Storms hit N. California with gusts up to 199 mph, flooding

A sign warns motorists of flooding on northbound Highway 101, Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, in Corte Madera, Calif. (AP)

MODESTO, Calif. (TNS) — Northern California was battered by another atmospheric river that produced record rainfall and wind gusts that reached 199 mph.

The dramatic gusts were recorded high in the Sierra Nevada, where Alpine Meadows had the 199-mph gust, according to the National Weather Service. Biggs recorded 184 mph.

Several areas set new rainfall records for the day Monday including San Jose (1.87 inches), San Francisco International Airport (2.16 inches) and Sacramento (1.74 inches).

More rain is falling Tuesday, but officials said Monday was expected to be the strongest part of the storm. It produced some flooding — but so far not the mass damage some had feared.

Water came gushing down the spillway at Don Pedro Dam in Stanislaus County on Monday afternoon, further proof — if any were needed — that this is a rainy season for the record books in much of California.

It was only the second time the spillway had been used, and the first time in 20 years, as officials sought to keep the Don Pedro Reservoir from overflowing.

Residents along the Tuolumne River were not forced to evacuate, but “we are strongly encouraging people to seek shelter and move to higher ground,” Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said at a news conference. “Our No. 1 priority is the safety and security of the people here in Stanislaus County.”

The Don Pedro release came as much of the state’s northern half was being hit with a colossal drenching — expected to drop as much as 9 inches of rain in areas from Santa Cruz County along the coast to the Feather River Basin, far inland. People living along waterways braced for flash floods and evacuations.

It came on the heels of the crisis that developed just over a week ago at Oroville Dam, some 180 miles to the north. Both spillways were damaged, and fears of catastrophic flooding prompted the evacuation of more than 100,000 people.

Turlock Irrigation District officials said Monday that the structural integrity of the Don Pedro dam and spillway were “not in question,” and that the amount of water being released would be far less than in 1997, when major flooding occurred.

Officials also said several other waterways were at major risk of flooding, including the Yolo Bypass, Clear Lake, and the Sacramento, Cosumnes, Mokelumne, Merced and Tuolumne rivers.

Rains were also pounding coastal areas. Flash-flood warnings were issued for parts of Big Sur, parts of Sonoma County and San Benito County and communities in the hills above Santa Cruz. Flight delays were hitting San Francisco International Airport.

South of San Jose, Coyote Creek was at risk of exceeding flood levels at Edenvale.

Monday night, rising flood waters prompted Lake County authorities to order some residents of Lakeport to leave their homes, and San Joaquin County officials ordered evacuations following a levee breach along the San Joaquin River.

Residents living along the Tuolumne River in Modesto were continuing to prepare for rising floodwaters Tuesday morning.

Dylan Douglas Hamlin, 21, was spending the morning packing his remaining belongings to leave the Driftwood Mobile Home Park in Modesto, which sits along the riverbanks.

“We lost all of our stuff, man,” Hamlin said. “We lost our clothes, our shoes.”

Hamlin hoped to drive the trailer to higher ground, as emergency officials are expecting the river alongside the mobile home park to rise to 60 feet by mid-afternoon, as a result of the Don Pedro Dam spillway release.

Katie Whitley, who manages the mobile home park, said residents nearest the river have been moving their trailers out since the start of the weekend. Residents had fled about 15 of the park’s 74 spaces by early Tuesday, she said.

“We’re just holding our own,” Whitley said. “That’s what we have to do. You just have to hope for the best. But you can expect it when you live on the river.”

Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputies were at the park Tuesday morning, and have been notifying residents and others living nearby of the flood risk and potential power outages, said department spokesman Sgt. Anthony Bejaran.