'Fire in the hole': California crews scramble to blow up boulders on highway before bomb cyclone hits

As a bomb cyclone storm fueled by a Pineapple Express charges toward California, crews quickly try to clean up from previous deadly storms.

KYBURZ, Calif. – Explosives experts made quick work of clearing a few huge boulders off a highway near South Lake Tahoe, California, on Monday. Officials scramble in the calm before the storm as another atmospheric river-fueled storm plows towards the state.

The tractor-trailer-sized rocks fell on New Year's Eve during a previous record-breaking storm, super-sized by an atmospheric river called the Pineapple Express. The occasional tropical moisture pipeline flows from Hawaii to the West Coast to earn its name.

Fire in the hole

"3, 2, 1! Fire in the hole," yelled a crew member before exploding the behemoths into gravel and dust. 

The large stones reduced Highway 50 to one lane in each direction for over two days. The road is one of just three main connectors to South Lake Tahoe, a popular holiday destination, especially for skiers enjoying all the fresh snow.



While the blasting took just a few seconds, prep and cleanup took much longer. The California Department of Transportation blocked all lanes in both directions for about an hour on Monday. Traffic piled up much longer, though.

"When did the road finally open? I was one of the cars In the 4+ mile long line," complained a motorist on Twitter. "We, like many others, turned around after waiting a couple hours because of lack of Information. No cell service for most of that stretch."

Bomb cyclone moving in

Northern California is scrambling to clean up after the parade of atmospheric river storms over the past couple of weeks to prepare for the bomb cyclone. This rapidly intensifying storm is forecast to dump inches of rain on the already saturated ground in the lowlands. Higher elevations are bracing for feet of snow on top of what they have already seen.



"Rain totals over the past 2 months are running between 100-300% of average.  In just the past two weeks, 3-12" of rain has completely saturated the soils.  So any additional rain will have nowhere to go and will instead run off into area creeks, streams and rivers resulting in widespread flooding," said the FOX Forecast Center. "Without the prior rain, this event would be much less dangerous as dry soils would have no problem absorbing much of the water and only limited flood impacts would occur."

KTVU FOX 2 reports that sandbags are in short supply across the Bay Area. The San Francisco Department of Public Works told FOX 2 that they have given out 8,500 sandbags since Saturday. They are running low and "actively seeking more sandbags."

"It was like a river coming down from the street onto the sidewalk. We literally, we didn't have sandbags, so we got bags of cat litter just to kind of block off some of the water," said a San Francisco merchant who made due. "I need to let the merchants know they need to get some sandbags just in case."

Public works crews across the area are frantically clearing storm drains. Residents rush to clear debris from creeks near their homes. All the efforts will hopefully prevent a repeat of scenes of water rescues and knee-deep water in homes that recently played out. 

The National Weather Service used strong wording in its discussion to warn Californians of the incoming storm.

"To put it simply, this will likely be one of the most impactful systems on a widespread scale that this meteorologist has seen in a long while," wrote an NWS meteorologist. "The impacts will include widespread flooding, roads washing out, hillsides collapsing, trees down (potentially full groves), widespread power outages, immediate disruption to commerce, and worst of all, likely loss of human life."

The FOX Forecast Center calls for 8-10" of rain for the coastal mountains. Up to 3 feet of snow could fall in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where winds may gust to 100 mph at the ridge lines.

Be sure to download the FOX Weather app to track these storms and receive potentially life-saving weather alerts issued by the National Weather Service. The free FOX Weather livestream is also available 24/7 on the website and app and on your WATCH FOX WEATHER ON TV. The FOX Weather Update podcast also provides weather information for the entire country.