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Atmospheric river dumps rain on valley, mountain areas, bringing needed moisture, but problems, too

What is it they say about rainy days and Mondays always getting you down?

Not here in the drought-stricken San Joaquin Valley, where a wet and wild storm almost always brings you up.

Monday's much-anticipated storm, designated a very wet “atmospheric river” by meteorologists, started soaking down Bakersfield and other communities in the southern San Joaquin Valley and Kern County mountains Monday morning. Following one of the driest years on record, the rain was seen as a welcome respite, although that doesn’t mean it didn’t come with potential risks and inconveniences, including road closures and power outages.

The National Weather Service in Hanford even threw in a tornado warning late Monday afternoon for areas northwest and west of Bakersfield, said NWS meteorologist Jim Andersen.

"Any tornado warning is rare for us," Andersen said. "But we did put out a tornado warning for western Kern County."

As of 6:30 p.m., they had not received verification that a tornado did touch down in Kern, he said.

NWS also issued what they call an airport weather warning to Meadows Field Airport. These warnings, Andersen said, are essentially reminders that lightning could be active and potentially dangerous.

By early evening, Andersen was able to provide some preliminary rainfall totals, with Bakersfield receiving 0.74 inch, or about three-quarters of an inch.

Isabella Dam measured 0.67 inch; Riverkern saw 0.44; and Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert received 0.24 inch of rain.

By late morning Monday, city crews were working under steady rainfall at intersections where nuisance flooding was affecting traffic flow. At 11:30 a.m., two city employees were working a flood zone at the northeast corner of White Lane and Wible Road, with one signaling drivers to avoid the nearly knee-deep water and the other using a tool to clear the problem.

An hour later, they were gone and the intersection was clear, but several other locations were seeing similar problems, including flooding of streets in Lamont.

A rockslide at 12:09 p.m. Monday forced the temporary closure of Highway 178 though the Kern River Canyon, the CHP said. But by 1:50 p.m. the agency reported that the debris had been cleared and the highway had been reopened.

Farther upriver, some communities were vulnerable to mudslides and debris flows, especially in areas affected by earlier wildfires, such as the French Fire.

According to the National Weather Service's Hanford station, the area around Highway 155, between Wofford Heights and Alta Sierra is considered a modest- to high-risk burn zone, and is susceptible to slides. 

However, there were no reports of debris flows or slides endangering Kern River Valley residents Monday.

PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen said the utility's meteorology team monitors the weather 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

As a result, planning for the storm began long before the storm arrived.

"We have a plan, and we want our customers to have a plan as well when it comes to potential outages — not only for winter storms, but for year-round."

Big rains and strong winds have the potential for downed power lines, she said. 

"We're always working with first-responders," Allen said, "ahead of storms like this."

PG&E reported at least three storm-related outages in Bakersfield before press time Monday that affected about 7,500 customers in areas in east Bakersfield, downtown, central Bakersfield, and south Bakersfield.

But power appeared to be back on for those customers by mid-afternoon, according to the utility's website.

As the thunder and lightning settled in the late afternoon, a rainbow formed over Bakersfield. It seemed like a fitting ending to a day that surely put a dent in both the drought and wildfire season.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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