Storm drops up to 12 inches of rain on Sonoma County, swamping roads, closing schools
The biggest storm of the winter began its slow denouement Thursday in the North Bay, leaving rainfall totals in the double digits in the wettest spots, as well as swamped roads, closed schools, fallen trees and other problems, with still more showers expected into late Sunday night.
By Thursday night, the atmospheric river that made landfall Tuesday had dropped more than 12 inches of rain in the hills west of Healdsburg — as usual, the rainfall leader for the Bay Area — with much of the rest of Sonoma County receiving 5 inches or more.
The heavy runoff closed dozens of roads across the region, including more than 30 in rural Sonoma County on Thursday morning. As the storm began to taper, forecasts that had once envisioned moderate-to-major flooding on the lower Russian River were downgraded, with waters now set to crest early Friday at 36 feet, only about 4 feet over flood levels.
Residents in Guerneville, where the Russian River often spills its banks during big storms, expressed relief.
“I just can’t believe it’s not worse,” said Amber Spienza, 27, who with her friend, April Dellinges, was checking on a friend in the Sycamore Court neighborhood of Guerneville on Thursday. “This is nothing. It was way worse in 2017.”
Dellinges, also 27, changed into bathing suit bottoms before wading into muddy water to make sure their friend had safely evacuated. She had and soon the friends were back in their SUV and driving away.
The deluge Wednesday night led to the majority of calls for area firefighters, Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman said.
“The crest estimates of the Russian River are usually inflated a bit, so we knew going into this storm that it was probably not going to be as bad as predicted,” he said.
The three-day storm doused Monte Rio, Bodega Bay and Occidental with close to 9 inches of rain. Parts of Healdsburg and Guerneville reported about 7 inches. Santa Rosa and Cloverdale received more than 5 inches and Petaluma, Cotati and Sebastopol got nearly 4 inches.
The timing of the storm evoked comparisons to winters past, including the infamous Valentine’s Day flood of 1986, when the Russian River hit nearly 49 feet in Guerneville, and another in February 1995 that reached 48 feet.
With those in mind, the projected 36-foot crest on Friday just didn’t measure up for longtime residents.
“This weather’s nothing,” said Joel Martin, who has lived along the river since 1973 and is a manager at the True Value Hardware store off River Road. “I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
Even so, flooding hampered traffic Wednesday and Thursday on many key roadways, with the hardest hit areas being Highway 121 through Sonoma Valley and Highway 12 in the same area. Drivers using Highway 116 to connect to Highway 101 in the Petaluma area also saw flooding. Emergency dispatchers reported no major crashes during the course of the storm.
As of 9:30 p.m. Thursday, the slow lane on southbound Highway 101 was closed at Rodeo Drive in Marin County due to a mudslide. CHP Marin said on Twitter there was no estimated time for reopening the lane.