HOLLISTER, CALIFORNIA - Crews using boats Wednesday rescued about 50 Northern California farmland residents trapped in flooded homes and normally rainy Portland, Oregon, was slammed with a rare foot of snow as a powerful storm system battered five western U.S. states.
In Nevada, at least 20,000 people near Lake Tahoe had no electricity as the storm fed by an “atmospheric river” weather phenomenon that sucked water from the Pacific Ocean downed trees and caused mudslides that damaged power lines.
Reports of the Northern California flooding started about 2 a.m. Wednesday as water from a quickly rising creek in the small rural city of Hollister deluged homes on a two-lane stretch of road called Lovers Lane.
Torrents of rain gushed down the street even after rescuers finished evacuating residents more than seven hours later. The water by that time was receding but still waist-deep in places.
“It's just a lot of water,” said Kevin O'Neill, emergency services manager for San Benito County. “Fields that look like lakes. The ground just can't soak it up. Vehicles that are partly submerged, homes have water damage.”
A reporting crew from KTVU heard an elderly woman yelling from her window that she wanted to be rescued and that her husband had recent surgery and could not walk out of the house.
Forecasters said precipitation would continue through Thursday, but the brunt of the system had passed after delivering the heaviest rain in a decade to parts of Northern California and Nevada and surprising Portland with what forecasters said was its biggest snowfall since 2008.
Parts of California's wine country were among the hardest hit, with up to 13 inches of rain over three days that flooded vineyards.
The massive rain and snowfall that prompted a rare blizzard warning in parts of the Sierra is helping much of Northern California recover from a six-year drought. The series of storms has also added 33 billion gallons of water to Lake Tahoe since Jan. 1.
The snowstorm in Oregon and southwest Washington state toppled trees, closed schools and cut off power to thousands. Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon closed Tuesday and remained closed on Wednesday with more than 8 feet snow on the ground.
In central Washington state, the Grant County Sheriff's Office warned motorists to stay off roads, saying snow drifts of 3 to 5 feet made them impassable.
The intensity of the snowstorm came as a surprise to meteorologists, most of whom expected no more than 4 inches.
“We are going to be analyzing this one, because this is a special one,” National Weather Service meteorologist Treena Jensen said.
While the heaviest downpours have moved through Northern California, with rivers expected to recede throughout Wednesday, a risk of further flooding remains from runoff and bouts of showers.
About 50 homes were affected in Hollister floods about 95 miles south of San Francisco, said O'Neill, the emergency services manager. About 60 residents evacuated on their own. Boats, jeeps and firetrucks rescued about 50 people.
At a Hollister farm, about 10 cows sought refuge on top of a mound of dirt in their pen, which was completed flooded. Some homes had mudlines about five feet high, marking how far the water rose before receding.
In Southern California, officials warned residents of Los Angeles-area hillsides scarred by wildfires that mudslides were possible but only minor debris flows were initially reported.
Near Sacramento, a small tornado tore tree limbs and ripped awnings late Tuesday, National Weather Service meteorologist David Rowe said.
No injuries were reported from the twister, which was about 100 yards wide and registered on the low end of the tornado scale.
Along Lake Tahoe's western shore in California, an avalanche near the Alpine Meadows ski resort sent snow hitting at least a dozen houses but officials said there was no major damage and no one was hurt.
Several ski resorts in parts of the Sierra Nevada planned to stay shuttered Wednesday, including Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, which had no power because of the storm. The resort said Wednesday on Facebook that it had received more than 3 feet of snow in 24 hours.
The Kirkwood ski resort south of the lake reported Wednesday it has received 4 feet of new snow in the last 24 hours for a seven-day total of more than 11 feet.
In Colorado, several mountain passes were closed so crews could trigger slides Wednesday to make them safe as more snow falls in the mountains. The avalanche danger remained high.