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California Sees Record Rainfall        10/26 06:06


   SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A powerful storm that swept through California set 
rainfall records and helped douse wildfires. But it remained to be seen how 
much of a dent it made in the state's drought.

   The system weakened as it moved south but still dropped enough rain Monday 
evening to cause mudslides that closed roads in the San Bernardino Mountains 
northeast of Los Angeles.

   In the northern part of the state, drenching rains caused widespread 
flooding and rock slides over the weekend. Strong winds knocked down trees and 
even toppled two big rigs on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge near San Francisco. 
Pacific Gas & Electric reported that 380,000 homes and businesses lost power, 
though most had it back Monday.

   Despite the problems, the rain and mountain snow were welcome in Northern 
California, which is so dry that nearly all of it is classified as either 
experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. The wet weather also greatly 
reduces the chances of additional wildfires in a region that has borne the 
brunt of another devastating year of blazes in the state.

   The National Weather Service called preliminary rainfall totals 
"staggering," including 11 inches (28 centimeters) at the base of Marin 
County's Mount Tamalpais and 4 inches (10 centimeters) in downtown San 
Francisco, the fourth-wettest day ever for the city.

   "It's been a memorable past 24 hours for the Bay Area as the long 
talked-about atmospheric river rolled through the region," the local weather 
office said Monday. "We literally have gone from fire/drought conditions to 
flooding in one storm cycle."

   Northeast of San Francisco, 5.44 inches (13.82 centimeters) fell on downtown 
Sacramento, shattering the one-day record for rainfall that had stood since 

   Along the central coast, nearly 5.4 inches (13.72 centimeters) of rain was 
recorded at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo County. 
In Southern California, 1.1 inches (2.79 centimeters) fell in Beverly Hills.

   Interstate 80, the major highway through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to 
Reno, Nevada, was shut down by heavy snow early Monday. In California's Colusa 
and Yolo counties, state highways 16 and 20 were shut for several miles because 
of mudslides, the state Department of Transportation said.

   The same storm system also slammed Oregon and Washington state, causing 
power outages that affected tens of thousands of people. Two people were killed 
when a tree fell on a vehicle in the greater Seattle area.

   Lake Oroville, a major Northern California reservoir, saw its water levels 
rise 20 feet (6.10 meters) over the past week, according to the state's 
Department of Water Resource. Most of the increase came between Saturday and 
Monday, during the height of the storm, KHSL-TV reported.

   Justin Mankin, a geography professor at Dartmouth College and co-lead of the 
Drought Task Force at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said 
the cycle of going from years-long drought to record-breaking downpours is 
something expected to continue because of climate change.

   "While this rain is welcome, it comes with these hazards, and it won't 
necessarily end the drought," Mankin said. "California still needs more 
precipitation, and it really needs it in high elevations and spread out over a 
longer time so it's not hazardous."

   Christy Brigham, chief of resource management and science at Sequoia and 
Kings Canyon National Parks, said the rain was a huge relief after the Caldor 
Fire torched an unknown number of the giant trees in the park, along with 
thousands of pines and cedars.

   "This amount of rainfall is what we call a season-ending event," Brigham 
said. "It should end fire season, and it should end our need -- to a large 
degree -- to fight this fire."

   The Caldor Fire has burned for more than two months. In early September, it 
prompted the unprecedented evacuation of the entire city of South Lake Tahoe. 
Firefighters now consider it fully contained, a status that -- thanks to the 
rain -- also now applies to the Dixie Fire, the second-largest in state history 
at just under 1 million acres.

   During the weekend, the California Highway Patrol closed a stretch of State 
Route 70 in Butte and Plumas counties because of multiple landslides within the 
massive Dixie Fire burn scar.

   Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, wasn't ready to declare the 
wildfire season over or to cut staffing to winter levels. "We'd like to see 
some more rain coming our way before we look at reducing staffing," spokesman 
Isaac Sanchez said.

   The long-term forecast for California shows drier-than-normal conditions, 
Mankin said.

   "To end different aspects of the drought, you are going to need a situation 
where parts of California get precipitation over the next three months that's 
about 200% of normal," he said, adding that "despite this really, really insane 
rainfall, the winter is probably going to be drier than average."

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