300,000 lose power around Sacramento area as powerful storm, winds wreak havoc

300,000 lose power around Sacramento area as powerful storm, winds wreak havoc


More than 300,000 customers lost power in Northern California as the latest powerful winter storm pushed through, elevating flooding danger and bringing intense winds that downed trees.

Wind gusts topped 60 mph in some parts of the Sacramento region, according to the National Weather Service, causing a massive loss of power. Utility officials have been working to restore power but said it will take time.

The NWS urged residents to be cautious and secure items because the intense winds will continue into the evening. “Widespread power outages, downed trees and difficult driving conditions will be possible,” it said.

Forecasters warned of a “relentless parade of cyclones” barreling out of the Pacific toward California, which was expected to intensify the risk of flooding in some parts of the state this week.

The first of five approaching atmospheric rivers — a stream of storms that will continue until about Jan. 19 — arrived this weekend. Heavy rain and mountain snow began late Friday night in Northern California and spread to Central California on Saturday, with some parts of the state expecting more than a foot of snow through early Sunday.

The weather service’s Monterey office issued a flood watch advisory beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday and continuing through Tuesday for areas including San Francisco, Santa Clara, Monterey, Big Sur, the Carmel Valley, San Benito County, Pinnacles National Park, Los Padres National Forest and much of Central California.

Officials also warned of possible flooding of the Carmel and Salinas rivers in Monterey County; the Pajaro River in Santa Cruz County; the Russian River in Sonoma and Mendocino counties; the Navarro River in Mendocino County; the Eel River in Humboldt County; the Sacramento River in Tehama, Glenn and Butte counties; the Tuolumne River in Modesto; the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers in Sacramento County; and Bear Creek in Merced County.

In the Sacramento Valley, a weather system was expected to bring half an inch to 2 inches of rain, winds blowing up to 50 mph and potentially a thunderstorm before tapering off Sunday afternoon, said Katrina Hand, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

The deluge will continue, Michael Anderson, state climatologist for the Department of Water Resources, said in a briefing Saturday evening. “Monday and Tuesday is the second of five more storms and also the one that has our largest concerns right now,” Anderson said.

The “warmer, wetter and stronger” storm arriving Monday was forecast to dump 2 to 4 inches of rain on the Sacramento Valley and 3 to 7 inches on foothill and mountain areas, Hand said.

Hand said this system would be “particularly concerning,” as soils remain saturated and rivers and creeks are overflowing from the past week’s rainfall. The weather service has issued a flood watch for much of the interior Northern California area continuing through Wednesday afternoon, she said.

The Sierra was expected to see heavy snowfall starting Saturday night, which, combined with strong southerly winds, could create “near-whiteout conditions” in the mountains, Hand said.

Trees continued to fall in the Bay Area on Saturday. In Castro Valley, a large eucalyptus tree fell on a home, trapping a person inside. The person was transported to a hospital for treatment, firefighters said. Two adults and four children were displaced by the falling tree.

In Menlo Park in San Mateo County, whose southern border with Palo Alto is San Francisquito Creek, city officials roped off creek banks because of reports of unstable soil. “Remember as soils become saturated, it’s easier for trees to fall,” officials said.

The Russian River at Guerneville is expected to see its levels rise above the flood threshold — 32 feet — Monday night, and crest late Tuesday at 37 feet, classified as moderate flooding. Also of concern is San Lorenzo River, which empties out into Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz, and could exceed flood stage at 16.5 feet Monday and crest at 24 feet, which is classified as major flooding.

Meanwhile, Santa Cruz County was reeling from damaging storms last week.

In Capitola, a small town gracing the northern shores of Monterey Bay with a population of about 10,000, cleanup efforts are continuing. The damage already totals in the millions — including $10 million to $15 million for the Capitola Wharf, according to early county estimates — and many locals fear the toll will worsen with more rain in the forecast.

Officials in Santa Cruz County not only are watching waves batter coastal communities, they are keeping an eye on saturated soil in the mountains — which is becoming increasingly vulnerable to slides as rains continue.

Then there are the rain-swollen rivers. Typically, those rivers would rush their contents downstream into the ocean. But given the size of the storm surge, water is getting pushed back as it tries to escape — flooding lowland areas along creeks and rivers, said Melodye Serino, a deputy county administrative officer.

She said residents are taking these lulls in the weather to assess and prepare. But that’s hard to do when it’s unclear where the threat is going to come from: rain, storm surge, flooding or all three.