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Rain and Wind Ease Up in Bay Area but Huge Waves Batter Coast and Flooding, Power Outages Continue

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Pedestrians walk on a flooded road, surrounded by trees.
Pedestrians walk along a flooded road in Sebastopol in Sonoma County on Jan. 5, 2023. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

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Update, 12 p.m. Friday: The weather in Northern California was significantly calmer on Friday, offering a brief respite before two more atmospheric rivers slam the region this weekend and into next week.

As of Friday morning, evacuation and shelter-in-place orders had been lifted in Sacramento County. In Sonoma County, the evacuation warning was still in effect for all residents living near the Russian River floodway and its tributaries from Healdsburg to Jenner, where the river is likely to flood in the coming days. Marin County issued a flood watch from 4 a.m. Saturday to 4 p.m. Tuesday. Various roads also remained closed throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

In coastal areas on Friday, wave heights were significantly lower than in previous days, although the surf remained dangerous along much of the coast. As of Friday afternoon, an evacuation order was lifted for the low-lying areas of the Rio Del Mar Esplanade in Santa Cruz County, but an evacuation warning remained in effect for low-lying residences in sections of nearby Capitola.

As of Friday morning, Pacific Gas and Electric had restored power to more than 200,000 customers, but said that tens of thousands of residents in its service area were still without power, including up to 17,000 customers in the Bay Area, according to reporting from Bay City News. The utility reportedly mobilized 3,000 workers and contractors to continue repair work before the next storm.

The recent succession of storms have helped with California's drought conditions, moving the state out of the "exceptional drought" category, but the precipitation won't be nearly enough to officially end the four-year drought.

Update, 4 p.m. Thursday: Pacific Gas and Electric on Thursday afternoon said about 440,000 customers across its vast service area — including a number of schools — lost power at some point on Wednesday or Thursday morning. Roughly 325,000 have had their power restored, and another 40,000 should be back online by late Thursday, the utility said.

Customers who still don’t have power after today could be in for a long wait, said Janisse Quiñones, PG&E's senior vice president of electric operations.

“Because we don't have access to many of the areas, or the conditions are really dangerous for our crews, trees are falling around them, we have flooding and soil movement when they are trying to restore our service,” Quiñones said in an afternoon press briefing. She noted that winds late Wednesday reached close to 100 mph in some higher-elevation service areas. “Right now our [helicopters] are grounded. The weather is preventing us from bringing any aerial equipment up in the air.”

Quiñones said there are 369 PG&E restoration crews currently out in the field, along with about 25 crews from other West Coast utilities providing mutual aid. But the succession of storms and the short windows of time between them have made restoration efforts challenging, she added.

“We have a series of storms coming in the system. We got hit on New Year’s [Eve] with a storm, we got hit yesterday with a storm, we’re expecting a storm Saturday, and another storm system Monday, which creates a very limited window of opening for restoration for our crews,” she said.

Quiñones urged anyone who sees a downed power line to first call 911 and then contact PG&E — and to never touch or get near it.

Update, 2:30 p.m. Thursday: Authorities have released more information about a 2-year-old boy who was killed by a falling tree in the Sonoma County community of Occidental on Wednesday.

The boy was sitting in his living room around 5 p.m. when the tree fell and landed on top of the mobile home, pinning him underneath, sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Valencia told KQED.

The boy’s father and some neighbors had pulled the boy from under the tree by the time first responders arrived, Valencia said. They performed CPR and the child was pronounced dead at 5:48 p.m.

The boy was one of at least two people who died in Wednesday's storm. Fairfield police said a 19-year-old woman was killed when her car hydroplaned on a wet road and struck a pole.

Meanwhile, authorities shuttered numerous roadways due to downed trees, power lines and other hazards.

A rockslide closed a stretch of Highway 1 between Stinson Beach and Muir Beach, Marin County said on Twitter. Further down the coast, a section of the coastal highway in Carmel was closed due to massive waves reaching the roadway, and another section south of Big Sur was closed because of falling rock.

A landslide also blocked a lane of northbound Highway 1 in Pacifica, just past Manor Drive, police said.

Update, 1 p.m. Thursday: Santa Cruz County authorities lifted evacuation orders Thursday morning for potential flood areas as the worst of the storm has passed, but huge waves and high tides from the atmospheric river remained a threat to residents in coastal areas.

“If you can evacuate safely, please do so immediately. If you are unable to evacuate, please shelter in place, move away from ocean facing windows,” the county sheriff’s office said in a statement.

