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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Gear up for a brutal Bay Area storm starting Wednesday

A ferocious storm with intense precipitation and high winds will descend upon the Bay Area starting Wednesday, the latest and perhaps strongest event in an impressive run of rain — and authorities are urging residents to plan for an atmospheric river that could produce some of the worst floods throughout the region in years.

“Tuesday is the last day to make preparations,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Ryan Walbrun. “Take advantage of that.”

The Wednesday storm and the rain coming afterward, he said, could end up competing with rainfall in 2017 that hit San Jose particularly hard and caused widespread damages and emergency evacuations. The agency is keeping a watchful eye on multiple areas across the region for flooding, specifically locations in and around the East Bay’s Alameda Creek, Santa Clara County’s Coyote Creek, San Benito County’s Pacheco Creek, the Peninsula’s San Francisquito Creek, Santa Cruz County’s San Lorenzo Creek, and Sonoma County and Mendocino County’s Russian River.

CASTRO VALLEY, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 2: A section of A Street near Crescent Avenue is closed after washing into San Lorenzo Creek on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Castro Valley, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
HAYWARD – JANUARY 2: A section of A Street near Crescent Avenue is closed after washing into San Lorenzo Creek on Monday near the Hayward-Castro Valley border. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

Walbrun said the last couple of days of wet weather have created a perfect opportunity for widespread flooding, since soil  across the region is already saturated with water, giving falling rain nowhere to go.

“We’re running out of places to push the water right now,” he said. On Monday, a flood watch was issued for the entire region through Thursday.

The moisture-rich and loose soil combined with the high winds — which are expected to reach 35 to 55 miles per hour — will create hazardous conditions for falling trees and downed power lines. Rain amounts will vary across the region, from 1 to 3 inches in the lower-lying areas to up to 10 inches in the mountains.

The most extreme weather will come late Wednesday evening into early Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Another spate of rain will hit during the weekend, the agency said.

Authorities are recommending that Bay Area residents make plans for power outages and stock up on sandbags if their property is particularly prone to flooding. Residents are also being urged to not travel on Wednesday and Thursday since roadways will likely experience flooding. Local health authorities are also warning about the health risks posed by flood waters, which can create a soupy mess of toxic substances causing disease.

“Floodwater can contain all kinds of dangerous materials, and it is obviously best to avoid any contact with the water,” said San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow in a Sunday press release. “Raw sewage, animal waste, toxic substances, chemical compounds, fungus, bacteria – things you would rather avoid – may be in the water, and you need to take precautions to avoid illness or injury.”

On Monday, Bay Area residents began making preparations for the upcoming storm.

Ken and Darlene Zertuzhe, fill up their sand bags as they prepare for the storm. At the Embarcadero Road site in Palo Alto, Calif., on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (Josie Lepe for Bay Area News Group)
Ken and Darlene Zertuzhe, fill up their sandbags at the Embarcadero Road site in Palo Alto, on Monday. (Josie Lepe for Bay Area News Group) 

At the City Corporation Yard in Redwood City, residents shoveled sand into bags in hopes of avoiding flooding. Some were pummeled with rain during New Year’s Eve as water inundated yards and in some cases, entered homes.

“We were sweeping water (out of our garage),” said longtime Redwood City resident Linda Marsh. “We were hammered. … My side of the street was like a river.” Marsh said she lined her home with sandbags before last week’s storm but the “old, dead leaky bags” didn’t stand a chance. About two inches of water flooded her garage. On Monday, she made sure to restock on fresh bags ahead of the new storm.

John Potter, who has lived in his current Redwood City home for about one and a half years and was also collecting sandbags, says water was flowing in his backyard after last week’s storm. None of it entered the home, luckily, but he’s not taking any chances with the upcoming rainfall.

Over in Oakland, the staff at the city’s zoo was working “around the clock” to prepare for Wednesday’s storm. The zoo, in the East Oakland hills, is particularly prone to flooding and was forced to close through at least Jan. 17 because of an enormous sinkhole at the site’s entrance that opened after Saturday’s storm.

“It’s been devastating,” said the zoo’s CEO, Nik Dehejia, who estimates the combined damages and closure could reach up to $1 million in lost revenue. “We’re trying to stay ahead of it.”

Groundskeepers continue mopping up after clearing a ruptured culvert pipe under a collapsed roadway leading into at Oakland Zoo early Monday, January 2, 2023. The zoo is shut down until at least January 17 as it repairs damage caused by a record-setting atmospheric river. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group)
Groundskeepers continue mopping up after clearing a ruptured culvert pipe under a collapsed roadway leading into at Oakland Zoo early Monday. The zoo is shut down until at least Jan. 17 as it repairs damage caused by a record-setting atmospheric river. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group) 

Dehejia said many of the animals have been brought inside and away from the site’s numerous eucalyptus trees — about half a dozen of which have fallen over the last couple of days. Staff members are sweeping up mud covering the zoo’s walkways, putting barricades in place to prevent water from reaching certain areas, and placing straw and sandbags in flood-prone spots.

“We are resilient,” Dehejia said. “We will get through this.”

Though residents and emergency personnel had their minds on the upcoming storm, flooding from the heavy rains on New Year’s Eve that brought San Francisco and Oakland some of their highest one-day rain totals ever was still causing mayhem across the region.

In the East Bay, both lanes on Highway 84 from Fremont to Sunol through Niles Canyon remain closed — and are not expected to reopen until Friday evening.

In Contra Costa County, Marsh Creek Road is closed between Deer Valley Road and Morgan Territory Road because of falling rocks and mudslides, according to its public works department. Deer Valley Road is also closed to all traffic between Briones Valley Road and Marsh Creek Road because of a sinkhole. Spokesperson Kelly Kalfsbeek said there is as yet no expected date for these roads to reopen.

In Sacramento, authorities were making rescue attempts after New Year’s Eve sparked evacuations, breached levees and closed off roads, according to the Sacramento Bee. By Monday morning, Highway 99 was able to open and water levels began to recede.

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