Damages flood in as cities recover from recent storms

The city of Woodlake, among others, were subject to flooding after an atmospheric river rolled into the valley

WOODLAKE – As an atmospheric river flows through the central valley, local cities are being plunged into flood hazards and water damage.

The north side of Woodlake was filled to the brim with water damage, as firefighters and policemen floated canoes across streets to retrieve residents whose homes were flooded. Among the most affected areas were Pine Street, the areas surrounding F.J. White Learning Center, Yokut, Walnut and Cajon roads.

Some streets were so flooded that parked cars were halfway engulfed in the murky waters, and some residents even posted pictures of the knee-deep waters that were flowing through their front yards.The city was handing out sandbags to residents in attempts to mitigate the flooding, and had also opened up the Woodlake Community Center for those who needed emergency shelter on March 10.

Since then, they have been using Exeter’s emergency shelter for residents. According to Woodlake city manager Ramon Lara, the flooding is beginning to subside today, moving the city into “clean up mode.” With the help of fire, police, city staff and volunteers, they have been able to clear debris pulled in by the flood. However, Lara said they are preparing for anticipated storms within the next few days.

“By the end of the day [on March 13] we should have everything cleaned up. But like I mentioned, there’s potentially another storm that’s coming in,” Lara said. “We’re hoping that we can have everything cleaned up and back to normal and we’ll see what the storms bring, and we’ll continue to prepare for that.”

A large contributor to the city’s floods was the most recent atmospheric river, a narrow column of condensed water vapor that floats from the pacific ocean to the central valley and produces major rainfall, and then floats to the Sierra Nevadas. The atmospheric river produces rain that is much warmer than the snowpack that lines the Sierra Nevadas, which causes major snow melt. This comes at a time when the National Parks recorded historically heavy snowpack.

This means that not only is the heavy rainfall contributing to flooding within these cities, but the majority of it is coming from the Sierra Nevada’s snow melt. The damages are plentiful, with some cities seeing houses filled with water and others seeing their bridges completely wiped away. For Woodlake, the snowmelt and rainfall caused Antelope Creek to rise higher than capacity, flooding local areas.

Meteorologist Jerald Meadows said that the heavy snowpack had significantly contributed to the atmospheric river’s influence on the local floods.

“This particular scenario is kind of unique, since two weeks ago we got some pretty heavy snowfall at low elevations, and now we’ve had these consecutive atmospheric rivers coming in afterwards,” Meadows said.

Meadows said that though this flooding is extreme, it’s not unheard of in the Central Valley. The weather in the valley is extremely complex, and can be either extremely dry or extremely wet. This happened to a similar intensity on New Years of 1997 due to an influx of atmospheric rivers.

However, Woodlake was not the only city affected. Surrounding cities such as Exeter, Lindsay, Three Rivers and Porterville were all hit by the recent floods.


Three bridges have been washed away in Three Rivers, such as Baillie Bridge, Connelly Bridge and Railroad Bridge. Dinley, Pumpkin Hollow and North Fork Bridge are fortunately built much higher and have not been damaged by the flooding. The washed out roads and bridges have trapped many people in the South Fork area of Three Rivers, causing one resident, Kacie Fleeman, to start a petition calling for the National Guard to repair the roadways.

“There are 160+ residents trapped in a portion of Three Rivers, California off of South Fork Drive. South Fork is a one way in and out road, and a bridge that connects residents to the main town has washed away. There is significant damage beyond just that bridge,” Fleeman stated in the petition.

Three Rivers was subject to road and bridge damage after the recent storms in January, as well. However, South Fork’s damaged roads were not fully fixed after this storm, but instead only had a temporary solution. Three Rivers is an unincorporated community, so they currently rely on Tulare County for road repairs and maintenance.

“We have a high volume of elderly people stranded that would be considered high risk for medical emergencies,” Fleeman said. “We are asking that the National Guard step in to do temporary repairs as soon as possible as we have no access to any emergency services or stores for basic necessities.”

Not only that, but on March 10, Sheriff Mike Boudreaux issued an evacuation after the Kaweah River flooded unincorporated communities between Lake Kaweah and the entrance to Sequoia National Park. The sheriff issued an evacuation order for all homes and businesses on North Fork Drive, south of the Baillie Bridge to Sierra Drive (Highway 198); all homes and businesses on South Fork Drive, north of Connelly Bridge to Sierra Drive (Highway 198); all homes and businesses along the Middle Fork, Sierra Drive (Highway 198) to the National Park Boundary, including Mineral King Road. He has also recommended sheltering in place for those living on North Fork Drive, north of the Bailey Bridge and all homes on South Fork Drive, south of the Connelly Bridge.


The outlying areas of Lindsay were primarily affected by the recent storms, according to city manager Joe Tanner. Around 20 homes were affected by the flooding, and over 21,000 bags of sand were distributed throughout the city.

“We started to get overwhelmed with sandbag requests at one point, so to keep the line moving we assigned city staff and volunteers to come out,” Tanner said. “In the last few days, we’ve had our Lindsay High Schoolers out there assisting us, such as the football team and the kids from J.J. Cairns out there.”

Lindsay’s biggest concern is the overflowing of Lewis Creek. However, the current storm water system has been able to manage the overflow. It became “overwhelmed” for only a short period of time, but drained fairly quickly, according to Tanner.

The city does not currently have an emergency shelter in place yet, but if the need arises, they will be potentially opening the local senior center up to residents. Until the floods and storms no longer pose a threat, all city buildings will be closed until further notice. Tanner said the city will be communicating with residents through Facebook until then.


Springville has also been significantly hit as the Tule River overflowed along its southern banks and into town. There have been evacuation orders for homes and businesses from the Lower Rio Vista east of Bridge Drive to east of Pleasant Oak Drive on Highway 190. This will include all roads, access roads and areas in between. Not included is Pleasant Oak Drive.

A “shelter in place” order has also been issued for areas of Springville and Pine Flat. The order includes homes along Manter Meadow Road in Pine Flat due to a bridge washout. The road is closed at Manter Meadow and Capinero Creek. A bridge failure along Wagner Drive at Harris Road north of Springville is causing a Shelter in Place order. Residents along Balch Park Road, northeast of Yokohl Valley Drive, should shelter in place due to a damaged bridge on Balch Park Road just east Yokohl Valley Drive.


Meadows said that it is difficult to predict how many atmospheric rivers will hit the valley, but the bright side is that enough of them would keep the water levels high enough to get California through its current drought. The local area averages about 10 inches of rain a year, but that can be as low as three inches but as much as 20, according to Meadows. So capturing as much rain as possible is essential for the drier years. Within the last three days, the Lake Kaweah Weather Station recorded roughly 18 inches of rain, according to NWS data.

“There is a considerable amount of water stored in the snowpack still, even with the snowmelt and the flooding we’ve seen,” Meadows said. “A lot of that water we capture in our reservoirs across the state.”

Meadows does expect to see much more rainfall in the coming weeks, which will prolong recent flooding. However, there is no prediction for how many more atmospheric rivers will roll in, though Meadows believes there will be more. Much of the snowpack will by then be melted as the state rolls into summer months, so the flood damage may not be as significant as the current months.

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