The bomb cyclone that hit the Bay Area on Wednesday drenched Palo Alto and East Palo Alto with heavy rain and winds. The weather event led to downed trees and arcing power lines that closed roads and knocked out power to thousands of residents.
Wednesday's major storm came roaring in late in the afternoon and early evening, with wind-driven rain pelting the Bay Area. A high-wind warning is in effect, with wind speeds of 20 to 30 mph and gusts of 40 to 50 mph expected in the valley areas; wind speeds for the mountains were forecasted at 30-40 mph with 60-70 mph gusts through 10 a.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
The storm, which meteorologists predict will last through late Thursday afternoon, dumped 1.1 inches of rain in Palo Alto between Wednesday and Thursday mornings and more than 2 inches in the Santa Cruz Mountains, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But rain that was predicted to exceed the Dec. 31 storm and potentially cause San Francisquito Creek to overtop again on Wednesday night didn't materialize. The water levels were at about 50% of capacity for San Francisquito, Matadero and Adobe creeks during the peak of the storm.
The atmospheric river still created outages, downed trees and roadway flooding, which caused some street closures. Wind was the largest factor, causing trees to fall and branches to snap, some onto power lines.
The evening started with periods of heavy rain that caused some street flooding. Police closed northbound El Camino Real at the University Avenue underpass due to water at around 5:50 p.m. and remained blocked as of late Thursday morning. Earlier on Wednesday, the underpass had been open except for one lane in each direction.
Four inches of water were reported at about 6:30 p.m. at the intersection of Illinois Street and Purdue Avenue in East Palo Alto and flooding also occurred at Elwell Court and East Bayshore Road, according to police dispatchers.
An 80-foot-tall tree that was 20 inches in diameter blocked Page Mill Road between Hanover Street and Peter Coutts Road at 5:55 p.m. All lanes were closed in both directions due to the tree and a disabled vehicle.
Starting at 6:20 p.m., a series of power outages grew from 70 customers to more than 3,000 in Palo Alto after high winds toppled trees, downed power lines and caused branches to land on lines, causing electrical arcing. In East Palo Alto, more than 2,000 customers were without power. Multiple houses on Louis Road, Aspen Court and Evergreen Road were evacuated due to a live power line that started a fire.
By 9 a.m. Thursday, about 160 Palo Alto and two East Palo Alto customers were still without power, according to Palo Alto Utilities and PG&E outage maps.
City crews from multiple departments worked throughout the night. Public Works employees responded to 33 calls concerning downed trees and 22 regarding flooding and storm drains. Utilities workers responded to 10 reported outages, which were all due to downed trees or branches, the city said in a Thursday morning update.
Palo Alto police and fire personnel responded to dozens of calls about storm-related vehicle collisions, alarms, road closures and other unsafe conditions. The city's emergency dispatch center answered more than 300 total calls overnight. Fifteen people utilized the city's Community Resource Center on Wednesday and overnight into Thursday morning.
After a night of high winds and toppling trees in Palo Alto, Tomm Marshall and Jorge Silva were out on Thursday morning surveying the damage and checking in on repairs to electrical lines.
Marshall, the city of Palo Alto Utilities' assistant director of utilities, and Silva, the city's electric operations manager, had been up all night working to restore power across the city.
In south Palo Alto, eucalyptus limbs in a backyard on Evergreen Drive had fallen at 10:15 p.m. on the electrical pole and wires, crashing into the secondary power lines and coming to rest there, Marshall said.
Given the hazard, the city turned off power to the block, and residents were evacuated for their safety.
On Thursday morning, the sounds of a chainsaw filled the air as a crew that included the Davey Tree company was busy figuring out how to remove the limbs without imperiling the electrical lines.
"It's been fun," joked Silva, standing on the sidewalk after a long night of work.
Until the tree is removed from the lines, the utilities crews can't repair the damage and restore power.
The Evergreen scene was one of a handful that the city staff were working to address Thursday morning. Not far away, in the 3300 block of Middlefield Road, a large tree branch in another backyard tree had broken off after midnight and severed the electrical lines.
Though the storm's rains were not as torrential as had been predicted by meteorologists, the wind caused all kinds of havoc.
"Wind is our enemy," said Silva, noting that wind speeds peaked around 11 p.m. Wednesday, knocking out power in several areas.
The heavy rains for the past week have saturated the ground, Marshall added, and when that happens, trees are more easily toppling over in gusty winds.
