Wednesday Jun 29 2011
Freak summer gully washer is a record buster
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
Summer? What summer? A freak storm rolled through Auburn and the foothills Tuesday and Wednesday, dumping record rain on the area. Rain totals were impressive for any time of year but when they take place on what would normally be a hot day in late June, they take on epic significance. The National Weather Service had been pointing toward a storm bearing down from Alaska since the weekend and – preordained by a jet stream sending clouds streaming across the sky early in the day – the clouds gathered and the rain started to pound Downtown Auburn around 2 p.m. Tuesday. Meteorologist Steve Goldstein said Wednesday that sensors at the Auburn Municipal Airport showed readings of 0.97 inches and 0.75 inches by the time the storm let up in the early morning hours. “There are no records kept for Auburn but it was likely a record,” Goldstein said. “Just about everywhere in the area set records.” Colfax recorded 0.8 inches of rain while Foresthill had more than an inch, he said. Grass Valley’s rainfall from the storm brought rainfall for the month up to 2.41 inches – the second wettest in records dating back to 1850. The wettest June occurred in 1995, when 2.77 inches was recorded. Roads were slick during the afternoon commute and well into Wednesday morning but the California Highway Patrol’s Auburn patrol area reported no major injury accidents. There was one close call, however, when a truck traveling down Highway 49 slid off the road and travelled 70 feet into American River Canyon. The truck’s driver – 23-year-old Stephanie Haddinncan of Cool – was able to walk away but her vehicle remained in the canyon until it could be hoisted out Wednesday. The truck was crumpled after bashing into several small trees on its downward route but the California Highway Patrol said Haddinncan was uninjured. In the wake of the rainstorm Wednesday, the Auburn State Recreation Area was attracting a gaggle of sightseers who stood in awe of the whitewater and surging current heading downstream along the Middle and North Forks of the American River at the confluence. While authorities are advising against taking a plunge with the water running strong and cold, 9-year-old Bailey Diacon bravely stuck her foot in to gauge the temperature. “It feels like my foot was in a freezer for five days,” Bailey said. “It was cold.” Bailey was at the confluence for a hike with her great-aunt Royetta Hart of Antelope. “We’re here to see the beauty of what nature is doing,” Hart said. “I’ve never seen the water this high. Normally it’s in the main channel but it’s running up and around today.” Louise Price of El Dorado Hills drove with her brother from Seattle to see the raging waters of both the confluence and Folsom Lake dam, where three spill gates were open Wednesday. “The water is higher than I’ve seen it in years,” Price said. Upstream from the confluence, the Middle Fork Project’s Oxbow powerhouse was pushing 1,000 cubic feet per second of water through its generator while letting twice that amount spill into the Middle Fork of the American River. An unusually late spate of cold weather and high snow storage totals have left Northern California rivers running high and kept rafting companies off the Middle Fork. Nate Rangel, President of California Outdoors whitewater rafting organization, said outfitters are choosing to take excursions on the south and north forks instead. The weather bureau is forecasting temperatures to return to the 90s by the weekend. Scott Liske, state recreation area superintendent, said he expects the 4th of July to be a busy one, with parking spaces at the confluence and other popular areas at a premium. But the danger from the strong, frigid currents remains despite the increase in heat and people should stay out of the water, he said.