Highway 140 to Yosemite closed as experts predict rainfall to continue to weekend

A vehicle driving along West Main Street is reflected in a puddle as rain showers move through Merced, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018.
A vehicle driving along West Main Street is reflected in a puddle as rain showers move through Merced, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Rain will continue throughout Merced and Mariposa counties through the weekend, possibly causing dangerous road conditions, according to weather and public works officials.

Caltrans on Wednesday made the call to shut down Highway 140 near the Ferguson Fire burn area starting at 2 a.m. Thursday, due to the inclement weather.

About a half-inch of rain had fallen through much of Merced County as of mid-Wednesday, said Daniel Harty, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hanford. Rainfall totals were approaching an inch in the Sierra foothills.

A flash flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service early Wednesday afternoon for central Mariposa County and southeast Tuolumne County.

The warning, expected to lift at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, cautioned motorists of a heightened risk of mudslides, rock slides and vegetation on the roadways.

While there weren’t any major issues on Merced or Mariposa county roads Wednesday, officials in Mariposa County are bracing for and hoping against the dangerous road conditions that come with heavy or prolonged rainfall the rest of the week.

“Right now, we’re not having any issues and our roads are in pretty good shape,” said Jean Dordan with the Mariposa County Public Works Department. ”Our biggest concern is the burn-scar area near the Ferguson Fire.”

Thursday there could be isolated thunderstorms and gusty winds in Merced County, Harty said. A Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office news release states rain could be heavy in the foothills Thursday, possibly reaching an inch per hour.

“More rain is coming in this week,” Harty said, noting much of it will fall in the southern part of Merced County. “We’ve got some heavier stuff late tonight.”

Rainfall in Merced County this year has been about 40 percent below normal, according to National Weather Service data.

But this storm could change by next week, with the possibility of another storm front moving in Saturday after an expected break in the rain on Friday.

With the current storm, Yosemite National Park officials shut down Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road for the winter season due to anticipated snowfall and road conditions.

“Avoid travel if at all possible,” Harty said. “And if you do travel, allow for time.”

Vikaas Shanker is a news reporter covering education and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. He also is a data fellow of the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. A Chicago area native and University of Kansas graduate, he has been reporting in Merced County since 2016.