The National Weather Service warned of dangerous swimming and surfing conditions as 20- to 30-foot-high waves hit the central California coastline. The waves broke apart two piers in Santa Cruz County, and flooded the picture-postcard town of Capitola. Dramatic eyewitness videos show water thrashing against waterfront restaurants and businesses.

Nearby, the California Highway Patrol urged people to avoid coming to Seacliff State Beach in Aptos because of coastal flooding. An old concrete ship broke away from the beach’s pier.

In low-lying areas of Marin County, a combination of the rain and tides flooded some roadways. Authorities closed Miller Avenue, a major thoroughfare, and urged drivers to slow down and avoid large bodies of standing water.

Meanwhile, forecasters dialed back flood predictions for the Russian River in Sonoma County. The National Weather Service previously projected the area could become inundated by Thursday afternoon, potentially causing minor flooding in Guerneville, Monte Rio and other parts of the popular vacation getaway.

The river is now forecast to reach flood stage on Sunday afternoon.

Update, 11 a.m. Thursday: Forecasters said lighter rain and isolated thunderstorms are expected to pass through the Bay Area the rest of Thursday, giving residents a bit of a break to clean up and assess damages before another storm arrives Saturday.

A flood watch remains in effect until 4 p.m. because additional rainfall to an already soaked region could lead to rapid rises along creeks, streams and flood-prone areas, the National Weather Service said.

"We're not done with the water just yet,” said Brayden Murdock, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Bay Area office. “With our next pattern coming through, it's going to be almost daily where we see some wet conditions. Luckily not seeing the rainfall amounts like we saw with the main rainband last night, but still we're not done with this wet pattern."

In the South Bay, gusty winds and towering waves split the Capitola wharf in half and flooded the Santa Cruz County seaside town. The waves also breached the seawall in Pacifica and prompted the weather service to issue a high surf warning until 3 a.m. Friday, urging beachgoers to stay off jetties and coastal rocks and stay out of the surf zone. Beaches could be hit by up to 30-foot waves.

The latest in a series of atmospheric rivers slammed into the Bay Area late Wednesday, causing widespread flooding and power outages affecting nearly 145,000 Pacific Gas and Electric customers. The weather contributed to at least two deaths: a toddler who was killed after a tree fell onto a house in the Sonoma County town of Occidental, and a Fairfield woman whose car hydroplaned on a wet road and slammed into a pole.

In San Francisco, a family was rescued by firefighters Wednesday evening when a tree fell onto their car on Larkin Street. Near the zoo, another tree fell onto a person who had to be rushed to a trauma center in stable condition, the city’s Fire Department tweeted.

Firefighters responded to dozens of calls about downed trees and power lines. Winds gusting to 85 mph forced the cancellation of more than 70 flights at San Francisco International Airport.

Nearby in South San Francisco, the winds knocked over the roof of a Valero gas station’s canopy, damaging at least one fueling station. The city opened a temporary evacuation center for the more than 3,000 residents who were without power Thursday morning.

Update, 8:30 a.m. Thursday: Heavy rain and damaging winds from the “bomb cyclone” knocked down trees, flooded roads and cut power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses as of Thursday morning, and contributed to the deaths of at least two people.

A toddler was killed Wednesday night after a tree fell and landed on a house in the Sonoma County town of Occidental, volunteer firefighters there told local media. In Fairfield, a 19-year-old woman was killed after she lost control of her vehicle on a flooded road and slammed into a utility pole, police said.

The storm dropped heavy rain in parts of the Bay Area. A preliminary rainfall report from the National Weather Service estimates that as much as 4 to 5 inches of rain fell over a 24-hour period in the mountains south of Monterey, while most of the rest of the region received 1 to 2 inches.

But any additional rain to areas already soaked by multiple storms since Christmas is prompting fears of mudslides, flooding and downed power lines and trees. California issued a state of emergency to support response to the storm and recovery efforts.

Nearly 170,000 homes and businesses were without power in California Thursday morning, according to poweroutage.us.

Original story, 8:45 p.m. Wednesday: Gusting winds of up to 85 mph in parts of the Bay Area bore down on the region Wednesday afternoon, and the heaviest rainfall of the "bomb cyclone" hit in the early evening, with heavy rain and winds to continue into Thursday.

The storm prompted evacuation warnings, triggered landslides, closed roads and downed trees. But the morning rain totals were less than predicted, with about a half-inch falling in San Francisco, said Mary Ellen Carroll, executive director of San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management.

"It has been a quiet day ... until about an hour ago," Carroll said as winds and rainfall picked up in the late afternoon. "The storm we have all been waiting for is here."

