Thursday storm updates: Will your school district be open Friday? Check here

The Sonoma County Office of Education says there are 40 public school districts in Sonoma County and parents should assume classes are proceeding as normal if their districts aren’t listed here.|

After a pounding rain and windstorm across Sonoma County that unleashed havoc and left at least one dead Wednesday, Russian River communities awoke Thursday to a mess of downed trees, power failures and blocked roads.

Reporters Colin Atagi (@colin_atagi), Alana Minkler (@alana_minkler), Andrew Graham (@AndrewGraham88) and Martin Espinoza (@pressreno) are covering the storm and its fallout. Send them news tips to colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com, alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com, andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com, kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com and martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. For photos, follow photojournalists Kent Porter on Twitter @kentphotos and Christopher Chung on Twitter @cchungphoto.

Here’s what’s happening today, during the second day of the storm.

7:45 p.m.: Montgomery Village area family’s home saved from being struck by tree by alert neighbor

Jessica Gilleran said she and her husband heard a “bump” Wednesday night outside their Santa Rosa home, but they didn’t know their neighbor’s Douglas fir had fallen on their Grand fir tree during the strong wind and rain.

“Up until an hour ago, it could have fallen and taken out half our house and part of our neighbor’s house,” Gilleran said Thursday night.

An arborist hoisted by a large crane wraps a large safety strap around the trunk of a large tree toppled but caught leaning on another tree in heavy overnight winds near Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa Thursday January 5, 2023. Arborist will remove the tree tomorrow after leaving the supporting crane overnight.    (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
An arborist hoisted by a large crane wraps a large safety strap around the trunk of a large tree toppled but caught leaning on another tree in heavy overnight winds near Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa Thursday January 5, 2023. Arborist will remove the tree tomorrow after leaving the supporting crane overnight. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

A neighbor who lives across the street alerted the couple, who rushed home from work and called a tree service, which analyzed the situation and called a crane service. They sent over a worker who went up on a crane and lassoed the leaning tree to the crane until the tree can safely be removed, she said.

“It was kind of a ballet,” said Gilleran, a teacher. “My neighbor is so supportive and wanting to do the right thing. I hope her insurance covers this. I’m just grateful the trees didn’t fall on the house and that nobody got hurt.”

The Grand fir, like the house, probably has been there since the 1950s, she said.

7:20 p.m.: Will your school district be open Friday? Check here

On Wednesday, around a dozen school districts and individual schools in western Sonoma County were set to close Thursday because of this week’s storm.

Now, the Sonoma County Office of Education is announcing closures by districts for Friday due to fallen trees, lack of electricity, flooding, or other concerns related to the storm.

According to the office, the following school districts will be closed Friday:

  • Fort Ross Elementary District;
  • Guerneville School District;
  • Harmony Union School District;
  • Horicon School District;
  • Kashia School District;
  • Montgomery Elementary District.

The office adds there are 40 public school districts in Sonoma County and parents should assume classes are proceeding as normal if their districts aren’t listed above.

4:45 p.m.: Power restored to thousands of Sonoma County residents, but thousands more still in the dark

Thousands of Sonoma County residents saw their power restored by late afternoon Thursday. While 17,830 customers of electric utility PG&E were without power at midday, that number was down to 11,110 by 4:30 p.m.

In west county communities that were hit particularly hard, with many losing power Wednesday, Guerneville saw the most restoration. 1,184 customers remained in the dark down from more than 3,400 earlier in the day. Almost 1,300 in Sebastopol had power restored with 2,475 still without connection Thursday afternoon. 1,286 in Bodega Bay and 742 in Occidental are still awaiting restoration.

“In all these areas where restoration is delayed, it’s largely due to access issues due to the intensity of the storm,” said Megan McFarland, PG&E spokesperson. “It hit the North Coast the hardest.”

Stay up to date on outages: pgealerts.alerts.pge.com/outagecenter.

4:15 p.m.: Not one, but two more storms heading to Sonoma County

The storm system that wreaked havoc across Sonoma County this week is on its way out but two more storm systems are still making their way to the area.

