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Rain Causes Flooding, Mudslides and Traffic Snarls in Northern California

Weather: San Francisco, which had its wettest December since 1955, gets several more inches. Snow delights Lake Tahoe skiers.

January 03, 2002|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — The Bay Area and much of the rest of Northern California continued to feel the cold slap of winter Wednesday as heavy rains caused flooding, mudslides and nervous glances toward the region's rivers, which continued to rise near overflow levels.

Several flooded roads in Sonoma County were closed, and potholes and erosion caused rural segments of California 1 to close, backing up traffic and fraying nerves, officials said.

The storm poured several inches of rain on San Francisco, where the 10.75-inch total for last month made it the wettest December since 1955, officials said.

Despite the nasty weather to the north, Southern California will be spared most of the rain, forecasters said.

"The storm will move off to the east, and Los Angeles weather should be pretty dry after Wednesday night," said Jeremy Nelson of Weather Central Inc.

In San Francisco, the rains Wednesday afternoon uprooted a 100-foot-tall tree that fell across four lanes in Presidio Park leading to the Golden Gate Bridge, striking the rear of a bus and backing up traffic more than an hour. No one on the bus was injured.

"The rain has been pretty consistent," said Lt. Larry Doherty of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department. "The rivers are rising, but I don't think they're going to crest to flood stage. Still, it's not even February yet--that's when things really get wet around here."

The National Weather Service reported at least 5 inches of rain in the mountains of central Sonoma County on Tuesday and Wednesday. No additional rain was expected through next Tuesday.

Weather forecasters issued a snow advisory for elevations above 7,000 feet in the Lake Tahoe area, where up to a foot of snow was predicted. As much as 4 inches was expected around the lake, to the delight of skiers who had decided to extend their New Year's stays.

But for many, the weather just meant more headaches--mostly in rural areas.

Heavy mountain snows stranded many drivers, even those with snow chains and four-wheel-drive vehicles. In spots along California 1 in Sonoma County, roads were washed out and traffic was reduced to one lane. California 121 and 116 were closed with up to 10 inches of water, officials said.

The rains also shut down several popular back country campsites near Guerneville along the Russian River, frustrating hikers.

A flood warning for the Napa River at St. Helena issued early Wednesday was lifted at 8:30 a.m. after the river began receding.

At dusk Wednesday, many residents of Sonoma and Napa counties saw the sun emerge for the first time in days.

"All this rain just gets under your skin after a while," said Mark Berube, a street maintenance supervisor for the Santa Rosa Department of Public Works. "It gets depressing. I'm looking forward to seeing a little sunshine in the next few days."

Just before 2 p.m., a tree whose roots were loosened by the downpour fell across a major artery leading to the Golden Gate Bridge.

"The rain definitely caused that tree to fall," said Mary Currie, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Transportation District. "The tree clipped a bus, but thankfully no one was injured. The only way we could open the road was to have some bridge workers remove the tree with chain saws."

But for all the wet weather, grape growers in Napa and Sonoma counties said the rain didn't threaten the region's cash crop. Most of the harvest was already in, and the rains only delayed winter preparations in many soggy fields.

"Grape harvest is over for the season, so this is a downtime for a lot of growers," said Jeri Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Vintners Assn. "That's probably why our office wasn't flooded with frantic calls and e-mails. The berries are already off the vines."

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