She pleaded with residents to avoid calling 911, except for life-threatening emergencies, especially as rain totals continued to rise throughout the evening.

"911 is extremely busy right now," she said. "For storm-related issues, that are not life-safety, please use 311. That is the fastest way for us to get the information and dispatch a response."

Warming centers open

Warming centers and emergency shelters were open across the Bay Area for unhoused residents and those displaced by the storm.

In Santa Clara County, the Valley Transportation Authority is offering free rides to warming centers through Friday, Jan. 6. A list of centers in Santa Clara County can be found here.

The Red Cross also posted locations it manages or supports throughout the Bay Area.

In San Francisco, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing is collaborating with various nonprofits to provide outreach services and shelter on a first-come, first-served basis at four locations through next week. A list of those SF locations can be found here.

San Francisco residents experiencing homelessness and in need of support are encouraged to contact the Homeless Outreach Team dispatch line at (628) 652-8000.

In the East Bay, a number of warming centers and shelters are now open. Hayward secured additional hotel rooms and is prepared to open an emergency shelter at the Matt Jimenez Community Center in South Hayward for residents without housing or for those forced from home during rainstorms this week.

Community members living unsheltered or displaced due to flooding and other storm effects — or aware of someone in need of assistance — may contact the City of Hayward Emergency Operations Center at (510) 583-2182.

Oakland is partnering with its year-round shelter at St. Vincent de Paul, located at 675 23rd Street in West Oakland, to double their bed capacity to serve up to 100 people through Friday morning. Shelter beds can be secured through referral, reservation and walk-up on a first-come, first-served basis. People seeking shelter can contact St. Vincent de Paul directly at (510) 638-7600.

Oakland also is opening an additional emergency shelter at the Ira Jinkins Center at 9175 Edes Ave., near the Coliseum. This site will be able to accommodate all ages and families, and Oakland Animal Services will provide overnight shelter for pets. This shelter is currently anticipated to be open by 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and will remain open until noon on Friday and can shelter up to 75 people. No referrals are needed.

Members of the San José Conservation Corps pile sandbags along the San Francisquito Creek in East Palo Alto on Jan. 4, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Fremont opened an emergency storm shelter for Wednesday through Friday at the Washington High School gymnasium, located at 38442 Fremont Boulevard. The shelter can accommodate pets. Warm meals, face masks and beverages will be provided. Winter supplies also are available while they last.

In the North Bay, Marin County and Santa Rosa both have opened emergency shelters and warming centers.

An emergency shelter at 3240 Kerner Boulevard in San Rafael will open from 5 p.m. on Wednesday until 6:30 a.m. Thursday. A warming center will be open at that location on Thursday from 9 a.m.–3 p.m.

And, in downtown Santa Rosa, a temporary warming center will be available Wednesday night at the Catholic Charities Caritas Center, at 301 6th Street, Suite 108. The center is a place to drop in and warm up, charge devices and get out of the storm, the city said. It is not a shelter, and no cots for sleeping will be available. Those seeking a place to sleep will be provided with a referral, officials said.

Road fatality

traffic fatality was reported in Fairfield Wednesday morning when, according to investigators and witness statements, a 19-year-old driver collided with a utility pole after entering the partially flooded Vanden Road at One Lake. The vehicle hydroplaned, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. The victim’s name was not released by the Fairfield Police Department.

Thunderstorm warning for Inverness

A severe thunderstorm warning was in effect for Inverness and Point Reyes Station until 9:30 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

Winds of up to 60 mph were expected, along with hail.

School closures in Sonoma County

Officials in Sonoma County said Wednesday that some districts and school sites would be closed Thursday, Jan. 5, due to flooding, fallen trees, lack of electricity and other concerns related to the storm. A full list of the affected schools in Sonoma County can be found here.

SFPW out of sandbags

As of around 7 p.m., officials from San Francisco's Department of Public Works said they were shutting down sandbag distribution for the day.

The department ran out of sandbags around 6 p.m., after giving away more than 3,400 bags. They were expecting another delivery Wednesday evening, but did not have an estimated arrival time.

They plan to reopen sandbag distribution around 6 a.m. on Thursday with a limited supply and will provide updates about any newly arrived supply.

Flash flood warnings

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings Wednesday for southwestern Monterey County and northwestern San Benito County.

As of around 8 p.m., dam operators reported a spillway had been compromised and that water could overtop the spillway by Thursday morning. The weather service warned that flash flooding may occur immediately downstream, near Lovers Lane, with increased water flows into Pacheco Creek also likely.