More rain is expected through 3 p.m. on Thursday, with isolated showers and thunderstorms. A flood watch for Santa Clara and San Mateo counties is in effect until 4 p.m. on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
Here's a breakdown of Wednesday's and Thursday's events, in reverse chronological order:
Thursday, Jan. 5
El Camino Real partially reopens — 4 p.m.: Two lanes, one in each direction, of El Camino Real at the University Avenue underpass have reopened. On Wednesday night, the northbound section had been closed due to flooding while the southbound section remained accessible. The city advised the public to be cautious when driving through the area.
Updates as of 11:30 a.m.:
Street closures: Northbound El Camino Real is closed at the University Avenue underpass for flooding. Southbound El Camino Real at that location remains open. Street signals might be out at other locations due to power outages. Motorists should treat dark, signalized intersections as four-way stops. All other road closures from the night before have since been cleared.
Overnight water flow in all creeks far below flood-warning levels: The flood risk remains low at this time, though rain and wind are expected to continue into the afternoon, the city of Palo Alto said in an online update. The city is monitoring the next storm, with more rain forecasted for Saturday and continuing intermittently through next week. Crews are working to address five remaining power outages, with restoration expected by this afternoon for most customers.
Community Resource Center remains open: Palo Alto's Community Resource Center at Rinconada Library will remain open until at least 8 p.m. Thursday night to provide residents in need with a warm and dry location away from their home to relocate and gather. Visitors can also charge devices, use a laptop, find a hotel and determine next steps.
Prepare for additional power outages and stay safe on the roadways: The city of Palo Alto is asking residents to remain patient through Thursday's storm and future forecasted storms. Residents can prepare for power outages by creating an emergency supply kit, filling their vehicle's gas tank, and consulting their medical provider concerning any special medical considerations that may arise during an outage. A complete list of tips and resources related to outages is available at cityofpaloalto.org. Roadways might still contain standing water or fallen debris, and it's important not to touch downed wires or move fallen branches, which may be entangled with live wires.
Wednesday Jan. 4
Flood warning expires — 11:45 p.m.: The National Weather Service announced that its flood warning has expired for Santa Clara County and other areas in central and northern California. "The heavy rain has ended. Flooding is no longer expected to pose a threat. However, additional rain showers are anticipated through early Thursday morning and water continues to recede from previous rainfall," the National Weather Service said in a statement. "Please continue to heed remaining road closures."
Fewer customers without power — 11:37 p.m.: The Palo Alto Utilities outage map now shows about 200 customers have lost service.
Wires down on Forest Avenue — 11:20 p.m.: Palo Alto firefighters responded to a report of wires down on Forest Avenue at Hale Street, where a tree was leaning on a power pole and wires were sparking, according to an emergency dispatch report. The tree was reportedly on fire, which was put out after power was shut off a short time later.
Palo Alto Utilities alert urges residents not to move tree branches — 11:19 p.m.: The Palo Alto Utilities Department sent out an alert urging residents to avoid moving any branches or trees due to live power lines that could be entangled. For any power-related emergencies, residents should call 650-496-6914.
Flood risk is low — 11:10 p.m.: While strong winds sparked power outages, the good news is that so far at least, the risk of flooding is low, with the city’s creek monitor showing water level well below capacity at some of the city’s most flood-prone areas. At the Pope-Chaucer Bridge, which has a capacity of 24 feet and which was pushed to the brink during last Saturday's storm, the San Francisquito Creek stood at about 7.7 feet as of 11 p.m. And in the upstream area at Stanford University, which usually serves as a harbinger for future flooding in the more urbanized downstream areas, the water level was gauged at just over 4 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By comparison, the creek height at that location was measured at well over 12 feet on the morning of Dec. 31. "While rain will continue overnight, the flood risk is low," the city announced in a 10:35 p.m. update. "Staff will continue to monitor creek levels overnight as a precaution."
Fewer customers without power — 11 p.m.: The Palo Alto Utilities outage map now shows about 2,000 customers have lost service.
More street closures — 10:35 p.m.: Various streets throughout the city are closed because of flooding or downed trees. Flooding prompted the closure of West Bayshore Road, between Loma Verde and Waverley Street, and East Bayshore Road between Elwell Court and San Antonio Road. Northbound El Camino Real is also closed at the University Avenue underpass, though El Camino is open in the southbound direction. Meanwhile, fallen trees prompted the city to close Embarcadero, between Middlefield and Waverley, and Foothill Expressway, where the city reported a vehicle collision and a tree that was down.
Wires down on Webster Street — 10:31 p.m.: A 60-foot tree has fallen onto wires at 1500 Webster, at the intersection with Embarcadero Road.
