• Safari West staff members Brian Jellison, left, and Cervando Cornejo work on removing a fallen oak tree on Wednesday morning, December 29, 2010. The tree crushed a wood-frame canvas tent and killed visitor Gayle Falgoust at the wildlife park, east of Santa Rosa, on Tuesday evening.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the National Weather Service had recorded 17.4 inches of rain this season at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, 145 percent of normal.

The result has sent fire departments and road crews out into the elements to deal with fallen trees, debris slides, flooded roads and gaping potholes like the one that reduced southbound Highway 101 to a one-lane nightmare Monday.

Trees fell throughout the county Tuesday, with several falling across Highway 1 near Sea Ranch. Forecasters had said Tuesday's storm would bring 0.5 to 1.5 inches of rain.

North Bay Storm Images


So far, the soggy season has come without the worst aspects of a wet Sonoma County winter — severe flooding and mudslides.

The county is subject to both forms of disaster — in 2006, a torrent of rain on New Year's Eve flooded Petaluma, Guerneville and Napa, causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage.

In 1998, 12 inches of rain in a week set off a mudslide in Rio Nido that destroyed 24 homes and caused about $10 million in property damages in the Russian River community.

But Mother Nature's recent timing has spared the area such fury even as Southern California has suffered. Local rainfall this winter has been separated by enough time for land to drain and rivers to carry away extra water.

"If we didn't have these breaks, we'd probably be more worried," said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Tim McCrink, a senior engineering geologist at the California Geological Survey, said the pattern of rain and respite also has been good for the stability of hillsides.

"We are not seeing a lot of landslides right now because we keep having two- and three-day breaks between the storms," he said.

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