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California Paralyzed by Powerful Snowstorm

SACRAMENTO, California, January 4, 2008 (ENS) – An intense storm system off the West Coast is responsible for a widespread region of heavy rain, mountain snow and high winds across northern California today. It is now pounding regions of central California, according to the National Weather Service, closing roads from Sacramento to San Francisco.

This storm system is one of a series of Pacific storms that are forecast to produce heavy rainfall, very heavy snowfall in the mountains, strong gusty winds, dangerous coastal surf, and possible coastal flooding into early next week.

The storm has caused more than 1,300,000 electricity customers to lose power since Friday morning with damage to roughly 40 miles of power lines, says Pacific Gas & Electric.

The hardest hit areas have been the coastal regions, including the North Coast, Humboldt County, Marin County, Peninsula and Santa Cruz mountains, and the Sierra Nevada region.

“Our crews are working to restore power to our customers as quickly and as safely as possible,” said Mark Johnson, vice president of electric operations and engineering at Pacific Gas and Electric Company. “However, while we are making restoration progress, we continue to face challenges. The widespread impact of the storm across our service territory combined with high winds have, in certain cases, created unsafe working conditions and are limiting PG&E crew access to damaged equipment. Coupled with the additional forecast storms, this could result in new outages or extending existing outages.”
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger meets emergency responders at the Los Alamitos Emergency Operations Center. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was briefed on the storm response today at the Los Alamitos Emergency Operations Center.

“It is very important that we all are coordinating; the state offices, the Office of Emergency Services,” he said after speaking with federal and state emergency response officials. “We want to make sure that the locals and the state and federal agencies all work together so that we are very well prepared, because preparation is really the art of this whole thing.”

Wind gusts exceeding 100 miles per hour are possible today in the Sierra Nevada, with blizzard conditions in the mountains near the California-Oregon border and in the northern and central Sierra Nevada.

Snow accumulations of two to five feet are expected at the pass levels through Sunday, with more snow possible at higher elevations.

The heaviest precipitation is expected today through Saturday morning. Total precipitation up to 6 to 12 inches is possible through the weekend.

Heavy rain could result in flash flooding and, particularly in the burned over areas of southern California, mud and debris flows.

In October, at least 11 major wildfires burned half a million acres from Los Angeles to San Diego. Flooding and debris flows in these areas can happen quickly, and emergency officials are urging residents there to be prepared in order to save lives and property.

High-tech equipment just deployed by the U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will help the public and emergency responders determine flash flood and debris flow hazards in Malibu and other Southern California canyons in the post-wildfire environment.

“I think that we have done a good job with being prepared when we had the fires, and I think it’s very important now, since there is so much land that has burned, that we are prepared for those mudslides,” said the governor.

“So we have aircraft available, we have resources all over the state available, we have those offices available, the local Offices of Emergency Services available, and the National Guard, the coastal service,” he said. “Everything is really coordinated so that if there is a problem that we are ready to act as quickly as possible, including Swift Water Rescue Teams.”

Evacuations are expected in the storm-struck area. Orange County has ordered people in Williams, Silverado, and Modjeska Canyons to evacuate based on debris flow maps and the predicted weather coming in.

“There is a lot of rain coming down in the valleys, there is a lot of snow coming down in the mountains, there is a lot of wind speeds between 100 and 150 miles in the Sierra Nevada,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “So it is very dangerous, so we want to be prepared, and we want the people to be cautious.”

At lower elevations in California, two to three inches of rainfall is possible, weather officials say. With a few exceptions, river flooding is not a major concern, as soil conditions have been dry and reservoirs have been at low levels.

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