Thousands lose power — 10:24 p.m.: City of Palo Alto Utilities reports that an additional 3,000 customers had lost power. This includes large sections of downtown, Midtown, Ventura and Old Palo Alto.
Power outages in East Palo Alto — 10:20 p.m.: Nearly 2,170 customers are without power in East Palo Alto, according to PG&E. Power outages are affecting various parts of East Palo Alto, including the 1900 block of Tate Street, Scofield Avenue and the residential neighborhood bounded by West Bayshore Road. All of the Gardens neighborhood west of O'Connor Street are without power.
National Weather Service advisory — 10:19 p.m.: Expect additional heavy rain and winds between now and midnight. Winds could reach 50 mph.
Evacuations along Evergreen Drive, Louis Road and Aspen Way — 10:15 p.m.: Police and fire crews are evacuating residences in the 3600 block of Evergreen Drive and Louis Road and in the 800 block of Aspen Way in south Palo Alto due to downed and arcing wires.
Wires down at major intersection — 10:07 p.m.: Wires are down at Newell Road and Embarcadero Road, which has resulted in an outage spanning from Embarcadero Road to Palo Alto Avenue.
Outage leaves hundreds without power — 10 p.m.: About 1,200 Palo Alto Utilities customers are impacted by a power outage. There is no estimated time of when service will be restored. As of 10:15 p.m., nearly 1,700 customers were without power, mostly in north Palo Alto. Power is out along part of Embarcadero Road where a downed tree on Webster Street is resting on wires, according to dispatchers.
Report of wires down — 9:50 p.m.: Palo Alto firefighters are responding to a report of a downed tree that took down wires in the 3600 block of Louis Road.
Power goes out — 9:44 p.m.: About 13 Palo Alto Utilities customers are impacted by a power outage in the 94303 area code. There is no estimated time of when service will be restored.
Downed wire sparks minor fire — 9:40 p.m.: A power line went down and landed in the backyard of a home in the 3600 block of Evergreen Drive, resulting in minor sparks and flames. An initial emergency dispatch report indicated the fire endangered a building. A Palo Alto Utilities crew has been called to the scene.
Page Mill Road reopens — 8:51 p.m.: Crews have reopened all but one lane on Page Mill Road after removing a tree that had blocked the busy transportation artery earlier in the evening. One eastbound lane remains closed and the city has asked motorists to proceed with caution in the area.
Lights are back on — 8:40 p.m.: Palo Alto Utilities tweeted that power has been restored for about 70 customers who were left in the dark due to a tree limb on a power line earlier in the evening.
Santa Clara County declares state of emergency — 8:28 p.m.: Santa Clara County officials issued a local emergency declaration due to storm conditions and risks to the public and property on Wednesday night.
Flooding in East Palo Alto — 6:38 p.m.: Four inches of water reported at the intersection of Illinois Street and Purdue Avenue.
Flooding in Palo Alto — 6:30 p.m.: Elwell Court and East Bayshore Road is flooding.
Power outage in Palo Alto — 6:20 p.m.: About 70 Palo Alto Utilities customers are without power in an area that includes east of Middlefield Road that includes the Midtown and Saint Francis neighborhoods, according to the city's outage map. Service is estimated to be restored around 5 a.m. on Thursday.
Tree down in Palo Alto — 5:55 p.m.: Police dispatch reports a tree down in the roadway blocking the eastbound lanes on Page Mill Road between Hanover Street and Peter Coutts Road. The 80-foot-tall tree is 20 inches in diameter. All lanes are closed in both directions due to the downed tree and a disabled vehicle. There is no estimated time of when the roadway will reopen.
Flood watch in Palo Alto — 5:50 p.m. Police dispatch reports a flood watch on northbound El Camino Real at the University Avenue underpass, which is being shut down to traffic. Earlier on Wednesday, the underpass had been open except for one lane in each direction.
Palo Alto Community Resource Center opens — 2 p.m.: City staff open a Community Resource Center at Rinconada Library at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. The center is for residents who need a warm and dry location away from their home to relocate and gather. Visitors can also charge devices, use a laptop, find a hotel, and determine their next steps. The Community Resource Center will be open overnight until at least 8 p.m. on Thursday.
Palo Alto Emergency Operations Center opens: The Emergency Operations Center at City Hall opens on Wednesday for city staff to share information on conditions, coordinate emergency responses, communicate emergency information to the public, and work with regional partners.
This page is being continuously updated as information about the impacts of the storm becomes available.
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