The first storm is expected to hit Sonoma County Friday evening, bringing up to 3 ¼ inches of rain through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Higher elevations could get up to 6½ inches of rain.

This graphic shows anticipated rainfall across the Bay Area the weekend of Saturday, Jan. 7, 2022. (National Weather Service)
This graphic shows anticipated rainfall across the Bay Area the weekend of Saturday, Jan. 7, 2022. (National Weather Service)

And not long after that wraps up, another system will arrive and may bring up to 4 inches of precipitation to lower elevations through Tuesday morning with up to 8 inches in the mountains.

“It’s a lot of rain,” said Warren Blier, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Bay Area office in Monterey.

According to the National Weather Service, flooding is possible throughout the weekend and into early next week.

Gusty wind will mostly develop Saturday and Monday and could reach 60 mph each day.

Conditions should ease up Wednesday, when up to an inch of rain may fall across Sonoma County. Higher elevations may get up to 2 inches.

Monday and Tuesday are expected to have the worst weather conditions and people should prepare for rough conditions.

Rain will increase the threat of flooding, rock slides, road closures and displacements, according to the National Weather Service.

Due to the wind, area residents should be cognizant of falling debris, downed trees and power lines. There also may be power outages, road blockage and debris blocking waterways.

The following bodies of water are also at risk of flooding next week:

  • Russian River near Guerneville and Geyserville;
  • Mark West Creek near Mirabel Heights;
  • Maacama Creek near Kellogg;
  • Laguna de Santa Rosa at Stony Point Road near Cotati.

3:15 p.m.: Boat sinks in Petaluma Marina because of weather, authorities say

A boat sank in the Petaluma Marina due to weather conditions, Petaluma officials announced Thursday afternoon.

The Petaluma Fire Department responded at about 11:40 a.m. Wednesday to a report of a vessel taking on water in the marina, according to a release from the department.

After firefighters arrived they noticed the boat was also leaking fuel and liquid from its bilge. They determined the boat was slipping into the water because of the weather conditions.

Petaluma Fire was dispatched Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, to a reported vessel that was taking on water at the Petaluma Marina. The battalion chief, along with two engine companies, arrived on scene with the department’s spill response trailer. Authorities said the vessel was taking on water due to weather conditions, and as a result, was sinking, leaking fuel,and liquid from its bilge, into the surrounding water. (City of Petaluma)
Petaluma Fire was dispatched Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, to a reported vessel that was taking on water at the Petaluma Marina. The battalion chief, along with two engine companies, arrived on scene with the department’s spill response trailer. Authorities said the vessel was taking on water due to weather conditions, and as a result, was sinking, leaking fuel,and liquid from its bilge, into the surrounding water. (City of Petaluma)

Firefighters deployed containment booms from the department’s inflatable rescue boat and used absorbent socks to keep hazardous materials from spreading into the Petaluma River Watershed, officials said.

The state Office of Emergency Services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency were notified.

The Harbor Master is working with the boat’s owner to start cleanup and recovery of the vessel.

There were no injuries reported.

2 p.m.: In Santa Rosa, Wednesday night, strong winds down trees, cause much damage

The wind and soaked soils proved to be more of a problem in Santa Rosa Wednesday night than the rain, according to authorities.

The department’s wind gauges measured up to 20 mph winds and 50 mph gusts, mainly through the central and west parts of the city, said Santa Rosa Fire Marshal and Division Chief Paul Lowenthal.

The Santa Rosa Fire Department responded to multiple reports of downed trees because of these winds, Lowenthal said.

“We ended up with several trees into power lines, trees into roadways, into structures and trees actually blowing over and uprooting water lines,” he said. “It was just a lot of wind related incidents.”

Lowenthal said there were “no real flooding issues to be concerned about,” due to a lower rainfall total than was expected.

Santa Rosa firefighters responded about 6 p.m. to a report of a tree fallen into a structure at the 6600 block of Montecito Boulevard, said Santa Rosa Fire Battalion Chief Matt Gloeckner.

When firefighters arrived, they saw that half of an up to 70-foot pine tree had fallen onto the roof of a two-story multi-unit apartment building.

