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December 21, 2010
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Powerful storm keeps pounding California; more rain on way

Keep the umbrella handy through Wednesday as a storm continues to soak Nevada County and the rest of California.

About 6 feet of snow fell in the Sierra over the weekend, and meteorologists are still totaling rainfall numbers from the continuing storm, which was expected to pour 6 inches over western Nevada County.

"You would expect to get more precipitation this year (than last year), since we're in a La Nina cycle," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Edan Lindaman, based in Reno.

The storm has triggered mostly minor flooding, mudslides, road closures and power failures across California. Power flickered off in Grass Valley momentarily Sunday evening.

But with Christmas vacationers begin to trickle into the Lake Tahoe basin, ski resort managers were pleased with the growing snowpack.

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe in Incline Village, Nev., is posting a chart-topping 74 inches of new snow from the storm, with other resorts reporting about 50 inches on average.

"All the snow (at lake level) is heavier," said Kayla Anderson, spokeswoman for Mt. Rose. "On the mountain, the quality of snow is excellent. It's really light - ideal for some powder turns."

A winter storm warning was in effect through midweek for the high Sierra Nevada. Two to three feet of additional snow was expected by the end of Monday at higher-elevations, with a few more inches possible today and Wednesday, the weather service predicted.

In the foothills, Central Valley and San Francisco Bay Area, the service warned of possible floods on Wednesday, with the storm threatening to dump another 5 to 10 inches of rain during the next two days.

Nearly the entire state was affected by the stormy weather.

Some locations in Southern California had received more than 12 inches of rain, weather service meteorologist Jamie Meier told the Associated Press. It was the most rainfall from one storm event since 2005, he added.

"That will make for a pretty good wallop, especially considering how dry things have been for the last two years," Meier said.

The California Highway Patrol reported two rain-related traffic deaths Sunday. A 3-year-old boy was ejected from an SUV that went out of control in heavy rain in the Fresno area, and a 22-year-old man was thrown from a vehicle that hydroplaned and crashed in the Bakersfield area, the AP reported.

Flash-flood watches and warnings were in effect Monday for some places, particularly mountain areas still scarred by wildfires.

Thousands of residents of the San Joaquin Valley farming community of McFarland were evacuated for hours Monday amid fears of major flooding, the AP reported.

At one point, an estimated 400 to 500 homes were in danger. McFarland resident Cristian Abundis, who lives on a street where water had been running a foot deep, returned from an evacuation center and quickly started filling sand bags.

"We just want to be prepared," Abundis told the AP, dropping the bags around his doors and driveway.

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Pacific Gas and Electric Co. crews were working to restore power to the last of about 282,000 customers that lost electricity since the storm arrived. Southern California Edison had 13,000 customers still without power, the AP reported.

Repair crews braced for predicted winds of up to 45 mph, along with heavy rain and snow in elevated areas.

"The thing that we're seeing right now, we're starting to get reports of winds, and winds are what can cause more problems than the rain itself," Edison spokesman Steve Conroy told the AP.

Elsewhere, a 20-mile stretch of scenic Pacific Coast Highway between Malibu and Oxnard was closed to commuters after a rock and mudslide Sunday night. The California Highway Patrol said no one was hurt. PCH also was closed for a time in Orange County by a mudslide at Dana Point.

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Gary Farrell, general manager of the McFarland Parks and Recreation District, said the flooding was caused when Poso Creek became clogged with debris and overflowed. Santa Fe Railroad crews cleared the debris.

Elsewhere, a small twin-engine airplane was reported overdue on a 65-mile flight from Palm Springs to Chino, and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department intended to conduct a search while the Federal Aviation Administration checked with other airports to see if the pilot had diverted, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Gregor said late Monday that small plane wreckage had been found, but he could not confirm if it was the missing plane. He referred inquiries to the sheriff's department, which did not immediately return calls seeking further information.

Residents of La Canada Flintridge were among those keeping a wary eye on the rain after a 250-square-mile wildfire last year denuded towering slopes above communities along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

More than 40 homes in the hillside city just north of Los Angeles were damaged or destroyed by a mudslide in February.

"We've just had some sprinkling rains today. Occasionally it gets a littler harder but nothing to worry about," said Del Tucker, a retired geologist who has lived in the area since homes were built there in 1962.

Justin Wright, 29, waited at a cafe table outside a grocery store in La Canada Flintridge, hoping for a lull in the rain so he could dash back to his truck.

"It's scary to drive in this stuff," he said "It's coming down so hard you can't see."

Areas of San Bernardino County that burned recently were under close watch.

"We're doing preparation because the height of the rain for our county is going to be Tuesday and Wednesday," fire spokeswoman Tracey Martinez said. "There's thousands and thousands of sand bags, and I don't know how many tons of sand we've placed everywhere."

In the San Bernardino Mountains, a 100-foot tree fell between two businesses in downtown Big Bear but only damaged a gazebo.

"It couldn't have landed more perfectly if we'd planned it," said Tiffany Swantek, a spokeswoman for the local sheriff's station.

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Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus in Santa Ana, Terence Chea and Jason Dearen in San Francisco, Garance Burke in Fresno and Sue Manning in Los Angeles contributed to this report. Jeff Nachtigal reported for the AP from McFarland.


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The Union Updated Dec 21, 2010 12:20AM Published Dec 21, 2010 12:19AM Copyright 2010 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.