Rain pounds Sonoma County, spurs flooding, slides

Authorities were dealing with mudslides, toppled trees, closed roads and swelled waterways as one of a series of storms blew through the region Friday.|


Check road closures around Sonoma County


The first of three storms expected to drench Sonoma County through the weekend dropped another inch of rain over the region overnight but wasn't packing quite the Friday punch forecasters had predicted.

The main front shifted to the south, sparing the North Bay the two to three additional inches meteorologists thought possible Friday, but still leaving the region dealing with swelled waterways, flooded roads, mudslides and toppled trees.

“They were predicting a pretty significant rain through this morning, but it's not as bad as we feared,” said Paul Lowenthal, Santa Rosa Fire Department assistant fire marshal.

Shortly before 11 a.m. Friday, a mudslide took out a power pole and large tree in the 10000 block of Occidental Road, knocking out power to much of the surrounding area, Graton Fire Chief Bill Bullard said. Firefighters and county roads crews were dispatched to the scene west of Mill Station Road to clear the roadway, while PG&E crews were sent to restore power.

Emergency crews reported few major storm related incidents overnight, though a large slide closed Highway 1 north of Fort Bragg, according to the California Highway Patrol.

About 5 inches of rain had fallen in the coastal hills west of Healdsburg by Thursday evening, while nearly 3.25 inches came down outside Santa Rosa at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, said Bob Benjamin with the National Weather Service. Petaluma rain gauges measured about 1.6 inches of moisture.

An additional half inch may fall on Santa Rosa by Friday afternoon before a second storm rolls in midday Saturday and third on Sunday that will taper off Monday.

Though rain was expected to be light Friday, crews were still worried about winds associated with the system toppling trees into power lines, Lowenthal said.

“With as much rain as we've had even light winds are a concern,” he said.

With the ground already saturated, runoff was plentiful Thursday, turning some roads into water hazards and quickly raising streams and rivers, with water levels expected to continue rising through Saturday.

The forecast and isolated flooding prompted school officials to cancel classes Friday at several campuses in Guerneville, Monte Rio and Occidental.

But because of the shift of the storm to the south, the flood watches for North Bay rivers were being revised, Lowenthal said.

The latest forecasts for the Russian River showed it cresting at 26 feet Saturday afternoon and 25 feet on Monday, well below the 32-foot flood stage.

Nevertheless, officials throughout the region warned drivers to heed warnings and not to test their luck driving through inundated roads, as firefighters were scrambled several times Thursday to help stranded motorists whose vehicles stalled amid rising waters.

High water spilling across trails at Spring Lake Regional Park in Santa Rosa forced authorities to close the park Thursday. Also closed due to flooding were Steelhead Beach and Mom's Beach along the Russian River and the campground at Gualala Point Regional Park.

Across Sonoma County, the wet weather was blamed for a number of problems, including mudslides, car crashes and downed trees.

Santa Rosa firefighters were scrambled mid-morning Thursday on reports that a man was seen floating in the rushing Santa Rosa Creek. Crews were stationed on overpasses between Stony Point Road and Willowside Road, searching for the man. But there were no sightings, Santa Rosa Battalion Chief Jack Piccinini said.

“We suspended the search after giving it a pretty thorough effort,” he said Thursday night. “We did not find anything.”

A flash flood warning covered a large swath of southeastern Sonoma County through at least midnight Thursday, but officials said they saw only light flooding on streets and in parking lots. It was “nothing worth putting up signs for,” Petaluma Battalion Chief Jeff Holden said.

Earlier in the day, a 40-foot section of awning at the Kmart on Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa collapsed shortly before 8 a.m. A preliminary investigation revealed that scuppers designed to move water off the building's roof may have been blocked, causing water to collect on top of the structure, Piccinini said.

“It wasn't that it rained so hard so fast ... It was that there may have been some blockage,” he said.

A contractor had recently been working to repair dry rot in the area of the collapse, according to city building inspector Don Folsom.

County and state road crews cleared several mudslides in west county, starting with debris that slid onto Bohemian Highway and Highway 116 in Monte Rio. Just outside of town, another mudslide brought down a pair of 70-foot trees and blocked a lane of Main Street between Fir and Tyrone roads. Crews then rushed over to the Hacienda Bridge at River Road where a large tree limb had landed on power lines.

Jennifer Larocque, a county Transportation and Public Works spokeswoman, said crews had to close down at least 10 roads on Thursday due to the weather. That included Summerhome Park Road in Forestville, which was blocked by a mudslide.

“We're working to clear the roads so that people can get by. That's our number one priority,” Larocque said.

The list of closed roads Thursday night included Eastside Road near Trenton-Healdsburg Road, Rohnert Park Expressway at Stony Point Road and Todd Road west of Santa Rosa.

Winds are expected to pick up Friday, with gusts up to 40 mph, Anderson said. He urged residents and motorists to be careful as more trees are expected to come down.

“Be cautious,” he said. “Around the next corner there could be a large tree down.”

Classes were canceled Friday at Monte Rio Union School, Guerneville School and Harmony Elementary and Salmon Creek Charter schools.

Slide prone areas in regions burned by fires in Lake County last year fared well during the heaviest rainfall Thursday morning, thanks in large part to preventive measures taken by public works crews, according to Lake County officials.

However, as rainfall totals climbed Thursday - Middletown received nearly 3 inches by evening - officials warned all Lake County residents to be prepared for flooding and slides. They expect the current deluge to cause problems in the low-lying Scotts Valley Road area northwest of Lakeport by Friday at the latest.

In Mendocino County, the Russian River had doubled in height at Hopland by Thursday evening and was set to rise by 4 p.m. Friday to nearly 19 feet, 2 feet below flood stage. Highways 175 and 222 near Ukiah and secondary roads in low-lying areas of Hopland, Ukiah and Talmage were likely to be affected, officials said.

In west Sonoma County, residents greeted the Russian River's rise with a mix of curiosity and foreboding.

Erin Simpson stood outside her rental home on Guernewood Drive, watching the muddy and swiftly-moving water overtake a bridge at the Cozy Cove beach access.

Simpson and her boyfriend, Ian Ferguson, were hoping to avoid a repeat of December 2014, when powerful storms brought the river to within feet of their home and made Neeley Road - the only access point to their neighborhood on the south side of the river - virtually impassable.

“We have kayaks. That's how I look at it,” Simpson said.

At Cozy Cove, Sandra Lambert shot video of the river cresting over the bridge. The Guerneville resident said she's gotten used to floods over the years.

“You go with the flow,” she said.

Overseeing the operation to remove downed trees Thursday, Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman remarked that it had been a relatively quiet morning, given the weather conditions. But he said that could change quickly in coming days.

Nearby, Dutch Bill Creek flowed with purpose. Baxman said the creek backs up and floods the road when the Russian River reaches 32 feet.

“We're saturated,” he said.

Staff writers Kevin McCallum and Glenda Anderson contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bill Bullard is chief of the Graton Fire Protection District. An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect title.


Check road closures around Sonoma County


UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:
  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.