Branches were sticking in through the roof into apartment units and a corner of the building had suffered severe damage. Holes in the roof allowed rain to pour through the ceiling into two of the units, Gloeckner said.

Four of the apartments were evacuated either due to water damage or the continued threat of the tree weighing above the apartments.

The fire department was not able to remove the tree Wednesday night because they had multiple other calls to respond to.

Trees also feel into buildings on Rose Avenue and Jeremy Court, Lowenthal said.

A roof at a home in the Rincon Valley Mobile Estates was blown off.

A tent flew about 20 feet into some power lines about 5:30 p.m. on Moraga Drive. Soon after, power failed for about 600 Pacific Gas and electric customers.

A few blocks away at the property for townhomes at the 2100 block of Citrine Way, a large tree bent and twisted in the 20 mph winds, breaking a water line, which poured into the roots and made the tree bend even more.

1:40 p.m.: Sonoma County residents seek shelter at fairgrounds

Three residents sought shelter from the storm at the emergency evacuation center at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds Thursday.

Michelle Romero, Mass Care Supervisor for American Red Cross, said they are prepared to provide shelter to as many people that may need it and are staying tuned to forecasts, expecting more to come Sunday if flooding worsens.

Red Cross provides the refugees with necessities including three meals a day, prescription and medical device replacement, toiletries and a cot to sleep on.

“We will be here if people need to evacuate,” Romero said. “Also, do it sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until there’s water in your house and listen if people tell you to leave.”

Norman Anderson, 71, sat on a cot at the evacuation center Thursday afternoon, checking forecasts and hoping that when he gets back to his Guerneville home at Sycamore Court Cottages, it won’t be filled with water. It’s an area that’s one of the first places to flood when storms hit, he said.

Norman Anderson, 71, knew his downtown Guerneville home would flood, so he found a ride to the Red Cross shelter for a warm, safe bed and food at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Norman Anderson, 71, knew his downtown Guerneville home would flood, so he found a ride to the Red Cross shelter for a warm, safe bed and food at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Anderson voluntarily evacuated around 3 p.m. Wednesday after his power went off. Familiar with flooding and damage from previous storms, he knew he wanted to leave before a tree could fall and block him from leaving Guerneville.

He said he was thankful for the evacuation center, which was comfortable and mostly empty Thursday, noting that it’s more in his retirement budget than getting a motel room ever night.

“I’m just hoping the Russian River stays around 36 feet,” he said. “I’d hate to have to go home and deal with all that water.”

1:30 p.m.: Multiple trees and power lines downed in Camp Meeker

Power lines were down across and alongside roadways along Tower Road in Camp Meeker. Downed branches and trees, along with the electrical lines, were flagged with yellow tape by authorities.

A landslide of mud and debris partially covered the narrow roadway along St. Dorothy Avenue near St. Dorothy’s Rest and authorities had closed the road with signs and cones.

A man who lived near the religious retreat, Jack Valentine, 50, said he heard at least three big trees crash down in the redwood forest overnight. None struck his home, he said, and other homes in the neighborhood also appeared to have avoided any severe damage.

“You never know until the morning when you look around,” Valentine said.

1:20 p.m.: More than 17,000 without power in Sonoma County

As the storm set in, bringing rains, high winds, downed trees and mudslides, power outages spread across Sonoma County and the North Bay.

As of 12:20 p.m. Thursday, there were 17,830 Sonoma County Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers without power. West county residents are experiencing some of the most widespread outages with 3,772 customers without electricity Sebastopol, 3,423 in Guerneville, 1,574 in Bodega Bay and 873 in Occidental.

The utility could not provide estimates on when power might be restored in these areas since responding crews were still in the “access and assessment phase,” according to PG&E spokesperson Megan McFarland.

She warned that residual flooding, fallen trees and slides might slow efforts to get power up and running following the storms, which are some of the most powerful to hit the region in years.

