Power Failures in Northern California as Storm Rolls In
By CAROL POGASHDEC. 11, 2014
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Bay Area residents, bedeviled by water restrictions and arid farmland after three consecutive years of drought, had a different problem Thursday as a major rainstorm pushed across Northern California, flooding roads and towns, toppling trees and knocking out power to tens of thousands of houses and businesses.
The storm, one of the windiest and rainiest in five years, was expected to last at least through the night.
Diana Henderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said the storm was inching along. "That's part of the problem," she said. "The rain is over one spot for a prolonged period."
The Bay Area Rapid Transit station at Montgomery Street, which serves the financial district, was shut down this morning. A spokesman for the transit authority said an electrical transformer appeared to have malfunctioned. High winds canceled some ferry service east of San Francisco.
In Woodacre, north of San Francisco, the National Weather Service reported two inches of rain by midmorning. A flash flood warning was issued for Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Drains in some communities were backing up. Tree branches clattered onto roofs and wind chimes belled as outdoor holiday decorations took a beating in the high winds.
Schools in San Francisco, Oakland and Marin counties shut down Thursday before the heaviest rainfall began, with administrators fearing that students heading to school could be endangered.
At San Francisco International Airport, where winds were measured at 48 miles an hour Thursday morning, more than 200 flights were canceled.
United States Coast Guard officials warned people living near water to take precautions.
Pacific Gas & Electric substation was knocked out in San Francisco, causing 80,000 customers to lose power. Most are expected to be back online later Thursday a company spokesman said. Over 5,000 homes were dark in the town of Sebastopol.
As the storm took shape Wednesday night, advocates for the homeless scoured the streets downtown, coaxing people to come inside. St. Anthony's Dining Room, which serves 3,000 meals a day to the homeless, housed a hundred people overnight.
The California Highway Patrol warned motorists in Marin County, north of San Francisco, to stay off the roads. The National Weather Service reported major flash flooding on Interstate 280, the main artery between San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
While California's reservoirs are depleted, the problem is that ground here is saturated from recent storms. With high winds, trees with shallow roots could topple, and the rains may bring on mudslides.
Last year, San Francisco received a total of 12.54 inches of rain, or 56 percent of its average annual total. By yesterday afternoon, downtown San Francisco had received 7.19 inches in the period that began July 1. But despite this drenching rainfall, drought conditions may persist. Four years of arid weather have left farmers with fallow fields, and suburban residents have been asked to cut back on car washing and toilet flushing. Hard as it may be for Bay Area residents to fathom, the drought may not be over, said Ms. Henderson of the National Weather Service.
"You can't judge the rest of the season by one weather system," she said.
The storm is expected to later pound parts of Southern California before weakening and moving east through Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico. The states could get rain and snow, but nothing like what California is expected to experience, forecasters say.
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