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Flooded Highway 37 in Novato could be closed all week

Caltrans personnel work on a pump, in an effort to alleviate the flooding at Highway 37, east of the Hannah Ranch Road offramp, in Novato, on Monday, January 23, 2017. Flood waters forced the closure of all lanes in both directions on Highway 37, between Atherton Avenue and Highway 101. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

JULIE JOHNSON AND BILL SWINDELL,

While the rain from a series of winter storms has the finally left the North Coast, the saturated ground left behind has caused flooding and clogged roads around Sonoma County.

The biggest traffic headache Monday remained Highway 37, where about three miles were flooded between Highway 101 and Atherton Avenue and was expected to remain closed for several days. As much as 5 feet of water covered portions of the highway’s westernmost stretch through a tidal marsh area between Deer Island Preserve and the Bel Marin Keys in Novato and northern Marin County.

There were plenty of other travel problems for commuters. A flood warning was still in place Monday for Mark West Creek in the lowlands between the Charles M. Schulz—Sonoma County Airport and the creek’s entry into the Russian River.

“I think the one thing that has surprised everyone is that Mark West Creek has really turned into Mark West Lake,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the area.

The flooded creek “is not going to come down sufficiently until the Russian River comes down,” said Mark Strudley, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. “It will remain high with moderate to minor flooding conditions for at least the next day.”

Hopkins noted she lives on one side of Wohler Road in Forestville, but can’t get to her organic farm on the other side of it because of flooding. Instead, she’s been forced for much of the past two weeks to take another route requiring as much as 30 minutes to reach the farm.

“Wohler was still a river this morning,” Hopkins said Monday.

Some areas around Guerneville, such as Hulbert and Fife creeks, experienced flooding because downed trees and other debris had created natural dams that did not allow proper flow toward the Russian River.

“Some people who have lived in this area for a while said there was flooding in areas where it has been unexpected for them,” Hopkins said.

Between Oct. 1 and early Monday, Santa Rosa had received 37.28 inches of rainfall, according to the weather service. That amount is 1 inch more than it typically receives during an entire rainfall year — which still has eight months left.

The atypically wet winter, with nearly double the total average rainfall to date, has saturated the ground and filled waterways. Intense downpours over the weekend further inundated Novato Creek, which with nowhere else to drain until water across the marsh area near the San Pablo Bay’s shoreline begins to recede flooded Highway 37, Strudley said.

“Drainage networks couldn’t keep up with the storm,” he said.

On Highway 37, drivers heading east toward Napa were directed to exit Highway 101 at Atherton Avenue for a three-mile detour that reconnects with 37 near the StoneTree Golf Club, said California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Barclay. At least one pickup driver ignored road closure signs Monday morning and drove onto the flooded eastbound lane of Highway 37. An officer pulled him over and gave him a ticket.

Several other apparently impatient drivers were given tickets after they tried skirting traffic waiting to exit onto Atherton, and drove onto the shoulder, Barclay said.

“They got stopped,” he said. “We wrote a significant number of tickets this morning.”

Trenton-Healdsburg Road was closed due to flooding, according to the Sonoma County roads department. Several roads shut down over the weekend by mudslides remained closed Monday, including Hot Springs Road in Cloverdale. Mill Creek Road just west of Healdsburg had one lane open from a mudslide first reported Thursday.

The rainfall has been welcome for area farmers, despite delaying opportunities to get into flooded fields and vineyards. Vintners noted that vines can handle standing water for as much as three weeks before causing problems.

“It’s been more of an inconvenience at this point,” said Kim Vail, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

A fallen tree knocked out power Monday for about 2,800 customers from northern Santa Rosa to southern Windsor, including the Sonoma County airport, according to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and airport officials. By 8:30 p.m., about 80 customers in that area remained without power. Other scattered outages were reported in Boyes Hot Springs, Petaluma and Cazadero.

Backup generators at the airport kept the control tower, runway and landing systems powered during the hourlong power failure, which began about 11:45 a.m., airport manager Jon Stout said.

A 12:55 p.m. flight to Portland was delayed during the power loss because Alaska Airlines couldn’t check people in who didn’t already have a boarding pass. But other flights continued as planned. A 12 p.m. flight departing from San Diego and a 12:15 p.m. arrival from San Diego kept to schedule, Stout said.

Forecasts call for sunny skies to return to the North Coast this week, giving the region a chance to recover from the weekend’s deluge of wind and rain. Skies should clear by Tuesday afternoon and temperatures will rise into the mid 50s, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Mejia said. A slight chance of rain was expected to return Thursday with a weak storm bringing a 20- to 30-percent chance of precipitation.

For updated information about Sonoma County road closures, click here.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem. You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com.