekend, the forecast for the 16-day period started to move up quite considerably up to the point where at times it exceeded 25 inches of precipitation in the upper watershed. That’s an astronomical amount of precipitation,” said Turlock Irrigation District Utility Analyst Jason Carkeet, who provided the Board of Directors with a recap of flood control operations on Tuesday. “What happened was a lot of it ended up moving up north.”
In preparation for the forecasted storm, TID increased flows on the river last week in order to accommodate runoff at Don Pedro Reservoir. Carkeet said through the week, the river at times got releases up to about 8,000 cubic feet per second.
Throughout the month of December, the Tuolumne River Watershed accumulated 7.62 inches of precipitation, most of which came from a significant storm on Dec. 16 that brought in nearly 4 inches of rainfall alone. This total propelled December past its historical monthly average of 5.94 inches.
Data up until 8 a.m. Monday showed that the above-average precipitation in December for the Tuolumne River Watershed is continued into the month of January, which already accumulated 8.74 inches of rainfall within the first 10 days. While the precipitation forecast was upwards of 7 inches going into this past weekend, the Tuolumne River Watershed only received about 5 inches of rainfall. Total monthly precipitation now stands at more than two inches above the historical January average of 6.35 inches.
Accumulated precipitation for the region from September to Jan. 9 now stands at 25.33 inches, or 174.6 percent of the Tuolumne River Watershed’s historical average of 19.02 inches for the period between September through January. That number may increase drastically at next week's TID meeting, as Turlock received upwards of an inch of rain on Tuesday alone and is currently under a flood warning from the National Weather Service through Thursday.
Wind speeds hit 24 miles per hour in Turlock on Tuesday, also with gusts reaching 39 mph.
While Turlock was able to avoid many serious consequences of this past weekend’s storm, the Associated Press said the latest onslaught of winter storms brought with it blizzard warnings in the Sierra Nevada as forecasters also warned of up to 10 feet of snow in the highest mountains, high risk of avalanches and wind gusts up to 60 mph. Flooding also presented a danger of its own for river towns in Northern California as thousands of people were still under evacuation advisory and left without power Tuesday after heavy rain fell for hours on areas already drenched by more than a foot of rain.
“This is definitely a dangerous, life-threatening situation going on up there,” said National Weather Service forecaster Scott McGuire to the Associated Press . “People should not attempt to travel at all.”
The Associated Press also reported that the recent winter storms combined with six years of drought are causing trees across California to topple over, causing at least two deaths in the past month. The reason for the falling trees is due to weakened or dead roots or trunks in addition to soggy soil and wind.
“Pay attention to your surroundings and watch those trees,” Battalion Chief Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told the Associated Press. “It is a hazard you need to be aware of.”
While the Associated Press said that the drought has led to the death of more than 102 million trees in the Sierra Nevada, one notable tree that toppled over due to the drought and recent trees was the Pioneer Cabin Tree, a giant sequoia that is one of California’s oldest tourist attractions, which fell over Sunday in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Known for the tunnel that ran through the trunk of the tree, the Pioneer Cabin Tree was struck by lightning in the 1800s, hollowing out its base and opening up its side. In 1881, the tree's base was squared off an enlarged. For 60 years, the tree enabled tourists to ride horses, carriages and later automobiles through it and helped them experience the enormous size of the ancient sequoias.
The tree’s topple was due to a combination of trunk and root decay, as well as storm water runoff. Before its fall, the Pioneer Cabin Tree stood approximately 100 feet tall and was 22 feet in diameter at breast height. The tree was located in the North Grove of the state park within a relatively large sequoia grove containing more than 150 specimens roughly 2,000 years old.