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California Weather: A Brief Respite Between Storms

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The latest in a blustering series of storms swept across California, knocking out power, raising fears of flooding, and closing two main highways.

The storm dumped more than an inch of rain Thursday across much of Northern California, said Drew Peterson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento.

"There may be few more showers overnight," Peterson said. But the state was expected to get a respite Friday.

Though rain had subsided in lower elevations, snow was still falling in the Sierra, forcing the California Highway Patrol to keep Interstate 80 – the main highway from Nevada to Northern California – closed amid whiteout conditions and the threat of avalanche.

A CHP dispatcher late Thursday could not say when the freeway would be open to traffic again.

Heavy rains also caused a mud-and rock slide blocking coastal Highway 1, preventing traffic from reaching the iconic community of Big Sur. Access to Big Sur from the north was cut off last week when a stretch of Highway 1 collapsed.

Further south, heavy rain sent tons of mud across Highway 74 in Orange County, closing it for hours Thursday, while gale force winds and 14-foot waves lashed the southern and central coasts.

Winds gusting to 55 mph and rain knocked out power to tens of thousands of Pacific Gas and Electric customers early in the day. Among the hardest hit areas was around Yosemite National Park, where some customers have been without power since the weekend, said Denny Boyles, a PG&E spokesman.

Thursday's storms were the latest in a series that has swelled lakes, reservoirs and rivers in much of the state, prompting flood concerns in some areas. Officials at Shoreline Unified School District in Marin County closed campuses amid concerns about road flooding.

In Northern California, the residents of 224 homes in the Santa Cruz County community of Felton were forced to temporarily evacuate their homes Thursday because of concerns about the rising waters of the San Lorenzo River. About 825 people live in the area. No damage was reported.

The evacuation came after the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning when pouring rain swelled the San Lorenzo River and other nearby rivers and creeks.

More than 5 inches of rain fell within a 24-hour period in nearby Ben Lomond, according to the National Weather Service.

Farther north, authorities in Tehama County were hoping to find some sign of a man who disappeared while swimming in high water as he tried to save a dog from an inundated homeless camp near Red Bluff.

Thursday's storm complicated efforts to repair damage from earlier storms. Residents of more than 30 homes outside Scotts Valley, about 35 miles southeast of San Jose, have been unable leave their homes by car since a rockslide on Monday.

Ski resorts were touting the storms, which added more than 8 feet of snow this week.

Forecasters were still wary of possible thunderstorms Thursday afternoon, though heavy cloud cover meant the risk was smaller than it had been the prior day.

A storm cell spawned a tornado Wednesday afternoon that damaged several homes and a vehicle in the Northern California town of Williams, about 60 miles northwest of Sacramento.

The next storm in line isn't expected to be quite as fierce, with weaker winds, but it could add rain and snow into Sunday before things start to dry out.

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Associated Press writer Sudhin Thanawala contributed to this report.

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