Rough Modesto-area weather starts fires, cancels concert, stops sports, cuts power

Cracks meant no pops Saturday night.

The Modesto Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening Picnic at the Pops concert on the E.&J. Gallo Winery grounds was canceled Saturday night as rain, lightning and cracks of thunder put on a show of their own across the area.

The National Lightning Detection Network detected 1,034 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes Saturday, according to a Facebook post by the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office. The post noted that “Stanislaus and Tuolumne Counties certainly saw their fair share of strikes!”

Saturday afternoon and evening, Modesto-Stanislaus-Turlock fire crews responded to about nine vegetation fires believed to be started by lightning strikes, Battalion Chief Ed Bartley told The Bee on Sunday morning. At least one more was likely, but not conclusively, caused by lightning.

The biggest was about 2:30 p.m. northeast of Oakdale. Stanislaus agencies and CalFire responded to the area of Sonora and Frankenheimer roads for a fire in an open field with no structures threatened. It was contained to 120 acres.

Minutes earlier, east of Oakdale, crews were dispatched to a vegetation fire in the 13000 block of Lancaster Road. They arrived to find that a small fire had been extinguished by property owners. That fire, Bartley said, is the one that likely was from a lightning strike, but the cause isn’t definitive.

During a thunderstorm Saturday afternoon, Sept. 9, this tree in the front yard of a home on the 2200 block of Pacific Avenue in Modesto was struck by lightning. Pieces of the tree struck the house, causing minor damage including a broken window.
During a thunderstorm Saturday afternoon, Sept. 9, this tree in the front yard of a home on the 2200 block of Pacific Avenue in Modesto was struck by lightning. Pieces of the tree struck the house, causing minor damage including a broken window.

About 3 p.m., firefighters were called to the 2200 block of Pacific Avenue, just off El Vista Avenue south of Scenic Drive, for a tree that had been struck by lightning. The incident report compiled by Bartley says, “Pieces of the tree struck the house, causing minor damage, including a broken window and two vents to the subfloor to be blown out. The house was checked for any signs of fire, and nothing was located.”

And at about 5:30 p.m., crews went to the 1500 block of East G Street in the City of Oakdale for multiple reports of a lightning strike that set a tree on fire.

According to Modesto Irrigation District weather data, only .09 inches of rain were measured Saturday, but it was all in the 6 p.m. hour. And the downpour was enough to shut down the outdoor Picnic at the Pops over concerns the storm could intensify.

“The musicians were set and really wanted to play, the conductor was ready & we even got a rainbow, but lightning, rain & thunder are not a good match for big metal stage, expensive instruments & sound equipment, ModestoView publisher Chris Murphy posted on his Facebook page. “Sad they had to cancel, but the way the storm continued, it was the right call but hard to do.”

On its own Facebook page, the Modesto Symphony Orchestra posted, “The Modesto Symphony Orchestra thanks everyone who came and braved the weather with us. We will be updating our website and will email all ticket buyers early next week with their options.”

Modesto resident Margaret Parkhurst, who went to the would-have-been concert, told The Bee, “The experience was kind of scary with the thunder and lightning right on top of us. Got drenched but it was fun. The patrons were very nice and laughing the whole time. We just kept on going, welcoming the later patrons in our wet T-shirts.”

Picnic at the Pops was not the only event affected. The Modesto Junior College football game was stopped in the second quarter because of lightning strikes in the area, and everyone in the stadium was told to leave the stadium and go to their cars for the delay of about 45 minutes. And some races at the Kim Duyst Twilight Cross Country Invitational at the River Oaks Golf Course in Ceres were delayed by as much as two hours.

Photos of lightning are all over the social media pages of Stanislaus residents, as are reports of power outages Saturday night. A couple of people reported that “all of Newman” was dark at least briefly. One woman said she needed to refuel her car but gas pumps were out.

Sunday morning, the Turlock Irrigation District’s website said crews still were on power failures in parts of Modesto, Turlock, Keyes and Patterson. A 6:15 a.m. post on its Facebook page says, “Crews have been working through the night to restore the outages caused by last night’s lightning. We are still working on a full restoration in some areas. Thank you for your patience.”

Modesto Irrigation District spokeswoman Melissa Williams told The Bee on Sunday morning in an email, “It was a busy night for MID. We experienced multiple scattered power outages throughout our service area due to the lightning. Much of our work throughout the night and into the early morning included repairing transformers. (There were fortunately no downed power lines during this storm.) As of this morning, we have restored power to most all affected customers and continue with storm assessment.”