“The North Coast was particularly hard hit by the storm,” McFarland said. “We have seen a lot of damage, particularly near Fort Ross. Last night the weather conditions were so hazardous that we had to stand down some of our crews for safety. Today, in that area, we have brought in 20 additional crews to help with restoration.”

McFarland said access has been a major issue with road closures caused by downed trees preventing crews from reaching damaged areas in some cases. She added that many of those in the field working on power restoration are without power at home themselves.

There are currently 3,700 staff, contract and mutual aid personnel from eight other utilities in California and surrounding states, working on storm response, according to PG&E. That includes 389 electric crews and 361 troublemen, distribution line technicians and system inspectors who are also accompanied by vegetation crews.

During a 1 p.m. livestream press conference from the utility’s emergency response center in Vacaville, Janisse Quiñones, PG&E’s senior vice president of electric operations, said 440,000 customers had lost power across the service territory with power restored to 325,000 by midday. She estimated restoration for 40,000 more by the end of the night for the roughly 115,000 customers still without electricity.

Quiñones said that crews would have a relatively limited window to work under eased conditions once the storms break before the next ones expected later this weekend and Monday. She attributed power failures so far mainly to wind, flooding and debris pileup due to unstable soil conditions.

To report downed PG&E infrastructure, call 911 and then PG&E at 1-800-743-5000. Those looking for other local support and resources during the storm can call 211.

Check for updates on outages at: pgealerts.alerts.pge.com/outagecenter.

11:57 a.m.: Flooding forces partial closure of Rohnert Park Expressway in Rohnert Park

Rohnert Park Expressway in Rohnert Park is closed in both directions due to flooding between Rancho Verde Circle and Stony Point Road, according to the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety. Authorities advise drivers not to drive through the flooded area as there may be swift moving water.

Rohnert Park Expressway was closed between Rancho Verde Circle and Stony Point Road due to flooding, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Rohnert Park Expressway was closed between Rancho Verde Circle and Stony Point Road due to flooding, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

11:50 a.m.: Caltrans works to clear tree from Highway 1 at Bodega Highway

11:40 a.m.: Sonoma vineyards soaked

Video by Sonoma Index-Tribune’s Chase Hunter shows vineyards on Napa Road in Sonoma flooded after heavy rain:

11:30 a.m.: Trees down ”just about everywhere” in west county

In video posted to Twitter Thursday, Press Democrat photojournalist Kent Porter said there were trees down “just about everywhere” in west Sonoma County.

10:45 a.m.: Weather service issues coastal flood warning

The National Weather Service issued a coastal flood warning Thursday morning for the Bay Area shoreline and the North Bay valleys, including Santa Rosa.

The warning will be in effect from when it was issued at about 10:40 a.m. until 4 p.m. Thursday, according to a post from the weather service.

The combination of a large swell, “excessive” rainfall runoff and recent high tide will lead to at least minor flooding in low-lying areas along the coast, bay front, marshes and sloughs, according to the post.

Flooding could also take place at parking lots, coastal trails, sidewalks and roadways not typically affected by water.

9:30 a.m.: Power still out in Guerneville, where wary residents eye rising river

Residents in Guerneville were still without electricity Thursday morning, nearly 18 hours after storm damage caused a major blackout here.

Very few businesses are operating with backup power. Safeway, the gas station across the street, a heavy liquor store and, of course King's Sport &Tackle are open with generators.

In nearby Monte Rio, residents do have power.

Throughout the morning, some residents have been going down to Johnson's Beach in Guerneville, assessing how high the river has risen and deciding whether to stay in town or leave.

After a forecast crest of about 25-feet early Friday, the river is expected to drop by a few feet before shooting back up to 36 feet early Monday. Flood stage is 32 feet in Guerneville. Major damage occurs at 40 feet or higher.

"I wanted to see how much it's come up since the last time I was here and it definitely has risen noticeably," said Madeline Thayer, 37, standing just feet from the waterline of the swelling river at Johnson's Beach.

Thayer said she just got back from Santa Rosa where she bought dry ice to keep her freezer and refrigerator perishables from spoiling.

Thayer said she's still debating whether to stay in Guerneville or leave town. The power outage and flooding expected this weekend will make it difficult to endure, she said.

