Northern California Braces for Powerful Storm

Crews in Northern California cleared storm drains and residents loaded up on sandbags Wednesday ahead of a powerful storm that was expected to pack hurricane-force winds capable of toppling trees and power lines and heavy rains that could cause streams and rivers to flood.

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As much as 8 inches of rain could fall on coastal mountains over a 24-hour period starting late Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. Ski resorts in the northern Sierra Nevada could get more than 2 feet of snow.

``It's a short amount of time for that amount of water,'' Weather Service forecaster Diana Henderson said. ``We are anticipating some localized flooding, maybe some downed trees and downed power trees. It could have an effect on a wide range of people.''

The storm is expected to be one of the windiest and rainiest in five years and could also cause debris slides, especially in areas affected by this year's intense and widespread wildfires.

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Wind gusts of up to 70 mph were expected on mountain tops, creating possible blizzard conditions in the Sierra. Rain, pounding surf and gusty winds were forecast for Southern California starting Thursday evening and into Friday.

In California's agricultural heartland, farmers were looking forward to the dousing after three years of drought. Parts of the state have experienced above-average rainfall this year, but not enough to make much of a dent in the drought.

James McFarlane, a third-generation farmer who grows mandarin oranges, almonds and alfalfa in Fresno County, said workers would have to stop picking citrus crops during the storm. But rain this time of year tends to make fruit bigger, allowing it to fetch higher prices.

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``If we're not getting some Mother Nature-dictated time off out in the field, that probably means we're going to have a hard time finding surface water in the warmer months,'' he said.

The rain and, more importantly, the snow falling in the Sierra Nevada that melts during the spring and summer fill the reservoirs that supply irrigation water during the hot, dry months.

In San Francisco, where as much as 4 inches of rain was forecast, crews removed loose rocks from a hillside to prevent them from crashing down, and residents were advised to sweep up leaves and debris in front of their properties to prevent them from clogging storm drains.

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``We have crews working starting tonight in 12-hour shifts,'' said Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for San Francisco's public works agency. ``It will be all hands on deck.''

Farther north, a series of strong weather fronts with high winds and heavy rains could lead to flooding and landslides this week in western Washington state.

The National Weather Service expects as much as 14 inches of rain between Monday and Thursday in the Olympic Mountains west of Seattle. And it expects as much as 13 inches of rain in the North Cascades east of the city.

Saturated soils will bring the risk of mudslides, while winds could topple trees.

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High winds were also forecast in Oregon.

NBC Bay Area's Damian Trujillo, Kris Sanchez and Telemundo's Lucero Benitez contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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