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September 22, 2013

Heavy rain sweeps through Modesto

Rain sends cars sliding, alarms sounding and fireplaces crackling Saturday.

A real gully-washer swept through town Saturday afternoon, clearing the dusty harvest air but dropping only a third of an inch of rain by Modesto Irrigation District’s measure. With the storm came a flurry of fender benders and a few more serious accidents.

“We had a ton of vehicle accidents with the rain,” said Battalion Chief Alan Ernst of the Modesto Regional Fire Authority. “With the first rain, the roads are really slick. People need to slow down.”

Modesto Regional responded to about 70 calls by 8 p.m., as many as they normally field in a busy 24-hour period, Ernst said. Among them were five false alarms, triggered by the storm. And a number of homes that were reported to have burning roofs turned out to be fireplace smoke coming from chimneys.

Ernst said his department responded to several rollover wrecks with mild to moderate injuries and a handful of lesser wrecks. A vehicle that struck a tree and a power pole around 3 p.m. at Sylvan Avenue and Coffee Road dropped what was believed to be a power line, closing the road for about 45 minutes, he said. It was later found to be a telephone line.

The worst wreck of the day, however, happened before the rain, shortly after 10 a.m. on Highway 99 near the Hammett Road overpass in Ripon. No details were available Saturday on the accident that involved a number of vehicles, clogging the highway for much of the day.

Gusty winds sent an autumn chill through the day. Temperatures never pushed the MID thermometers past 74degrees, just a few sunbeams over the record minimum of 71degrees for Sept. 21, set back in 1945.

After a morning of ominous clouds, the mid-afternoon soaking cleared parks and cleansed sidewalks. But where Modesto got a third of an inch, Turlock Irrigation District’s in-town station recorded a fraction of that, leaving Turlock’s gullies to be washed another day.

“Modesto got the tail end of it. It went all the way to the border,” said National Weather Service forecaster Johnnie Powell. Redding got an inch of rain and Paradise got 1.5 inches. Sacramento got half an inch and San Francisco a bit less, he said. As night fell, thunderstorms crackled over Davis.

Snow fell as low as the 6,000-foot elevation, Powell said. Highway 120 was closed due to snow at Crane Flat, according to the Caltrans road information website.

There were no crime incidents of note in Modesto during the flash squall, said Modesto police Lt. David Van Diemen. The Tuolumne River Trust’s trash pickup day along banks just got a little extra help, he commented, “I imagine it just gave them a good clean sweep afterward.”

Dusty harvest skies sparkled after the speed wash. Air quality moved to the best category (good) on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District website.

Today’s forecast calls for sunny skies and balmy temperatures in the 80s.

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