Record rainfall, high winds wreak havoc in Modesto area

9:23 p.m. Update: While Modesto reached a record for rainfall, it's the nearly 40 mph wind that continued to wreak havoc in the city and surrounding towns on Tuesday afternoon, sending trees and debris into houses, cars and streets.

City crews, police, firefighters and irrigation district workers tirelessly tended to hundreds of reports of downed trees and power lines throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

"Trees are down everywhere," said Modesto Police Department Lt. Scott Blom.

The incidents are numerous:

— More than a few people have been trapped in their cars after trees fell on top of them, including one woman who escaped injury while waiting for her child to get out of school.

— There were hundreds of reports of trees into houses, cars and onto roadways.

— Power was out in at some point in nearly every town, including Modesto, where 150 Modesto Irrigation District employees worked feverishly to restore electricity to thousands of customers.

— As of 4:15 p.m., Modesto Police Department Sgt. Brian Findlen said the department received calls on 147 downed trees, 69 hazard calls, which include lights out at intersections, 18 traffic accidents of which four involved injuries and one felony hit-and-run.

— California Highway Patrol officers tended to numerous calls of minor accidents on area roadways throughout the region.

— Emanuel Medical had a power outage in its east wing this afternoon for about 30-40 minutes, according to Debbie Chapman in Marketing and Physician Relations. They went to a backup generator while waiting for electricity to be restored. The hospital was unaffected.

“It was like a cyclone had hit,” said Modesto resident Jane Chynoweth, whose beloved Rayburn Ash tree that cools her back yard on hot summer days toppled over from the wind, falling into her neighbor's yard.

Through 9 p.m. on Tuesday, 1.75 inches of rain — tying the record for the wettest day in October — had doused the city, and more was expected over the next 18 hours, according to National Weather Service forecasters.

The soon-to-be previous record was set on Oct. 7, 1973, according to the MID, which has been keeping rainfall records since 1888.

Felix Garcia, meteorologist for the weather service, said the storm is expected to last until Wednesday afternoon, although some showers will linger. He said he expects the wind is expected to decrease tonight, although it still will be breezy on Wednesday.

Melissa Williams, spokesperson for the MID, said there have been scattered outages throughout town, but no major outages.

She said all were weather-related due mainly to high winds that blow tree debris into the lines.

"We have everyone out working," she said.

Williams reminded people to keep a flashlight, radio and fresh batteries nearby. She urged residents served by the MID to report outages by calling 526-8222.

Scattered outages also were reported in Oakdale, Ceres and Turlock.

Stanislaus County road crews didn't have to go far to find storm damage, Roads Superintendent Gary Hayward said.

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"We had branches down in our own yard on Morgan Road," he said. "We’ll have to get to those later this afternoon."

That's because crews will first deal with trees or branches down at Orestimba and Draper roads in Newman, Crows Landing and Carpenter roads in west Modesto, Leon and Ralph streets in south Modesto and Pioneer Road north of Oakdale, he said.

"There are lots of branches down," Hayward said. "Some, we take a chain to and some we can pull (out of the way)."

He also said a Turlock Irrigation District power line west of the San Joaquin River near Crows Landing forced the closure of a road on the county's West Side.

Findlen said that in terms of the amount of damage, this will be the most significant wind event in 10 years.

"We have trees down on virtually every street in the city," he said. "It's very apparent public works is working hard to coordinate with the Modesto Police Department and Modesto Fire Department to make roadways passable and safe, but we are at the whim of Mother Nature.

"At this point, it doesn't look like the weather is clearing up."

One mom, waiting for her child to get out of school at Modesto High, avoided injury after she was trapped when a tree fell on her car. Hours earlier, a small tree fell over near a classroom at Modesto's Josephine Chrysler School.

There were no injuries reported at that school as the children were already in class. The tree, which was described on the small side, fell near the front corridor and damaged a rain gutter.

Winds, which had been gusting all night, were sustaining speeds of 20 mph to 35 mph, with gusts reaching nearly 40 mph, Garcia said.

The weather service issued a wind advisory that will remain in effect until 11 p.m. It also issued an urban and small stream flood advisory for the Stockton and Modesto areas. It will be in place until 8:30 p.m.

Garcia said the storm is expected to last until Wednesday afternoon, although some showers will linger. He said he expects the wind to decrease tonight, although it still will be breezy on Wednesday.

In the foothills, the region’s three seasonal Sierra passes – Sonora Pass on Highway 108, Tioga Pass on Highway 120 through Yosemite and Ebbett’s Pass on Highway 4 east of Arnold – all are closed.

Dodge Ridge Ski Area has snow falling at its 8,200-foot elevation summit, with the snow level expected to drop to about 7,000 feet tonight, Marketing Manager Amber Jenquin said.

But it’s a warm storm expected to dump six inches of rain below the 7,000-foot mark, she said.

Meanwhile, almond growers got almost all of the 2009 harvest done before the storm hit, said Dave Baker, director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers, the state’s largest processor.

The federal government has estimated the California crop at 1.35 billion pounds, and Baker said only about 30 million pounds are still on the trees or awaiting pickup on the orchard floors. Growers saw the storm coming and scrambled in recent days to keep the loss down, he said.

"People who were done brought their machinery over and helped people who weren’t done," he said.

Wet almonds can be put into drying equipment, but it is an added expense for growers.

Baker said it could take a couple of days to determine whether the wind damaged many trees. They still have their leaves, so they act “like a big sail” in a strong breeze and can break or topple.

Still, all that was on most people's mind today were the falling trees.

Jane Chynoweth, the woman whose beloved Rayburn Ash was blown over by the wind, said things seemed quiet around her north Modesto home at 8 a.m.

"I kept thinking, 'What is all this talk about a big storm?' " she said.

About an hour later, her patio furniture was upside down.

Worse, the tree she had planted professionally as a full-grown in 1994, had come crashing down into her neighbor’s yard.

“I cannot believe it," she said.

7:20 a.m. Update:

The season's first big storm is packing a lot of wind, but not as much rain as predicted.

So far, downtown Modesto has received just .10 inches of rain since midnight, with all coming since 5 a.m., according to the Modesto Irrigation District.

In the last hour, the California Highway Patrol has reported eight traffic collisions or traffic hazards in the Modesto/Merced reporting area and a downed power line near the Stockton airport and a spinout on Highway 99 in San Joaquin County.

The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory that will remain in effect until 11 p.m.

Winds, which have been gusting all night, are expected to be from 20 mph to 35 mph, with gusts as high as 55 p.m., the weather service is reporting this morning.

Check back at throughout the day for more updates.

It's time to break out the rain gear, umbrellas and possibly a lot more as the remnants of a typhoon are expected to hit the Northern San Joaquin Valley tonight.

The storm, coming from the remnants of super typhoon Melor, is expected to bring 1 to 2 inches of rain and high winds in the area over the next two days, according to the National Weather Service.

The foothills are expected to receive 3 to 7 inches, the weather service reported.

Winds should reach sustained speeds of 25 to 35 mph with gusts up to 45 mph. In the foothills, winds could reach 50 mph.

The weather service cautioned there could be downed trees and branches, along with possible minor flooding of small streams and ponding of water on roads.

Melor clobbered the Philippines and Japan in the western Pacific before its remnants were swept into the jet stream now West Coast bound.

Modesto's wettest October was 2.97 inches in 2000, according to Melissa Williams of the Modesto Irrigation District, which has been tracking downtown rainfall amounts since 1888.

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