Central California storm: Atmospheric River to move out of Valley, foothills on Friday

A Winter Storm Warning is in effect for the Sierra mountains and foothills until 10:00 am.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A storm drenching California has brought much-needed rain in a dry winter, but it also buried the Sierra Nevada in snow and prompted warnings of possible floods and mudslides near areas scorched by wildfires.

A Winter Storm Warning is in effect for the Sierra mountains and foothills until 10:00 am. The snow is expected to move out by the evening.

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Heavy snow left Highway 168 blanketed in snow, causing a portion of the highway to close on Thursday.

The closure is from the Shaver Lake Marina to Huntington Lake. Caltrans crews have been trying to clear the roads quickly, but California Highway Patrol officials said the road wouldn't open until Saturday.

The closure led to the temporary closure of China Peak Mountain Resort. Tim Cohee with China Peak Mountain Resort said after years of droughts, and recently the Creek Fire and pandemic, the heavy snow is a blessing for the business.

Yosemite National Park in the Sierras was hit by a snowstorm a week after destructive winds caused major damage, including knocking down 15 giant sequoias and slamming trees onto trucks and buildings. The park, hit with as much as $200 million in damage, would remain closed until at least next Monday after snow knocked branches into cars and buildings, park spokesmen said.

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China Peak Mountain Resort has temporarily closed after Caltrans crews shut down Highway 168 from Shaver Lake to Huntington Lake on Thursday due to heavy snow.



The atmospheric river also brought widespread rain across the Central Valley, creating flooding hazards and dangerous driving conditions. Several crashes were reported throughout the day on Thursday.

Most of the Valley woke up to more showers on Friday morning.



A local state of emergency was declared in Madera County as the storm continues to threaten residents who live in the Creek Fire burn scar.

"We're worried that the mud is going to come through and wash out the roadways that would strand people where they don't have access to emergency services and supply what they need," said Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue.

The local state of emergency will free up resources that can help mitigate damage and expedite recovery.

In Kern County, Interstate 5 at the Grapevine remained open to drivers overnight. California Highway Patrol officers were escorting traffic over the highway on Friday morning. The mountain pass was closed several times this week due to snow. Click here for the latest road closures in Central California.

Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow bands of water vapor that form over an ocean and flow through the sky. They occur globally but are especially significant on the West Coast of the United States, where they create 30% to 50% of annual precipitation and are linked to water supply and problems such as flooding and mudslides, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The atmospheric river is part of a major change in weather for California, which had significant drought conditions for months. The dryness contributed to wildfires that scorched more than 4.2 million acres (17,000 square kilometers) in 2020, the most in recorded modern history.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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