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County braces for massive storm on the horizon

By this afternoon or evening, the Merced area should be in the throes of a five-day rainstorm that could bring a couple inches of precipitation, above-average winds and snow at higher elevations, weather forecasters predict.

Merced city and county public works crews say they are ready for whatever the storm brings.

Jim Bagnall, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford, said Merced should receive up to two inches of rainfall. Higher elevations near Yosemite National Park should get four to six feet of snow from the series of storms, spawned by a parent storm sitting in the Gulf of Alaska.

Winds between 10 and 25 mph could buffet this area, with gusts up to 40 or 50 mph. Bagnall said the storm's big punch will be tonight through Friday night.

John Raggio, Merced's public works director, said the city is ready for whatever Mother Nature dishes out.

"All our people are prepared for it," Raggio said. "We'll be ready; right now we're in pretty good shape."

City trucks have been vacuuming storm drains and clearing fallen leaves, which typically plug the drains and cause ponding. Leaves are pretty much swept up, Raggio said, and the city has checked to see that there are an adequate number of sandbags if needed.

A short but violent thunderstorm before Thanksgiving knocked down a number of tree limbs and Raggio doesn't expect winds today to create much more havoc. City tree crews, however, will be on standby if winds do create mischief.

Bagnall, the weatherman, said the upcoming precipitation will help this area get back to normal rainfall. Merced received 1.23 inches of rain in December, 0.22 inches in November and 0.85 inches in October. While a La Nina year generally means lower rainfall amounts, bigger storms like the approaching one remain a possibility.

Once the storms move in, the fog that has been blanketing the Merced area for several days will no longer be an issue. But the fog could return early next week when the storm has moved on, Bagnall said.

The rainstorm is expected to last from Friday all the way to Sunday, with a little break Saturday. There is a slight chance showers will linger until Monday, Bagnall said.

Mark Hendrickson, Merced County spokesman, said the county's public works crews are coordinating with the Office of Emergency Services and preparing to address any weather-related emergencies involving signal light malfunctions, road issues or other infrastructure problems.

Hendrickson asked for the public's patience as crews fix what's broken. People are urged to drive slower during the storm and carry flashlights with them.

Ted Selb, the Merced Irrigation District's deputy general manager, said Exchequer Reservoir is at 24 percent of capacity and should be able to handle rainfall from the upcoming storm.

Selb said new rainfall definitely will remove the spring runoff picture. The five feet of snow predicted also will help the area's water supply later this year.

Exchequer now has 244,064 acre-feet of water in storage with a million acre-feet of capacity. The reservoir could receive 220,000 acre-feet of water before any precautionary releases have to be made, Selb said.

Nicole Tam, Central Valley spokeswoman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., said the combination of strong winds and heavy rain could result in trees, tree limbs and other vegetation coming into contact with overhead power lines and interrupting electric service to customers.

If customers experience a power outage, they should call PG&E's outage information line at 1-800-PGE-5002 to report the outage or to get updates on power restoration efforts in their area. Calling this line is the most efficient way to get updated outage information.

Tam said PG&E electric crews and emergency personnel are on alert and ready to respond to outages when they occur. Through extensive preventative maintenance and an ongoing tree trimming program, PG&E works year-round to prepare for and minimize storm-related outages.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

Weather the storm

Here are a number of suggestions and tips from PG&E to help customers before and during a storm:

Have battery-operated radios with fresh batteries ready for updates on storm conditions and power outages.

Have battery-operated flashlights with fresh batteries on hand.

Have a cell phone or hard-wire, single-line telephone on hand. Cordless phones will not work without electricity.

Fill used liter-size plastic soda bottles with water and place them in the freezer. During an extended outage, transfer them to the refrigerator to prevent food from spoiling. Open the refrigerator only when necessary, keeping warm air out and cooler air in.

If your power goes out, turn off or even unplug all electric appliances. Otherwise, when power is restored, several appliances may come back on at once and overload your circuits or hot appliances may come on while you're away or asleep and pose a fire hazard. Leave a single lamp on to alert you when power returns. Turn your appliances back on one at a time when conditions return to normal.

Customers should report power outages to PG&E by calling the outage information line at 1-800-PGE-5002. Customers can also call this number to receive updated information about an existing power outage in their area.

For more storm-related tips and information, please visi their Web site at www.pge.com

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