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Endless Winter: Rural Northern California braces for another storm

This isn’t some old-fashioned tale: Lori Ford has been walking two miles down a dirt road, knee-deep in snow, just to get to work this month.

The pharmacy technician lives in the Mendocino County mountains north of Willits. Keeping his eyes peeled for bears and mountain lions, he’s been walking from his house down a narrow mountain road to a four-wheel drive vehicle that he keeps parked at the bottom of the mountain for the rest of his life. commute to work .

Over the past three weeks, and atmospheric river storm after atmospheric river storm, there has been over 4 feet of dust at your house. The steep path became too dangerous to drive.

But, by God, he’s still been clocking up the Garberville Pharmacy in neighboring Humboldt County.

He just can’t believe there are more storms on the way and that his hellish commute to work could be like this for a while yet.

Are you ready for spring?

“It was ready yesterday,” Ford said. “I’m ready for winter to end so I can complain about the heat in the summer.”

In rural Northern California, people aren’t exactly excited to have another storm this week, driven by another atmospheric river.

Hitting northern and central California hardest, the storm threatens to cause widespread flooding as warm rains melt a record accumulation of snow.

Rivers and streams in Mendocino, Monterey, Merced, Stanislaus, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties could experience flooding, according to the National Weather Service.

Many of those rivers flooded in January, when nine consecutive atmospheric rivers battered the state, causing at least 22 deaths, including people killed by falling trees and rising waters.

In recent days, emergency crews have used helicopters to airdrop bales of hay to thousands of cattle starving in the snow in Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties.

The storm system hitting the region this week is much warmer, and at higher elevations, “we expect rain to soak up the snowpack,” said Kathleen Zontos, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Eureka.

“That can make the snow much heavier, so if there’s a lot of snow on roofs, that can be a concern. The snow load can be quite heavy, and people should safely consider, of course, clearing their roofs to lighten the load.”

Zontos said that while the northern California coast normally gets plenty of rain in the winter, deluges this season are catching people off guard after several years of drought.

That region should see heavy rain through Friday, with light rain over the weekend. Another atmospheric river storm with possible flooding is possible early next week, she said.

Ryan Rhoades, superintendent of the Mendocino City Community Services District, said his fog-shrouded coastal village has received 29 inches of rain so far this year. It’s right at the historical average, down to an inch, he said.

That’s a big change from the last two years. Amid Mendocino’s worst drought on record, the coastal city, which has no municipal water system, had wells going dry and relied on expensive trucked-in water to stave off the crisis.

At least in Mendocino, the rain this week isn’t too bad, Rhoades said Thursday, noting that it was pouring rain outside.

“I don’t want to say that the drought is over. I don’t want to say things are good, because it’s still early, but it’s much worse in other parts of the county and state than it is here,” she said. “People are relieved and happy because there is water in their wells.”

As for Ford, storms can’t end fast enough.

Living off the grid in “the slums,” she and her husband are used to having to stock up on food, water and gas for their generator in an emergency. But this winter has been brutal, she said.

“This is like Colorado snow weather,” her Colorado-native husband proclaimed this month.

Ford does the snowy hike and drives to Garberville on Wednesdays. She works and stays with a friend at a lower elevation, and comes back up the mountain to be with her husband and her two young children of hers on Fridays.

He worries that the snow will melt this week and what it will do to lower-elevation cities. And he cares about his own house.

“We could have a landslide on our property,” he said. “The snow has saturated the ground so much that the water has nowhere to go.”

At Garberville Pharmacy, he has spent a lot of time commiserating with customers.

The pharmacy, next to the Eel river, is at a lower elevation, so snow is not a problem. But customers in remote areas drive for hours, even in the best of conditions, to get their prescriptions, said pharmacist Bryan Coleman.

“Most of our patients are affected by storms,” Coleman said. “We have some struggling to get down from the mountains in the snow and some struggling to get up from the ocean,” dodging downed trees and power lines.

One of your fellow pharmacists has been stuck at home for days, unable to go to work.

On Wednesday, Coleman mailed a prescription for a snowbound patient in the mountain town of Zenia, 30 miles away. The post office, he said, offered to deliver the medication to a nearby fire station where the patient could pick it up.

In recent days, pharmacy staff rushed to fill prescriptions for far-flung patients who had made it to the store, only to rush home before another storm hit.

“It’s just…it’s a mess,” Coleman said.