Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Storm dumps record amount of rain on Bay Area

The long dry spell of summer and fall ended with a vengeance today as record-breaking rain and lashing winds tromped into Northern California, sending cars smashing into each other, flooding roads and downing power lines all over the region.
As the afternoon commute began, a big rig turned over on the eastbound Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, forcing the closure of all lanes headed to the East Bay. Earlier in the day, a fatal head-on collision involving three cars shut Highway 1 at Devil's Slide near Pacifica for nearly three hours.
In all, there were more than 200 serious accidents on Bay Area roads even before the evening drive time began, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Angus Gavin's didn't count in those statistics - but try telling that to him. He had just pulled into a parking spot at Hyde and Green streets in San Francisco in his Chevrolet pickup at about 2:30 p.m. when he looked up and saw a three-story-high eucalyptus tree coming down.
"I thought I was imagining it," the 30-year-old contractor said. "I was debating if I should stay in or get out, and I just sat there. So I got lucky."
Lucky meant his car got a cracked windshield and some dents as the tree slammed onto the hood. Not so lucky was the empty Toyota sedan parked in front of Gavin: Its roof was caved in.
The accident brought the cable car Powell-Hyde line to a halt, stacking the cars up until the roadway was cleared at 4 p.m.
On the freeways, drives took nearly twice as long as normal.
"Any time we have a big storm that comes in like this, we'll have these kinds of incidents. That's just the way it is," said CHP Officer Shawn Chase, who spent the day dashing from crash to crash. "The oil left from the summer comes up in the roadway, people don't slow down, and all you need is one person sliding into another and you get a chain reaction."
People who slogged along the roads to get to San Francisco International Airport found their flights delayed by as much as three hours because of the weather.
The National Weather Service posted a rare storm warning, predicting possible hurricane-force gusts of up to 75 mph for San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun bays and for the western part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Rainfall totals, fed by the remnants of a Japanese typhoon, were impressive. The 2.43 inches that San Francisco received by 4 p.m. obliterated the previous mark for any day in October - 2.29 inches, set in 1969. It's also more than 10 percent of what the city normally receives during an entire year.
"This rain is just sort of a blanket over everybody, and a fire hose in some places," said forecaster Diana Henderson of the National Weather Service. "And we've got quite a bit more rain to come today."
The high-water mark by late afternoon was set in Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which had received 9.14 inches. Elsewhere, 5.63 inches had fallen in San Rafael, 3.14 in Concord, 3.79 at the Oakland Museum and 2.04 in San Jose.
Downed power lines knocked out electricity to more than 89,000 customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., said utility spokesman Joe Molica. Service had been restored to nearly three quarters of them by 1 p.m., he said.
Backed-up drains and gutters caused flooding on streets throughout the area. The CHP briefly shut down portions of Interstate 280 in San Francisco and Daly City and southbound Highway 101 near Lily Street in the city.
"The minor flooding is everywhere, and that's not that unusual given the first storm of the year," Chase said.
Many cities were making free sandbags available to residents. In San Francisco, about 400 had been handed out by lunchtime.
Maria Zuno, 56, was loading bags into her minivan at the city corporation yard on Cesar Chavez Street so she could rush home to South San Francisco and block off the entrance from her garage to the house. Rainwater started flooding the garage in the middle of the night, she said, and by the time she woke up more than an inch was covering the floor.
"I was surprised that the water came in so early," she said. "The storm was bigger than we thought it would be."
Golden Gate Park was spanked smartly by winds straight off the ocean, sending branches flying and trees bending over crazily. Marx Meadow flooded so completely it looked like a lake.
In the Santa Cruz area, emergency officials kept a wary eye on hillsides burned nearly nude by the summer's wildfires, and dozens of residents in the community of Davenport were asked to evacuate until the rains subside. Without vegetation to hold the soil, mudslides were considered possible.
About the only folks happy to see the bad weather were ski resort operators in the Sierra, where as much as a foot of snow was expected to fall by the end of the day. Wind gusts up to 100 mph were punishing the most remote peaks of the mountain range, but no damage was reported by afternoon.
The weather service said the rain was expected to continue into tonight, then taper off to showers Wednesday. Once the storm clears out, the long-range outlook is for dry weather through the weekend. related website www.study-us.info

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