Wacky weekend includes power outage, lightning strikes, space launch


WEATHER WATCH: Well, that little bout of fall weather last week has been bullied away by a ridge of high pressure that will let a little taste of summer creep back in. There is no precipitation in the local forecast for the next couple of weeks. The local parks are preparing for winter, however. The Mineral King Road will close for the season at about the 10-mile mark on Wednesday, Oct. 30. In November, Caltrans will close Highway 180 into the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park.

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Last Saturday and Sunday evenings, Oct. 6 and 7, was one of those strange convergences of events that remind all us how little we know about why certain things happen when. A doomsday reaction to the unusual chain of events was reported by several folks who had an especially good view of the night sky and the surrounding mountains. 
At 5:45 p.m., there was a widespread power outage that affected all of Three Rivers. At about that same time, there were several lightning strikes at the 7,000-foot elevation level and above in the nearby mountains that was nothing short of spectacular. 
By the time the light show ended, National Park Service fire personnel were reporting that at least seven small fires had been ignited. One lightning-caused fire located near Wolverton Road was suppressed before it had a chance to get beyond a tenth of an acre in size. Six other small fires were determined to be in extremely rugged wilderness so were placed in a wait-and-see monitoring protocol. 
The total size of the six scattered fires measured less than an acre. Of the six fires, five were located in the Kaweah’s East Fork drainage and were visible south of the Mineral King Road. A sixth fire was located east of Castle Rocks and visible from the Generals Highway.
Cooler temperatures and higher humidity hampered the growth of these lightning fires and no new flare-ups were reported during the past five days. The lightning strikes were not expected to affect plans for upcoming NPS prescribed burns but it was too wet for any ignitions as planned this wee.             
On the next night — Sunday, Oct. 7 — Three Rivers residents witnessed another phenomenon that occurred at 7:21 p.m.: the Space X launch of SAOCOM 1A satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, 214 miles southwest of Three Rivers. The coastal space shot was visible from a wide area of Central and Southern California. 
It first appeared as a red glow,  then a clear separation of rocket and payload (an Argentine satellite) that looked like separate objects headed in different directions amidst a Milky Way-like giant cloud of gas and lights.
For sky watchers, it was quite a show, and the entire event was webcast for those who watched via computer. The rocket safely returned to Vandenberg while the satellite, in a relatively low orbit, will continue to monitor soil moisture and provide rapid response in case of a disaster in the service of the Argentine government. 
Rainfall and snow totals were scattered in most areas of the foothills and in the mountains. Throughout the entire storm series that began Wednesday, Oct. 3, most areas in Three Rivers received one-half inch of rain; mountain locales received on average two or three times the total that was recorded in lower elevations.    

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