In Monterey County, doppler radar around 6 p.m. indicated between a quarter- and a half-inch of rain had already fallen, with another half-inch to one-and-a-quarter inches of rain within the next hour. Flash flooding was expected to be ongoing or to begin shortly.

"Excessive rainfall over the burn area will result in debris flow moving through the Colorado and Dolan burn areas," weather officials said in an advisory. "The debris flow can consist of rock, mud, vegetation and other loose materials."

Jurisdictions proclaim emergency status

San José, Lafayette, Oakland, Livermore, Santa Clara County and Sonoma County all declared a state of emergency Wednesday in response to the storm.

The declarations allow the jurisdictions greater flexibility in contracting and procuring supplies to respond to the storm.

First responders rescue SF family

San Francisco police officers rescued a family trapped in a car that was hit by a falling tree, said San Francisco Fire Department spokesperson Jonathan Baxter.

The family, including two adults and one child, were driving near the intersection of Larkin and Grove streets around 6 p.m. Police officers arrived on the scene first and were able to extract the car's occupants. Firefighters were then able to remove the tree.

The family suffered only minor injuries, and Baxter said, "Miraculously, the car only sustained minor damage."

Countywide flood emergency

Santa Clara Valley Water District CEO Rick Callender signed a countywide flood emergency Wednesday, which allows the water agency to take immediate action to protect public life and property from flooding and high winds.

Localized flooding occurred along San Francisquito Creek, Upper Penitencia Creek, West Little Llagas Creek and Uvas Creek, agency officials said.

Uvas Reservoir spilled and is still spilling; spilling also has occurred in Almaden Reservoir. The County of Santa Clara issued evacuation warnings late Wednesday to community members residing in the watershed areas of the Uvas Reservoir and Pacheco Pass River Basin due to weather conditions and risks to the general public and property.

Power outages

As of around 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, more than 96,000 PG&E customers were without power. The greatest number of outages was on the Peninsula, with 41,189 customers in the dark, according to PG&E.

Another 13,861 customers were without power in the South Bay, along with 12,686 in the North Bay, 21,097 in the East Bay, and 6,722 in San Francisco.

Check out our guide on how to be prepared for power outages.

Road closures

As of around 7:15 p.m., a fallen tree was blocking state Highway 1 in both directions in Bodega Bay, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The downed tree was reported at North Harbour Way and is blocking both the northbound and southbound lanes.

As of around 7 p.m. Wednesday, the California Highway Patrol reported landslides on CA Route 9 near Glengarry Road in Felton and on Route 84 at Mission Boulevard in Fremont, with traffic closed in both directions.

Downed wires closed Route 35 at Skeggs Point in San Mateo County and Route 116 at Route 121 in Sonoma County.

Two cars are stuck in a flooded underpass at 34th and Webster streets in Oakland on Jan. 4, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Falling rocks, flooding and concerns about waterlogged soil and potential mudslides prompted Caltrans to close a portion of Highway 1 between Ragged Point in San Luis Obispo County and Deetjen's Big Sur Inn in Monterey County.

The road was closed as of 5 p.m., and there was no estimated time for reopening. Caltrans officials said crews are monitoring water and debris falling from above the roadway at a location one mile south of Ragged Point.

Some roads at Mount Diablo State Park are closed due to rockslides and erosion. North Gate, South Gate and Summit Roads will remain closed until further notice. The closure applies to all visitors including hikers, bicyclists and equestrians and those with campers and vehicles.

The Mitchell Canyon and Macedo Ranch entrances, backcountry trails and fire roads remain open, but visitors are asked to use caution and report trail issues to park staff.

BART delays

As of around 7:45 p.m., BART was reporting major systemwide delays due to wet weather conditions.

It was operating limited Green line service between Berryessa and Daly City. Passengers traveling from the San Francisco line can board a Dublin/Pleasanton train and transfer at Bayfair to a Berryessa train. Those traveling from the Berryessa line can board a Richmond train and transfer at Bayfair to a Daly City train.

There were also major delays between Concord and Pleasant Hill in the Antioch and SFO directions due to an obstruction on the track. And, BART was operating limited Red line service on the Richmond line in the Millbrae direction. Passengers traveling from Richmond can board a Berryessa train, transfer at MacArthur to an SFO train, then transfer to a Millbrae train at SFO.

More information can be found at www.bart.gov.

Russian River evacuation order

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office issued evacuation orders Wednesday for residents living along the Russian River from Healdsburg to Jenner.

Forecasts for Wednesday and overnight into Thursday call for up to 5 inches of rain in the coastal hills and up to 4 inches in higher elevation inland areas. It's expected that the river will crest at 33 feet by Thursday night and into the early hours on Friday.

