West gets four feet of snow

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By Robert Weller

Associated Press writer

Skiers and farmers in drought-stricken Western states were rejoicing after a wave of storms dumped much-needed precipitation.

Some areas in California and Colorado got more than 4 feet of snow last week, and more was falling Sunday. Other areas that had seen little rain for months reported up to 6 inches.

California farmers and ranchers said the rain would provide new grass for cattle and improve harvests of oranges and Christmas trees.

Three ski resorts opened in California and five opened in Colorado. Last year, most didn't open until nearly Thanksgiving because of balmy weather.

The drought is severe to extreme in 80 percent of the West, and the worst since the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s.

"When all is said and done this storm will probably dump as much snow in most of Colorado's mountains as it (normally) gets in the whole of November. And it will mean three months in a row with above-average precipitation," said Klaus Wolter, an atmospheric scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

With the El Nino weather pattern apparently reasserting itself, weather experts say Western states can expect even more precipitation.

In addition to last week's storms, Colorado ski resorts got 3 feet of snow in October.

"The lines are really bad because there has been such a drought that everybody came out when the snow fell," said skier John Meyung, who took advantage of the early snow at Keystone Resort about 50 miles west of Denver.

The storms also wreaked havoc. In California they triggered flash floods, cut power to thousands of homes and killed two people Friday when a tree fell across a trans-Sierra highway. On Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard called off searches for two people who had been swept out to sea by giant waves off the California coast.

Storms pound California

By Justin Pritchard

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 10 (AP) - A trio of powerful storms that trundled through California tapered off Saturday evening, leaving behind extensive damage and sweeping two people out to sea.

About 22,700 utility customers remained without power Saturday evening. Since the storms hit Wednesday night, nearly 1.6 million customers lost power, the companies said.

Clean-up crews in the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Sonora spent Saturday slogging through a muddy flash flood that rushed though city streets overnight. No injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard has called off searches for two people swept out to sea by giant waves - a 4-year-old boy who lived north of Eureka and a 26-year-old man who was walking Friday afternoon on a beach near Santa Cruz.

"The chances of survival were pretty much nil," said Coast Guard Petty Office Carl Hausner of the Santa Cruz incident. Buoys in the area showed swells between 20 and 25 feet.

The California Highway Patrol closed U.S. 50 for three hours Friday night after a large tree fell across the trans-Sierra highway, killing two in a vehicle at Echo Summit, said Laurie Finch, highway patrol dispatcher.

The storms, which dumped nearly 2 inches of rain on San Francisco and up to 8 inches in coastal mountains south of the city, were dwindling Saturday and only scattered showers were expected overnight, according to the National Weather Service.

Mount Wilson got 3.38 inches, the nation's highest rainfall Saturday.

As the Pacific-fueled storm moved into western Colorado on Saturday, snow, wind and ice touched off dozens of traffic accidents on Interstate 70. No serious injures were reported.

Colorado State Patrol trooper Rob Marone said more than 60 accidents were reported along I-70 in the central mountains, where wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour were reported.

"There's blowing snow. There are blizzard-like conditions and it's real icy," Marone said.

The storms did have an upside: The only two Lake Tahoe ski resorts open so far - Boreal atop Donner Summit and Mt. Rose above Reeno - offered top-to-bottom skiing Saturday for the first time this season.

"It's dumping right now. It's awesome," Boreal spokeswoman Jody Churich said.

Resorts open

On Monday morning, lifts were operating at Boreal, Mt. Rose and Mammoth in the Sierra; Brighton in Utah; Lake Louise, Alberta; and Copper, Keystone, Loveland and Wolf Creek in Colorado.

In the Northeast, the following ski areas are now open: Killington, Okemo, Jiminy Peak, Whiteface, Btomont and Mt. St. Saveur.