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'The water will come;' Atmospheric river slams into waterlogged Bay Area

Atmospheric river slams into Bay Area; San Lorenzo River at flood stage
Atmospheric river slams into Bay Area; San Lorenzo River at flood stage 07:27

PAJARO -- Resignation resonated in Rigoberto Estrada's voice as he stood outside of his flood-damaged home, another atmospheric river was slamming into the San Francisco Bay Area Tuesday.

"The water will come," he told KPIX.  And so will the winds.

Tuesday afternoon's high winds were downing trees, knocking down power lines and blowing out windows in a San Francisco skyscraper.

San Francisco Fire issued a shelter in place order around 2 p.m., warning local residents and workers of glass being blown out of the 52-story building located in the city's Financial District. 

"Street closure in the are follow @SFPD directions," the tweet read. "This is for glass falling high rise."

A high wind warning was in effect for the entire region from the North Bay to the Central Coast until 11 p.m. Tuesday. Wind gusts of 50 mph and above were being felt in the valleys and topping 70 mph along the coast and hills above 1,000 feet.

"Strongest gusts so far have been in the higher terrain: 93mph along the Bolinas Ridge, 88mph in the hills above Los Gatos," said KPIX meteorologist Paul Heggen. "Closer to sea level, most gusts have been in the 50-60mph range, although SFO did record a 74mph gust this afternoon."

Heggen said the while wind warning was until 11pm, winds should be significantly lighter already by about 7 p.m.

The Bay Area has become waterlogged as a relentless parade of 11 atmospheric rivers has rolled through the region since Dec. 26. 

KPIX 5 First Alert Weather: Current Conditions, Forecasts, Alerts For Your Area

In their wake, the potent storms have left behind flooding, landslides, treacherous highways, toppled trees and widespread power outages.

Along the San Lorenzo River, as it streams through the tightknit community of Felton nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Tuesday's downpours elevated the waterway to the minor flooding level at 16.9 feet by 1 p.m.   

San Lorenzo River flooding CBS

Local resident Dylan Cembalski was watching the rising waters with his wife, Amanda, and their little daughter named River.

They were ready to flee at a moment's notice if it becomes necessary.

"All our stuff is up so anything below 5 feet in height can be moved," he said. "So we feel prepared."

The Cembalskis moved to Felton in August. This winter they have become weather weary just like millions of others across the Bay Area.

"The atmospheric river will bring significant impacts to the region today," National Weather Service forecasters warned on Tuesday morning. "Strong damaging winds, power outages, additional flooding, and road closures are all anticipated. Avoid unnecessary travel."

Trees weakened by the constant downpours were also tumbling. 

A tree fell across southbound I-280 north of Hillcrest Boulevard in Millbrae at around 11 a.m., according to CHP. All lanes were still blocked as of noon.

A downed tree on northbound Highway 1 south of north Buena Vista struck two cars according to the Santa Cruz CHP Twitter account, but there were no injuries. The two right lanes were closed until crews cleared the tree from the highway at around 11:30 a.m. 

A massive tree came crashing down in a Santa Rosa neighborhood, pulling down powerlines and cutting electricity to more than a dozen homes. 

Santa Rosa tree down CBS

A shelter-in-place order was issued shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday for residents living on a block of Mountain View Avenue in San Rafael due to arcing power lines. 

Police said in an advisory that the 0-99 block of Mountain View was under the shelter order, and the road was closed at Grand Avenue.

The area is near Dominican University of California.

PG&E crews continued to scramble Tuesday evening to restore power to nearly 297,000 customers around the Bay Area, officials said in the latest update on regional outages at 4:30 p.m.

The South Bay is still reporting the most outages, with 131,158 without power.

In the East Bay 91,988 are affected; 63,731 on the Peninsula; 8,186 in the North Bay and 1,004 in San Francisco, according to PG&E spokesperson Megan McFarland. 

The reason for the escalating outages is rain, accompanied by intense gusts that have led to downed trees and wires in every part of the Bay Area.  

Winds of 74 mph have been clocked at San Francisco International Airport; 97 mph at  Mount Umunhum in the Santa Cruz Mountains; 93 mph along Mines Road in the East Bay; and 71 mph in the Las Trampas and Oakland hills, McFarland said.

