The Union Democrat

Mother Lode residents advised to prepare for weekend storm


Forecasts for an approachin­g multi-day winter storm beginning late Saturday or early Sunday, which is expected to bring snow levels as low as 2,500 feet by Tuesday, have prompted the Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services to advise people to stock up on extra food and other supplies in case they get snowed in.

“Be prepared, have a plan, have backup supplies,” Dore Bietz, county OES coordinato­r, said Friday in a press briefing. “Roads may be impacted. We may lose power because of downed trees. We have been blessed with beautiful weather and then, bam! We’re going to have this storm, and people are going to forget that, yes, we live in a rural community, we live in the mountains and the foothills, and we do have higher elevations in the county that will be impacted for sure. Come Monday, Tuesday, we might be looking at a little different scenario.”

Bietz said forecasts and current conditions, including belowfreez­ing temperatur­es in the Sonora area early Friday, have not met thresholds for the county to open warming centers.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is also advising customers and residents to be prepared for the storm that begins this weekend and is expected to bring winds, rains, and snow.

The utility giant that serves more than 16 million people in central and northern California, including Tuolumne County, anticipate­s weather-related outages this weekend and into next week.

Thousands of PG&E workers will be standing by to respond to potential widespread power outages, the utility’s communicat­ions staff said Friday in a statement.

Vegetation-management crews were supposed to be out Friday in some communitie­s, trimming and cutting trees away from power lines in advance of the approachin­g storm.

Most impacts from the approachin­g storm — periods of gusty winds, widespread rain, heavy mountain snow and isolated thundersto­rms — are expected Sunday through Tuesday, PG&E meteorolog­ists said.

“Rainfall totals with this system will be significan­t, with widespread totals of three to five inches of rain across the north, and rainfall equivalent­s of five to seven inches of rain likely across the northern Sierra,” PG&E said. “Significan­t snow in the Sierra above 5,000 feet is possible with multiple feet of accumulati­on in some locations.

“As the rain tracks southward through the storm’s progressio­n, it will be joined by gusty winds, generally from the south, with expected widespread gusts of 30 to 40 miles per hour and localized gusts of at least 55 miles per hour possible in the higher terrain of PG&E’S service area.”

The approachin­g wet and windy conditions might cause trees, limbs and other debris to fall into power lines, damage equipment, and interrupt electric service, PG&E said. Drought-intensifie­d conditions that have weakened trees and other vegetation could cause more trees to fall into equipment and cause power outages.

Field crews and meteorolog­ists for PG&E were also working Friday with geologists and hydrologis­ts to monitor potential post-wildfire debris flows from incoming rains which could impact the utility’s equipment and vegetation around its equipment. Low-elevation snow levels could mitigate that problem at higher elevations.

The utility said it was also stockpilin­g power poles, power lines, transforme­rs, and other electric equipment at yards throughout its service territory “to restore power to impacted areas as quickly as possible.”

Emergency centers for local operations will also be activated by PG&E throughout its service area in impacted regions to manage staff and resources devoted to restoratio­n efforts, the utility said.

Whether the approachin­g storm system will ease drought conditions in the parched Central Sierra remains to be seen.

Updated maps put out by the U.S. Drought Monitor this week showed southern and western portions of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties remained in exceptiona­l drought, the most dire category designated by the agency’s scientists. The high east edges of both counties were in extreme drought, the second-most dire category.

As of Friday, the Stanislaus River and Tuolumne River watersheds had received 8.4 inches of precipitat­ion since the current water year began Oct. 1. That was up from 7.6 inches on Thursday and represente­d 108% of the historical average for the date Dec. 10.

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