As the strongest storm of the winter whipped through Northern California on Wednesday night, Sonoma County first responders and firefighters juggled mounting calls of downed trees and power lines.
Heavy rainfall and powerful winds were expected to strengthen up to 50 mph in some areas as the storm reached its peak around midnight, according to the National Weather Service, which issued a flash flood warning, a coastal flood advisory and a wind advisory across Sonoma County for Wednesday night and Thursday.
The storm front is expected to drench much of Northern and Central California through Thursday, dumping as much as 10 inches of rain in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The front also is forecasted to pound the northern Sierra Nevada with potentially life-threatening blizzard conditions, dumping up to 5 feet of snow.
With the heavy rainfall forecasted, the National Weather Service alerted area residents living in the neighborhoods severely burned in the October 2017 wildfires to the high risk for mudslides.
North Coast residents can expect the storm to linger through Thursday, bringing thunderstorms and lighter showers into the afternoon. Although the worst will be over by early morning, expect a longer-than-usual commute to work and likely snarled traffic due to flooding, fallen trees and slick roadways.
“When all is said and done those mountain neighborhoods inside the county (Sonoma) are going to get hammered by the rain,” said Steve Anderson, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “It’s a given that there will be downed power lines and trees everywhere through the duration of the storm.”
On Wednesday night, Santa Rosa Junior College officials had to evacuate the Mendocino Avenue campus after a power outage about 6:20 p.m., college spokesman Erin Bricker said. The Harlem Globetrotters basketball game, scheduled to start at the college’s Haehl Pavilion at 7:00 p.m., had to be cancelled. If PG&E can’t restore electricity overnight or early Thursday morning, college officials will make the decision around 6 a.m. to cancel classes.
Also, more than 5,000 west Petaluma residents and businesses lost power for about 90 minutes Wednesday evening, and at least 1,500 customers were without power in the west county communities of Occidental, Camp Meeker and Freestone, PG&E said. Several smaller power failures around the county affected pockets of residents throughout Wednesday. Residents also dealt with downed trees.
The storm caused major damage on several Guerneville properties, resident Shane Francis said. A large tree, which Francis estimated at around 200 feet tall, fell and crashed through three properties on the 17700 block of Monte Rio Road. It crushed his car and his neighbor’s shed.
“We don’t know if our car works or not. It starts but the frame is bent .. and it’s probable we’re not going to be able to salvage it,” he said. “Fun times in Guerneville.”
Low-lying areas in Sebastopol, Graton and Forestville are especially vulnerable to flooding. In addition, roads and structures near Green Valley Creek and Santa Rosa Creek also are locations another National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Rowe cited as places to watch for flooding.
“Flash floods are more likely to occur in low-lying areas, such as roadways next to running water,” Rowe said. “So things will quickly start flooding in most of these areas.”