8:50 a.m. Schellville’s Highway 121 is closed to traffic

The wet weather caused the flood-prone Highway 121 in Schellville to close to traffic Thursday morning, as high tide hit at 9:08 a.m. bringing more water to the area. While it wasn’t listed on Caltrans online street outages, a reporter on scene noted the closure. Traffic is being diverted to Watmaugh Road, Napa Road, Highway 37 and other arteries.

8:15 a.m.: Gravenstein Union becomes latest school to close doors due to weather Thursday

School closures grew by one Thursday morning.

About 8 a.m., the Sonoma County Office of Education released an updated list of schools closed Thursday. They are:

  • Fort Ross Elementary District
  • Gravenstein Union School District
  • Guerneville School District
  • Harmony Union School District
  • Horicon School District
  • Kashia School District
  • Monte Rio Union School District
  • Montgomery Elementary District
  • Twin Hills Union School District
  • West Side Union Elementary District
  • West Sonoma County Union High School District
  • Credo High School
  • Pathways Charter (open for distance learning)
  • REACH Charter

7:40 a.m.: Local authorities continue to monitor rising waters, some of which are already affecting roadways

Local roadways are littered with debris and experiencing flooding and puddling of water.

In Petaluma, the westbound lane of Lakeville Highway just east of Browns Lane is flooding Thursday morning, according to a news release from the Petaluma Police Department.

As of 7:40 a.m., eastbound Lakeville Highway near Frates Road, which had been closed earlier Thursday morning due to flooding, is open.

There is also minor flooding on Browns Lane and on Ely Boulevard South, south of Frates Road.

Petaluma city officials are anticipating more flooding throughout the day as local streams continue to rise.

No heavy flooding or weather-related injuries were reported overnight.

In Sebastopol, Lynch Road between Gravenstein Highway South and McFarlane Avenue is closed due to downed trees, according to the Sebastopol Police Department.

Wednesday night, drivers were diverted from Bodega Avenue between Pleasant Hill Road and Golden Ridge Avenue for the same reason.

As of 6 a.m., Rohnert Park Expressway between Stony Point Road and Rancho Verde Circle is reopened, according to a release from the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety.

However, the road may close again later this morning due to flooding.

Multiple agencies cautioned against driving through standing water because it can be deeper than it appears.

7:30 a.m.: Lighter flooding forecast on Russian River

Forecasters have substantially revised their projections for the Russian River’s rise in Guerneville and now say the river is more likely to rise just four feet or so above flood stage by early Monday, rather than eight.

That could mean a huge relief to residents and business owners along the lower reaches of the river, many of which are now more likely to be spared damage if projections hold true.

The river also is not expected to reach flood stage until Sunday afternoon, as opposed to late Thursday, according to the latest projections from the California Nevada River Forecast Center operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

New rain forecast for late Friday and Saturday appears poised to raise the river steadily Saturday and Sunday, reaching flood stage of 32 feet around 2 p.m. Sunday and cresting at 36.1 feet around 4 a.m. Monday.

It previously had been projected to reach 39.7 feet by Monday.

Thousands of residents along the river and its tributaries between Healdsburg and Jenner below the 40-foot level are under an evacuation warning instructing them to be prepared to evacuate if conditions warrant it.

The latest forecast was issued at 7:22 a.m. Thursday.

7 a.m.: Track the storm

Track the storm using the real-time radar map below:

6 a.m.: A look at 24-hour rain totals, wind gusts across Sonoma County

From Wednesday at 4 a.m. to Thursday at 4 a.m., Santa Rosa received 1.87 inches of rain, Petaluma received 1.97 inches, Healdsburg saw 2.13 inches and Cloverdale got 3.05 inches, according to a tweet from the National Weather Service’s Monterey office early Thursday. Petaluma saw wind speeds up to 42 mph and Santa Rosa saw 39 mph winds.

This story will be updated.

Staff Writers Martin Espinosa, Alana Minkler, Marisa Endicott, Kathleen Coates, and Andrew Graham contributed to this report.

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