"Elsewhere, widespread gusts 45-55 mph have been reported and will continue with isolated gusts 65+ mph possible through the Sacramento and northern San Joaquin Valleys, as well as along the Sierra foothills and over elevated terrain," McFarland said.Another update on outages is expected at 5 p.m. PG&E has outage information including an interactive map available on its website.

Customers can report downed power lines immediately by calling 911 and by calling PG&E at 1-800-743-5002.  

Saturated hillsides were already beginning to shift. The Bohemian Hwy south of Occidental in western Sonoma County was blocked by a slide early Tuesday.

View of mudslide in Occidental, March 14, 2023 CBS

The downpours and minor roadway flooding led to treacherous driving conditions on local freeways. At 8:20 a.m., the California Highway Patrol was handling more than 30 traffic incidents. The most impactful crash took place on Interstate Highway 680.

Traffic backed up on Interstate 680 near Sunol because of a jackknifed big rig, March 14, 2023. CBS

A big rig jackknifed in rain-soaked northbound lanes of I-680 near Sunol, forcing a two-hour shutdown that triggered an East Bay backup stretching for miles.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the crash took place around 4:10 a.m. between the Calaveras Road and the Pleasanton/Sunol Rd exit.

Meanwhile, at San Francisco International Airport, nearly 100 flights had already been delayed by 7 a.m.  High winds and downpours forced the FAA to issue a ground hold. Flights were being delayed by nearly 1 1/2 hours.

"With respect to the rain, the highest rainfall amounts through the day will be in the coastal ranges and inland hills with 2-3 inches totals from the Santa Cruz Mountains northward and 3-6 inches in the Santa Lucia ranges with isolated amounts up to 8 inches in the favored peaks," forecasters said. "Elsewhere, look for 0.5-2 inches with the greatest in the North Bay."   

Forecasters said as the day unfolds, winds will play a more prominent role in the weather onslaught.  A high wind warning was in effect for the region until 11 p.m.

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"Rain will increase in coverage and intensity through the remainder of the morning as a strengthening surface low approaches the northern and central California coast," weather service forecasters said. "As such, southerly winds will strengthen to around at 25 to 40 mph with gusts to 50 mph. Gusts of up to 70 mph are expected along the coast, ridges, peaks and coastal gaps. Winds will be strongest between 4 a.m. and noon."

A flood watch and a flood advisory have also been issued for the entire Bay Area. Monterey County remains the region will the most intense flooding. 

Thousands have been driven from their homes. The weather service said the Pajaro River levee breach and the Salinas River would continue to run over their banks.

The Pajaro River's first levee rupture has now grown to at least 400 feet since it failed late Friday, officials said.

More than 8,500 people were forced to evacuate, and about 50 people had to be rescued as the water rose that night.

Still, some stayed behind in Pajaro, an unincorporated community that is known for its strawberry crops and is now mostly flooded. The largely Latino farmworker community there is already struggling to find food with so many roads and businesses closed in the storm's aftermath.

"Some people have nowhere to go, and maybe that's why there's still people around," resident Jorbelit Rincon said Monday. "Pretty much they don't know where to go and don't have money to provide for themselves."

A second breach opened up another 100 feet of the levee closer to the Pacific coast, providing a "relief valve" for the floodwaters to recede near the mouth of the river, officials said Monday during a news conference.

Built in the late 1940s to provide flood protection, the levee has been a known risk for decades and had several breaches in the 1990s. Emergency repairs to a section of the berm were undertaken in January. A $400 million rebuild is set to begin in the next few years.

Monterey County officials also warned that the Salinas River could cause significant flooding of roadways and agricultural land, cutting off the Monterey Peninsula from the rest of the county. The city of Monterey and other communities are located on the peninsula.

Undersheriff Keith Boyd said first responders have rescued about 170 people who were stranded within the county's evacuation areas since Friday, including a woman and her baby who got stuck trying to drive through high waters.

The undersheriff said 20 to 40 people remained trapped Monday near the Salinas River because the roads were impassible for rescuers.

Authorities had not received reports of any deaths or missing persons related to the storm as of Monday afternoon.

Winery and agricultural experts from the region said they are concerned about the storms' effect on crops — both ones in the ground that are currently submerged and ones that should be planted for the upcoming growing season.

Karla Loreto, who works at a Pajaro gas station, said she is worried about the toll the flooding will take on the area's farmworkers.

"The fields are flooded right now," she said Monday. "Probably no jobs there right now. For this year, probably no strawberries, no blackberries, no blueberries."

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