Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Looking downstream from the North Fork Bridge at the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at noon. (Click arrows for additional photo to see what a difference a day makes.)Looking downstream from the North Fork Bridge at the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River on Thursday, Feb. 14, at noon.

Atmospheric river brings rain and snow to Kaweah Country

By: 
John Elliott

 

WEATHER WATCH (a weekly summary): It has been a chilly winter around these parts, and it’s not over yet. It doesn’t look as if the  high temperature will rise much above 50 degrees in the next seven days. This past week has had everything from clear to stormy, freezing to humid, rainbows and alpenglows to winds and hail and thunder. The snow level on Sunday, Feb. 10, dropped to 2,500 feet. With the current temperatures in the forecast, it’s possible that snowfall will touch down even lower than that. Keep the fire stoked!

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At the beginning of this week the conditions were in place for what, at the very least, would have been a rapid rise in the river with low-lying riverfront properties in Three Rivers inundated with water. As of Thursday, Feb. 14, the recent round of storms had produced a couple more inches of rain during the past week in Three Rivers, and the snowmelt (Wednesday-Thursday) in the nearby mountains resulted in flows in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River that peaked at 4,000 cubic feet per second. 
 
Historic flows
For comparison, the peak flows of January 3, 1997, on the Middle Fork reached more than 62,000 cfs; on December 22, 1955, when the North Fork Bridge washed out, those flows were estimated at 110,000 cfs. 
 
The 1955 flood, the result of heavy rain on a deep snowpack, caused widespread destruction of property and it took the County of Tulare until 1957 to complete the rebuilding of the bridge that is there today. The Flood of ‘55 was also the motivation for the completion of Terminus Dam in 1962, which created Lake Kaweah.
 
This week’s storms
Heavy rains were reported at Wuksachi (7,500 feet) throughout Wednesday, Feb. 13, on top of a snowpack that measured six to seven feet on the northern exposures. For today (Friday, Feb. 15) and throughout the weekend, forecasters are calling for dramatically dropping temperatures in front of the next two waves of moisture. Three Rivers should expect two more inches of rain Saturday and Sunday and a dusting of snow down to at least 2,000 feet. 
 
Keeping an eye on the inflow
Terminus Dam tenders said they expect the heaviest rainfall to come over the weekend. As of Thursday, Feb. 14, Lake Kaweah had a pool elevation of 603.24 feet above mean sea level (715 amsl is the max); storage was  22,081 acre-feet;  with outflow 1,160 cfs; and mean inflow 895 cfs. 
 
Operators are releasing more water than is coming in, typical during potentially higher flow events.
 
Snowpack and rain totals
As of Thursday, Feb. 14, the snowpack at Mineral King above 7,500 feet was six feet. There is five to seven feet of snow currently at Giant Forest and Lodgepole.
 
In Three Rivers, 12 inches of rainfall has been recorded year-to-date. By this time next week, there will be more than 14 inches recorded (at 1,000 feet elevation). That means it’s within reach to receive 20 inches this season, which is the 30-year April 1 average. 
 
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