A lightning strike in east Santa Rosa knocked out power to 1,315 PG&E clients Wednesday morning, including one “customer” that turned the morning commute on Highway 12 into a time-sucking nightmare.
That customer — the traffic signal at Farmers Lane and Fourth Street — was out for more than six hours as PG&E crews worked to repair power lines damaged by a burst of lightning that struck a utility pole near the busy intersection.
The intersection was reduced to a four-way stop, as if it were a country lane, with thousands of drivers forced to cross only two or three at a time. By 8:30 a.m., traffic had backed up on Farmers Lane and Highway 12, nearly all the way to Calistoga Road.
The flow of traffic into downtown Santa Rosa, efficiently regulated by a combination of intersection timing and video sensors, was turned on its head, causing a major headache for drivers forced to go through one of the busiest intersections in the city.
“It’s amazing. It kind of shows how dependent we are on (traffic signals),” said Rob Sprinkle, Santa Rosa’s deputy director of traffic engineering. “When you have everyone stopping at an approach, you waste a lot of time.”
Sprinkle said the intersections all along Farmers Lane are coordinated and work in conjunction to keep traffic moving on Farmers Lane, which hosts more than 30,000 cars every day.
Throughout the morning, PG&E crews worked to repair the power lines that had been destroyed during the 7 a.m. lightning burst. On several occasions, PG&E flaggers were forced to stop traffic so that workers could manually walk power lines across Farmers Lane and Fourth Street and then string them up to equipment on three utility poles.
“A lot of lines were damaged, some of them even fell,” said PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras.
Most of the 1,315 customers had their power restored by 8:30 a.m. and all power was restored by 1:30 p.m. It was the largest power outage caused by Wednesday’s thunder and lightning storm, a weather event that is unusual, but not unheard of, for this time of year.
Contreras said about 2,800 PG&E customers lost power during the storm Wednesday morning, including 163 in Geyserville, 100 in Sebastopol and the more than 1,300 in Santa Rosa. A number of smaller outages throughout the county made up the rest of PG&E customers affected.
“Our crews deal with storms all the time,” Contreras said. “In the last season, we had wind and rain and tree branches. This time around it’s lightning, so it’s a very different situation.”
The storm was caused by an upper-level, low-pressure system sitting over the state that brought moisture from the desert, said Steve Anderson, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Monterey.
The National Weather Service counted more than 1,700 lightning strikes throughout the region.
Anderson said the low-pressure system that brought rain from the southwest should leave the state by tomorrow.
“The upper level will be ejected out of the area so it should be over Vegas by tomorrow,” he said.
At about 6:50 a.m., lightning struck the roof of Monica Seeley’s home on Casita Court in Rincon Valley, near Skyhawk. Seeley said her 11-year-old daughter Sydney saw outside her bedroom window a flash of lightning that seemed to strike the ground nearby.