The river is expected to recede below flood stage by Friday afternoon, but is forecasted to flood again at 40 feet on Sunday night and into Monday.

"For your safety, prepare to leave the areas below the 40-foot flood level along the Russian River," the sheriff's office said in an advisory. "Be sure to take essential items, such as medicines with you. If you live above the 40-foot level, your access may be reduced or eliminated due to flood waters."

Additional information is available at www.socopsa.org.

Other evacuation orders

Heavy rains, wind and runoff prompted an evacuation order earlier in the day for parts of Santa Cruz County, as did concerns about potential flooding, debris flow and other dangers in low-lying areas.

Alameda County issued evacuation warnings "due to the storms, saturated soils and current runoff" for residents on Kilkare Road, Palomares Road and Niles Canyon Road. And evacuation orders were issued for areas of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County, where Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks were expected to rise above their banks, according to a statement from City Manager René Mendez.

Residents at 15 homes in the Seacliff development in Richmond had already evacuated Tuesday night and Wednesday after the hillside above them showed signs of mudslides.

A geologist was on-site at Seacliff Wednesday morning, as was a local contractor working to mitigate the damage, but there was no estimate for when the residents would be able to return home.

"It's just a waiting game right now, with this atmospheric river coming in over the next few days," said Richmond Police Sgt. Donald Patchin.

The storm, which began dumping rain Wednesday morning, has already closed several roads and prompted evacuation warnings and advisories in other parts of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.

In Santa Cruz County, a temporary evacuation center was open at Pescadero High School in Pescadero, but as of Wednesday afternoon only a handful of evacuees had trickled in. Laurel Rodriguez-Mitton, an amateur radio emergency services volunteer, was getting ready for an expected increase in visitors later in the evening. The shelter is located inside the gym, where there are cots and tarps on the floor, along with water, snacks and other supplies.

"We've had a couple of visitors who got to help out, but nobody who needs to be here for hours on end," Rodriquez-Mitton said. "We're expecting probably more people coming in as the storm gets worse."

Of particular concern in Santa Cruz County is Butano Canyon, where the CZU Lightning Complex fire scarred the mountainside in 2020, leaving the slopes vulnerable to mudslide, said Kathleen Moazed, president of the La Honda Fire Brigade.

"It's very steep and hilly and wooded," Moazed said, adding that there is only one road in and out. "I understand a number of people have already evacuated — a precautionary evacuation, just voluntary — in the past couple of days."

See a list of evacuation orders, warnings and advisories here.

Evacuation orders for multiple areas of Santa Cruz County were issued Wednesday afternoon as more rainfall hit the county, bringing higher flood risks. Evacuation orders in those areas are mandatory and the areas are closed to public access.

Additional locations that will see flooding include San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Richmond, Napa, Petaluma, San Rafael, Novato, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol, the National Weather Service said.

State of emergency

The evacuations follow a state of emergency issued Wednesday by the California Governor's Office, along with the activation of the state's Flood Operations Center. The center covers forecasting and reservoir operations coordination, and provides technical support and flood-fighting materials, such as sandbags, for local agencies.

"California is mobilizing to keep people safe from the impacts of the incoming storm," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. "This state of emergency will allow the state to respond quickly as the storm develops and support local officials in their ongoing response."

The National Weather Service has forecast widespread flooding, along with washed-out roads, power outages, downed trees and the "likely loss of human life."

Flood watch

Nearly all of Northern and Central California is under a flood watch and high-wind warning, and the agency took the unusual step of advising residents to prepare "go-bags" and insurance documentation in advance.

Girding for the storm

City officials across the region scrambled Wednesday to prepare for the latest storm, while also dealing with the aftereffects of another massive deluge over New Year's Eve.

In East Palo Alto, workers on Wednesday built a 3-foot tarp wall and lined sandbags along the San Francisquito Creek, which overtopped a levee in the last storm and flooded apartments and garages.

East Palo Alto, like many Bay Area communities of color, has a long history of flooding. The creek serves as the dividing line between East Palo Alto and its affluent neighbors, Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

"The thing about the creek is that it's a shared resource," said East Palo Alto Vice Mayor Antonio López. "It's a reminder [that] regardless of the different class, race or ZIP codes that we come from, we have this fault line that affects all of us."

The city reserved 75 rooms at nearby hotels for people the floodwaters displace.

But Wednesday's storm won't be the end of the region's wet weather. Residual flooding could extend into the weekend, along with additional storms lingering into next week.

Bay City News and KQED reporters Dana Cronin and Ezra David Romero contributed to this story. 

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