While the biggest storm of the season brought some much needed precipitation to Calaveras County this week, it also resulted in power outages, school closures and difficult travel conditions.
“This was a stronger storm that moved in, kind of dipping in from the south and moving northward, and it was pretty moist,” said Emily Heller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Sacramento office. “There were multiple waves in it, so it kept bringing rounds and rounds of precipitation to us.”
According to the NWS, over the past five days, Valleys Springs received 1.98 inches of precipitation; Copperopolis received 4.36 inches; Wilseyville received 5.27 inches and Angels Camp received 7.54 inches.
The snow level reached down as low as 2,000 feet in the region during the storm, and elevations above 4,000 feet received multiple feet of snow. Chain controls reached down as low as Murphys.
Bear Valley Resort received 63 inches of snow over the past five days, for a seasonal total of 123 inches. The resort closed Thursday and Friday due to the storm, but plans on reopening on Saturday.
All school districts in the county saw some schools move to 100% distance learning for at least one day due to the weather, with all schools in Vallecito Union School District and Bret Harte Union High School District closed for in-person learning from Wednesday through Friday.
Unrelenting snowfall led to the closure of Highway 4 just above Arnold from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Public Information Officer Rick Estrada said.
“Too much snow came down too quickly, and it was a challenge to keep up with it,” he said. “Oftentimes, there will be some good breaks in there, where you can get out there and get your equipment on the road and really do some good snow removal. Those breaks weren’t opening up—it was snow, and then more snow.”
Downed trees and the high moisture content of snow added to the challenge of clearing the road, Estrada said.
“It’s heavier snow, the equipment is working harder and it can’t operate as fast,” he said.
Estrada said that Caltrans had seven personnel and seven pieces of equipment working to clear the road above Arnold on Thursday, including snow blowers and plows.
Along with heavy snow, the storm brought high winds that toppled trees and power lines.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) Spokesperson Megan McFarland said that 7,680 customers in Calaveras County were experiencing power outages due to storm related damages at 11 a.m. on Friday morning.
The bulk of the outages are in Arnold, with 7,136 customers affected.
“Crews continue to focus on the areas where the largest number of customers remain without power,” McFarland said. “Due to treacherous conditions and difficult terrain, it can be challenging to access places where we need to make repairs and assessments. Estimated times of restoration will be updated as they become available.”
McFarland said that over 90% of customers that lost power due to the storm have had their power restored.
“PG&E has found more than 1,000 instances of damage so far where infrastructure needs to be replaced or repaired,” she said. “Although damage assessments continue, a preliminary tabulation shows 328 spans of conductor that need to be replaced or repaired, 50 broken crossarms, 86 broken poles and 27 broken transformers. In all, 535 individual system components need to be repaired or replaced.”
Posts on social media reported fallen trees, downed power lines and unplowed roads in the Arnold area and higher elevations.
Calaveras County Interim Director of Public Works Robert Pachinger said that it may take a few days to clear all of the roadways of snow.
“It takes some time to move that volume of snow,” he said. “It’s going to be an around-the-clock operation, and with the snow abating to some extent today and tomorrow, they should be able to do quite a bit of work.”
Fallen trees and downed power lines have complicated snow removal efforts, Pachinger said.
“While PG&E is doing what they have to do, the county crews continue to work on the roads that they can,” he said. “We understand that there’s frustration amongst the residents who wish to get out, but we’re working as hard and as fast as we can.”
While the weekend is expected to be relatively dry, more wet weather is expected next week, Heller said.
“It looks like we’ll be dry for the weekend there, and then another storm is going to reach Calaveras County sometime Monday morning to early afternoon,” she said. “This is another stronger system that’s going to stick around, and you could have those lingering Sierra mountain showers into Wednesday. We are expecting multiple feet of snow again, probably anywhere from 2 to 3 feet.”
This article was updated to include comments from Calaveras County Interim Director of Public Works Robert Pachinger.