Storm floods Petaluma, more rain expected

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

As the strongest storm of the winter whipped through Northern California on Wednesday night, Sonoma County first responders and firefighters juggled mounting calls of downed trees and power lines.

Heavy rainfall and powerful winds were expected to strengthen up to 50 mph in some areas as the storm reached its peak around midnight, according to the National Weather Service, which issued a flash flood warning, a coastal flood advisory and a wind advisory across Sonoma County for Wednesday night and Thursday.

In Petaluma, the storm toppled tree limbs and caused 5,000 PG&E customers to lose power. The Petaluma River was swollen Thursday morning, topping its banks in the area behind Industrial Avenue.

The southbound lanes on Stony Point Road in north Petaluma were closed Wednesday night, Petaluma Police said.

Edith Street, between East Washington and East D streets, was closed due to a downed power line, police said. Police reported flooding near the intersection for the factory outlets on Petaluma Boulevard North, near Gossage Avenue, and it had intensified over the course of the night.

Residents have taken to social media sites, posting photos and updates on water seeping into homes and power outages on various streets throughout the city. Sandbags are available at the north end of Hopper Street, police said. Friedman’s Home Improvement on McDowell Boulevard is also offering 20 free sandbags to customers.

The storm front is expected to drench much of Northern and Central California through Thursday, dumping as much as 10 inches of rain in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The front also is forecasted to pound the northern Sierra Nevada with potentially life-threatening blizzard conditions, dumping up to 5 feet of snow.

With the heavy rainfall forecasted, the National Weather Service alerted area residents living in the neighborhoods severely burned in the October 2017 wildfires to the high risk for mudslides.

North Coast residents can expect the storm to linger through Thursday, bringing thunderstorms and lighter showers into the afternoon. Although the worst will be over by early morning, expect a longer-than-usual commute to work and likely snarled traffic due to flooding, fallen trees and slick roadways.

“When all is said and done those mountain neighborhoods inside the county (Sonoma) are going to get hammered by the rain,” said Steve Anderson, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “It’s a given that there will be downed power lines and trees everywhere through the duration of the storm.”

On Wednesday night, Santa Rosa Junior College officials had to evacuate the Mendocino Avenue campus after a power outage about 6:20 p.m., college spokesman Erin Bricker said. The Harlem Globetrotters basketball game, scheduled to start at the college’s Haehl Pavilion at 7:00 p.m., had to be canceled. If PG&E can’t restore electricity overnight or early Thursday morning, college officials will make the decision around 6 a.m. to cancel classes.

Also, more than 5,000 west Petaluma residents and businesses lost power for about 90 minutes Wednesday evening, and at least 1,500 customers were without power in the west county communities of Occidental, Camp Meeker and Freestone, PG&E said. Several smaller power failures around the county affected pockets of residents throughout Wednesday. Residents also dealt with downed trees.

The storm caused major damage on several Guerneville properties, resident Shane Francis said. A large tree, which Francis estimated at around 200 feet tall, fell and crashed through three properties on the 17700 block of Monte Rio Road. It crushed his car and his neighbor’s shed.

“We don’t know if our car works or not. It starts but the frame is bent .. and it’s probable we’re not going to be able to salvage it,” he said. “Fun times in Guerneville.”

Low-lying areas in Sebastopol, Graton and Forestville are especially vulnerable to flooding. In addition, roads and structures near Green Valley Creek and Santa Rosa Creek also are locations another National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Rowe cited as places to watch for flooding.

“Flash floods are more likely to occur in low-lying areas, such as roadways next to running water,” Rowe said. “So things will quickly start flooding in most of these areas.”

Graton Assistant Fire Chief Robert Sabrowsky said there was some flooding in Graton near Green Valley Cemetary on the northwest side of town.

“We haven’t gone out there in a little bit. We know that the S-turns that traditionally are flooded, are flooded,” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon amid heavy rainfall, one person died and another was injured in an east Sonoma County crash on Highway 121 near Napa Road, according to emergency officials. The collision was southeast of Sonoma, near the Napa County line.

At least six roads were closed throughout Sonoma County early Wednesday evening due to flooding and downed trees. Areas most affected by road closures were Mark West Station Road in Windsor, which was closed at Starr Road, and Rohnert Park Expressway at Stony Point Road.

Flooding along points of the Russian River was not expected to reach a dangerous level, with the highest point expected to reach nearly 27 feet at Guerneville by late Thursday night, less than five feet from a flood stage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Chris Godley, Sonoma County’s interim emergency manager, spent most of Wednesday inspecting burn areas for potential debris mudslides or flooding.

“We crossed into significant areas that are prone to dangerous debris flows to see if our provisions were holding up which happily they are,” Godley said. “Certainly people will report an issue but if we see really large movements happening we will have to think about evacuating areas but we haven’t seen that yet.”

Godley and his team of inspectors spent most of the day in Santa Rosa sections where the Tubbs fire burned a wide swath, including the hillside areas of Fountaingrove neighborhood.

“We are starting to see localized ponding but it’s the hillsides we are taking the hardest look at,” Godley said. “It seems that our prevention efforts of gross erosion are holding up pretty well.”

The U.S. Coast Guard station at Bodega Bay on Wednesday reported heavy, wind-driven rain, with gusts reaching close to 30 mph and ocean swells at nearly 12 feet and rising.

In west county, Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman said his department started responding to storm-related calls early Wednesday and that increased to more than one call per hour by the evening.

“We have a lot going on with trees down and power lines down,” Baxman shouted into the phone, wind whipping loudly around him. “It is definitely starting to pick up and will only get busier into the night. We are ready.”

Meteorologist Anderson called the storm a low-grade atmospheric river, a term given to storms that pick up moisture over the Pacific Ocean and dump it as rain and snow across West Coast.

They can stall when they make landfall, leading to flooding in smaller creeks and low-lying areas.

During the 24-hour period from 4 p.m. Tuesday through Wednesday afternoon, Cloverdale already got 3 inches of rain, the most among cities and towns on the North Coast. Meanwhile, Healdsburg recorded 2.01 inches, Rohnert Park recorded 1.92 inches, Santa Rosa reported 1.68 inches and Petaluma got 1.24 inches during the ame period.

“Thunderstorms and scattered rains are to be expected throughout Thursday, as well as breezy overcast weather,” Rowe said. “Residents just need to hunker down through the worst of it passing through at 3 a.m.”

The map below shows Russian River levels for the past week. A significant spike is expected from the ongoing storm.

Russian River at Guerneville

Show Comment

Our Network

Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine