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.