In the News - Friday, December
this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)
ONLY IN THE DECEMBER 24
'Western Wallop' leaves
mark on Kaweah Country
If there’s a silver lining in all the flooding, rockslides, downed power lines, loss of cell and phone service, power outages, and downed trees, it’s the fact that as of December 22 there is 200 inches of snow at the Farewell Gap station at 9,500 feet. That’s nearly 17 feet of the precious snowpack.
With more than 30 inches of water content, that’s as much runoff as the Kaweah drainage produced during the entire last season. And the best news of all: the precipitation season has just started with the onset of winter.
Typically, the first three months of the year are the best producers for more snow and rainfall. Now that’s a gift that keeps on giving — water, water, and more water.
Currently, every nook and underground cranny is filled to the brim and California has plenty of water… for now.
Here’s how this historic weather event came together in a perfect storm. On Friday, Dec. 17, it started to rain. Not just in Kaweah Country and the Central Valley, but up and down the entire state, from San Diego to Eureka
The initial low pressure that produced the energy drove the clouds onshore but cut off over Central California. One plume went north; the other created a suction effect directing a plume of slightly more tropical moisture right into and over the Sierra Nevada region.
Initially, as all that energy was lifted upward, snow levels were above 7,000 feet. For every inch of rain that fell at lower elevations, the mountain areas received at least a foot of snow.
By Saturday, that plume of tropical moisture, dubbed the Pineapple Express, was aimed right at the central San Joaquin Valley. One meteorologist called this region the “eye of the storm.”
On Sunday, in isolated downpours it was raining one inch in a half-hour. Most other places around the state were experiencing at least a steady rain.
That’s when the Kaweah River took a turn for the dramatic with a brief glimpse of its power when there’s too much water in too short a time. The peak flow in the Middle Fork was 17,230 cubic feet per second (cfs).
To put that in context check out these numbers. In January 1997, the last significant river rise, the Middle Fork peaked at approximately 65,000 cfs.
In 1955, the really big one that occurred on Christmas Eve was projected (there was no accurate gauging in those days) by computer models to have been 110,000 cfs. The 1997 event was an 18-year event; the 1955 event was the so-called 100-year event.
So, in effect, this recent rain-flood event pales in comparison to the big one. The difference was that in 1955, when that tropical rain came along, there was already a huge snowpack in place. Not so this year — until now.
Could the big one happen again that swept away homes in Three Rivers and cut off the entire town for several days? The odds are one year in a hundred.
Here’s some of what was reported during the recent series of storms:
A large rockslide blocked North Fork Drive near Advance. The road was reopened within two days by a county crew.
There was significant flooding on North Fork Drive when a ditch overflowed and flooded an orange grove.
Guardrails were removed from bridges on the South Fork and North Fork prior to the rise in area rivers. No significant damage was reported.
Numerous trees were downed. At least one knocked down power lines on the South Fork. Trees falling on power lines were believed to have caused a widespread power outage on Monday from 3:20 a.m. until power was restored at 5:50 a.m.
AT&T cell phone service in the area was out from Monday until Wednesday. There were isolated outages of landline service throughout the area. Some phones are still without service.
In the nearby national parks, numerous rock and mudslides and downed trees caused Sequoia National Park to be closed Sunday through Tuesday. Limited access to parts of the Generals Highway as far as Hospital Rock was restored Tuesday afternoon. More areas of the Generals Highway were reopened Wednesday.
The road between the parks remains closed because of more than 10 feet of snow on the roadway. On Thursday, Dec. 22, Wuksachi reported 10 feet of snow in the village area with excellent cross-country skiing and winter snowplay conditions.
Three Rivers, at 1,000 feet elevation, received 8.5 inches of rainfall since the recent storms began December 17, bringing the season total to 15.18 inches. Last season, the same area did not tally 15 inches until February 20.
3R visitors hit by rockslide
Sunday’s heavy rains brought down several large rocks in the vicinity of Lemon Hill at Lake Kaweah. Unfortunately for one couple on their way to Three Rivers for a Christmas program, it was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the right time.
That’s because when the material came down onto the eastbound lane of Highway 198, the driver found he was between a rock and a hard place. By the time the driver saw some rocks ahead in the roadway, another car was passing on the left in the turning lane for Lemon Hill. This was at the precise instant when the motorist needed to veer left, but found the lane blocked due to this illegal passing maneuver.
The man told a Lake Kaweah park ranger when he looked left, the passing vehicle was along side and he had no choice but to hit the brakes and strike the rocks already on the road. The impact tore out some of the car’s underside and it came to a grinding halt.
Another rock fell from the embankment and came to rest on top of the car. Both the driver and his wife were not injured.
The elderly couple told investigators that they were on their way to watch their grandchild perform at a Three Rivers church. The 6:41 p.m. mishap forced a slight change in plans because their vehicle had to be towed.
The slope where the rockslide originated was one that Caltrans had worked just two weeks ago. A Lake Kaweah ranger said that the slide probably would have been much worse if Caltrans crews had not done their preventative maintenance.
Christmas comes early…
Four generations will be enjoying the Christmas tree and gifts that were won in a raffle organized by the Three Rivers Volunteer Fire Department. Janne Harlow won the tree and will be enjoying Christmas with her mother, Helen Harlow, daughter Liz Harrelson, and granddaughter Hope Harrelson. All are residents of Three Rivers.
DUI factors into two single-vehicle accidents
Driving under the influence is bound to have consequences. Add in the wet, curvy mountain roads of Three Rivers this past week and there’s potential for tragedy.
That was certainly the case in two storm-related accidents that occurred earlier this week in Three Rivers. The first mishap occurred on Sunday, Dec. 19, at 2:30 p.m. during one of the recurring downpours.
A 49-year-old Three Rivers man was driving his 1999 Ford F-150 pickup westbound on Highway 198 east of Skyline Drive. The errant motorist failed to negotiate one of the S curves and ran off onto the right shoulder colliding with several large boulders.
The driver was visibly shaken but not seriously injured; the pickup suffered major damage. He was arrested at the scene for driving under the influence (DUI) and transported to Kaweah Delta Hospital where he was later released to spend the night in Tulare County Jail.
Another DUI-related accident occurred Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 10:40 p.m. According to a CHP officer’s report, the 19-year-old Three Rivers driver of a 1967 Ford Mustang was driving north on South Fork Drive at 40 m.p.h. when he ran off the roadway and struck a fence and several boulders.
The driver was arrested at the scene for DUI and was not seriously injured. A 32-year-old Three Rivers resident who was a passenger suffered lacerations to his face and head and appeared to be more seriously injured.
Both men were transported to Kaweah Delta Hospital. As of Wednesday, the 19-year-old was being held in Tulare County Jail awaiting an arraignment because a passenger was injured in the DUI-related crash.
The driver is expected to be arraigned in court on Monday, Dec. 27, so it’s likely he will be spending Christmas in Tulare County Jail.
Earl and Gaynor McKee
celebrate 60 years of marriage
The year was 1950, and Harry Truman was president. The Korean War had been ongoing for six months. The average salary in the U.S. was just under $3,000.
Households didn’t have color televisions, microwave ovens, or computers. Manufacturing and home construction were on the rise as the American economy was on the upswing after World War II. California celebrated its centennial.
The first ever Peanuts comic strip was published. All About Eve, starring Bette Davis, won the Oscar for Best Picture.
The average cost of a car was $1,510. A loaf of bread cost about 12 cents and coffee was 37 cents a pound. And local high school sweethearts Earl McKee and Gaynor Hardison were married in a Christmas-time ceremony.
On December 28, 1950, Earl and Gaynor, both 19 years of age, were married at the Community Presbyterian Church in Three Rivers, surrounded by family and friends. Sixty years later, the couple continues to reside in Three Rivers.
Earl’s family ties— Earl McKee II was born to Earl and Edna McKee in their ranch house on Old Three Rivers Drive, which is where he and Gaynor reside today. The property has been in Earl’s family since 1890, originally purchased by his grandparents, Frank and Rhoda Finch.
Earl McKee Sr. was a mountain guide and packer. During the summers, he operated the Wolverton Pack Station in Sequoia National Park from 1929 until his death in 1946 at the age of 54.
Even though he was just 15 when his dad passed away suddenly, Earl II followed in his footsteps, working at Wolverton in the summers and tending the ranch in Three Rivers. Today, as the third generation of his family to reside on the “Bar-O Ranch,” Earl breeds horses, many of which can be seen running the hills of Three Rivers, where they learn to master the art of being a true “mountain horse.”
These days, Earl is a patriarch of the community, a true cowboy, and a talented musician. He is a founding member of High Sierra Jazz Band and a longtime member of the Three Rivers Lions Club.
Gaynor’s family ties—Gaynor moved with her parents, Arthur “Sonny” and Norma Hardison, to Three Rivers when she was a youngster. She also has South Fork roots; her grandparents were Bob and Nell Lovering.
Gaynor’s mother arrived in Three Rivers with her parents by wagon in 1908. She was raised on their South Fork ranch (today owned by Paul and Nancy Smith).
Over the years, Gaynor has been a ballet teacher, taught tumbling and gymnastics, and produced the annual Our Gym Extravaganza, a community event to spotlight her students. She was the instructional aide for the kindergarten class at Three Rivers Union School for 25 years.
TRUS, the Three Rivers Lions Club, Woman’s Club, Sierra Traditional Jazz Club, and the Three Rivers Historical Society are just a few of the community institutions that have benefited from her involvement, especially her artistic and musical contributions.
60 years together—One might think that because Earl and Gaynor live where they were born and raised that they haven’t ventured very far afield. But their musical roots opened many doors for them.
Gaynor’s cousin married a musician and, to make a long story short, as a result of this union, jazz came to Three Rivers and Earl McKee was a member of the community’s first jazz band. As part of High Sierra Jazz Band, Earl has had the opportunity to travel around the world with Gaynor at his side.
In the 1950s, the couple had three beautiful, talented children — Linda, Chearl, and Earl III — all of whom were raised in Three Rivers and graduated from Woodlake High School like their parents. Sadly, “Little Earl” died in 1984 at the age of 26.
“Through this trying experience, my parents bonded deeply and became closer than ever before,” said daughter Chearl.
It is almost unfathomable what Earl and Gaynor have accomplished in their lives as a result of their family heritage, a massive dose of talent, and an endless supply of energy.
“More important than their accomplishments is the quality of character they both possess,” said Chearl. “The two of them have touched thousands of lives. What a treasure they are to our family and to everyone who has had the honor of knowing them.”