After four years of drought followed by a mediocre El Nino last year that dried out all too quickly, weather watchers were perplexed as to what might happen in 2016-2017. With a little more than six weeks left before the April 1 benchmark, the current season is lining up as a record-setting drought-buster.
The recent series of storms that will dissipate this weekend will have rainfall totals surpassing last year’s 24.58 inches. And no one knows when the atmospheric rivers will end.
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the warm downpours that caused the Kaweah River to rapidly rise to a peak at 5 p.m. of 20,148 cfs — as measured on the gauge behind Three Rivers Chevron on the Middle Fork — flooded low-lying bridges, brought down trees, caused numerous rockslides, and had water flowing from every nook and cranny in the Kaweah drainage.
River rescue— A North Kaweah River Drive resident became stuck in high water during the nighttime hours of Tuesday, Feb. 7, when he tried to drive his truck across a water-swollen section of his driveway. A successful swift-water rescue operation by Tulare County Fire Department staff saved the man who was trapped inside his vehicle in the rising water.
Whitewater incident— Also on February 7, two rafters had some anxious moments at about 3 p.m. when their inflatable raft capsized almost immediately after they put in at the Dinely Bridge. Reportedly, the local rafters got out of the turgid waters; the raft was recovered hung up in bushes below the North Fork Bridge three miles downstream, but not before causing concern for some riverside residents who witnessed the capsized raft being swept down-river.
Almost one month ago to the day, another similar rain flood event on January 9 peaked at 20,000 cfs, almost the same level as this week’s event. The difference this time is that the ground is completely saturated thanks to a record-setting January with 12-plus inches of local rainfall.
February has already brought four to five more inches to Three Rivers, depending on location, and there’s another round due in Friday, Feb. 10, and next weekend. The best way to know what lies ahead for Kaweah Country is to keep an eye on Lake Kaweah. They have the most high-tech projections because they must manage the water storage that flows down the Kaweah drainage.
As of Thursday, Feb. 9, the storage at Lake Kaweah was 68,685 acre feet, just over one-third capacity.
“We’re seeing that the next round won’t be quite as much as the February 7 event,” said Phil Deffenbaugh, Lake Kaweah general manager. “The current plan is to release 2,200 cfs but if the bigger water comes, those releases will be increased.”
Deffenbaugh said the current storage is a little higher than at this time in recent years.
“Currently, we have room for 110,000 acre feet,” Phil said. “If we see water like we did last Tuesday and the flow is sustained, the basin would fill up fast.”
In Three Rivers, at 1,000 feet elevation, there has already been more precipitation since June 30 than the entire last season, and more rain and snow is on the way.
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