When this kind of "atmospheric river" bears down on the North Bay, folks in downtown Napa keep one eye on the sky and the other on the historically mischievous river that loops through the middle of town. With 21 "serious" floods in the past century, it's hard to blame them.
City and county engineers are also sizing up Napa Creek, which flows into the river near downtown. It was barely a babbling brook as the second of three storms approached this week -- but looks can be deceiving.
"It's a flashy creek,"says Julie Blue Lucido, Napa County's flood project manager, who was out inspecting a new set of debris gates and bypasses designed to keep the creek tamed. "It's a small watershed, so when the rain comes, the creek responds very quickly. It can rise in a matter of hours multiple, multiple feet."
And indeed, where the creek looked like a laughable threat on Thursday, it had risen markedly by Friday morning, though it remained below the 10.5-foot flood level. Flood managers are also starting to show concern that at the rate it's rising, the much larger Napa River could reach flood stage sometime this weekend. The river forms an "oxbow" and has had an irritating tendency to take a shortcut through downtown when the waters rise enough. On Friday morning, the river had risen to more than 18 feet at a key measuring point. Flood stage is at 25.
Folks in Napa have been preparing for this week for nearly 15 years. Since 1998, residents have been paying an extra half-cent on the sales tax to fund just part of the county's half-billion-dollar flood control project. The rest has come in fits and starts from Washington. But it was hard to find people downtown this week who didn't consider it worthwhile.