Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wednesday brought a fourth straight day of wintry wind, white and wet to the north state.

Nathan Morgan/Record Searchlight

Today promises more showers. But the far northern Sacramento Valley and surrounding mountains should get a chance to pick up tree limbs and shovel out of snow banks through the weekend before more storms strike early next week, according to the National Weather Service.

Snow closed Interstate 5 north of Redding from midmorning Wednesday through late midafternoon, forcing travelers off their routes. Passenger vehicles with chains were allowed through about 4:30 p.m.

Later in the evening, California Department of Transportation crews began escorting big rigs 50 at a time up northbound I-5. At 9 p.m., truck drivers were backed up to Oasis Road and facing three-hour delays. About an hour later, Caltrans abandoned the plan and started diverting trucks southbound at Mountain Gate while cars and pickups carrying chains were allowed through.

A trip that normally takes Raff about 8 1/2 hours had stretched toward 72 hours by Wednesday evening as snow closed I-5 for a second straight day.

"My son said to me, 'Mom, maybe you should just turn back. I know you love me, but is it worth it?' " Raff said. "But moms do what they have to do."

Raff said she will try one more time to get to Eugene today.

Wednesday's storm dumped up to 2 feet of heavy, wet snow on Mount Shasta, where officials declared a local emergency. Falling tree limbs snapped power lines all over town, cutting off electricity to 5,700 customers, including the Mt. Shasta Ski Park, which was closed all day.

Some Mount Shasta streets will go unplowed until downed tree limbs and power lines are cleared, police said.

As of 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had restored power to all but 18 of its Shasta County customers, a PG&E spokesman said. About 3,500 Shasta County residents had been without power from midmorning into late afternoon Wednesday, PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said.

One outage darkened nearly 2,000 homes and businesses from northeast Redding out through Bella Vista and Ingot, Moreno said. Another took out roughly 1,500 customers east of Shingletown.

A tree brought down by Wednesday's storm cut power to 130 customers along Butte Street from 10:30 to 11:25 a.m., said Paul Hauser, Redding Electric Utility director.

Wind gusts hit 47 mph at Redding Municipal Airport some time between 9 and 10 a.m. Wednesday. While robust, those winds weren't nearly as strong as they were Tuesday, when the Redding airport recorded a 61-mph gust.

But Wednesday was wetter than Tuesday, at least in the Redding area, where 1 to 3 inches of rain fell during a thick downpour lasting several hours.

Rainfall totals from midnight through 5 p.m. Wednesday include 2.96 inches in the Summit City area of Shasta Lake, 2 inches in west Redding, 1.32 inches in Enterprise, 1.14 inches at the Redding airport and 0.36 inches in Shingletown.

Some north state spots have sopped up impressive precipitation totals since the series of storms started Sunday. Gibson, an outpost in the Sacramento River Canyon north of Lakehead, has recorded just over 15 inches.

Other four-day precipitation totals are 9.68 inches at Shasta Dam, 8.04 inches in Summit City, 5.36 inches in west Redding and 2.69 inches at the Redding airport.

The recent rains have helped boost Lake Shasta since Jan. 1, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data.

Precipitation totals at the airport are running slightly ahead of normal for January so far. But rainfall this season to date at the airport remains only 72 percent of normal, according to National Weather Service figures.

A major adjustment in the hemispheric circulation brought the recent spate of chilly, windy storms to California.

An immense dome of polar air that had sat over Hudson Bay and brought bitter cold to the eastern United States shifted west late last week. Some of this Arctic air spilled over the Aleutian Islands, creating a deep trough over the northeastern Pacific that contributed to Tuesday's and Wednesday's low snow levels.

The cold air pushing south from the Gulf of Alaska interacted with moist air in the subtropics, spawning jet stream winds up to 240 mph.

The stormy pattern will shift south today, leaving the north state with lighter winds and spotty showers, according to forecast models. Shower chances will further shrink Friday and disappear Saturday as a surge of warmer, drier air displaces the cold, turbulent trough.

Another trough could cross Northern California early next week. But that storm does not look particularly potent.

Reporter Scott Mobley can be reached at 225-8220 or at

Reporter Dylan Darling contributed to this report.