A potent rainstorm that launched a predicted five-day run of wet weather on the North Coast dropped more than 2 inches of rain Wednesday on some areas of Sonoma County and beyond.
The deluge flooded several roadways during its peak, cut power to thousands of people, toppled trees and sent motorists skidding during the morning commute.
But emergency officials said the worst likely still lies ahead as successive storms saturate soils, weaken hillsides, loosen trees and generate runoff the ground can't absorb.
"It's not quite enough rain yet to really be problematic, so we're keeping our fingers crossed," said Tom Kelly, senior administrative assistant for the Santa Rosa Department of Public Works. "But it's bound to be a big week for us."
As much as 6 inches of rain could fall on the Santa Rosa Plain by Sunday, National Weather Service meteorologist Diana Henderson said.
In the coastal hills, total rainfall could reach a foot or more, she said.
"It's going to come in spurts, but there is a lot of moisture out there, so it's just the beginning stages," Henderson said Wednesday.
"Give it time," said Rob Houweling, Sonoma County transportation operations coordinator. "If the storm rolls out like they say it's going to, we'll probably have flooding, slides, trees, those issues."
After several hours of hard rain around the county before noon Wednesday, Henderson said the next torrent will probably come later today, with rain becoming even heavier overnight.
But Wednesday's numbers were impressive. Totals recorded by the AccuWeather forecasting service for the 24-hour period that ended at 4 p.m. included Cazadero, 2.50 inches; Guerneville, 1.85 inches; Healdsburg, 1.75 inches; Sebastopol, 1.70 inches; Calistoga, 1.69 inches; Cloverdale, 1.66 inches; and Middletown, 1.64 inches. The Mendocino County town of Boonville received a whopping 2.75 inches.
Santa Rosa's total was 1.14 inches.
The rain came so fast that a homeless couple who had built a platform to use as a bed inside a 36-inch culvert along Santa Rosa Creek were violently flushed out of the pipeline and into the creek while they slept, Santa Rosa Fire Battalion Chief Mark Basque said.
The platform, built in a lateral culvert north of the Maribelle Apartments near Dutton Avenue and West Third Street, was high enough that any storm water usually flowed underneath, Basque said. But heavy rainfall in the neighborhood around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday flushed them and their dog, Scrappy, into the frigid creek water. They were able to climb out before firefighters and paramedics arrived.
The man and woman were taken to Kaiser Medical Center for treatment of exposure and lacerations, and their dog to county animal control until they are able to retrieve it, Basque said.
The rainfall also made for a messy morning commute, with a dozen or more mostly non-injury crashes reported on local highways, the CHP said.
The Highway 121 corridor near Sonoma was hit hard, with five crashes in a two-hour period between Highway 37, near Sonoma Raceway, to South Central Avenue in the Carneros region. In one case, a motorist struck a Schell-Vista Fire Department engine near Meadowlark Lane, causing minor damage, Chief Ray Mulas said.
Elsewhere, a car spun off Highway 101 on the Cotati grade, and a four-car collision in Windsor left wreckage strewn across the same highway, the CHP said.