Downtown Soquel after the rain.
(Courtesy Clay Butler)
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Morning Lookout: Evacuations, road closures, rising swell and more storm coverage

Good morning! It’s Thursday, Jan. 5. After an atmospheric river pummeled Santa Cruz County yesterday, the forecast calls for more rain today. Across the county, emergency workers will be readying for possible flooding in swollen creeks and rivers, along with more power outages, downed trees and debris flows.

Lookout correspondents will be bringing you the latest on this winter storm throughout the day. But in the meantime, catch up on all the news you may have missed from yesterday.

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The National Weather Service reports that Santa Cruz has accumulated 2.45" of rain and Watsonville 1.03". Both parts of the county have also seen less severe wind gusts than other areas on the Central Coast such as Monterey and Salinas. The NWS issued a special weather statement early Thursday morning advising those on the Big Sur coastline to expect gusts up to 55 mph and possible pea-sized hail.

Road closures are piling up across the county, the city of Santa Cruz’s lone evacuation center was full, and hotels across Watsonville were filling up with evacuees. We will continue to update our Santa Cruz County Storm Central with all the latest news.

In parts of the county, such as Capitola, police were going door-to-door. urging residents to leave their homes in evacuation zones. But some were opting to stay put. Read more from Hillary Ojeda and Fernando Haro, a reporter from the Long Beach Post who has been helping out on our storm coverage.

Wallace Baine brings you storm stories that local residents are sharing on social media (namely Twitter).

Capitola Wharf on Thursday morning
Storm picture of the morning from Lookout reader Clay Butler. By 6:30 a.m., waves were already touching the top of the 166-year-old Capitola Wharf with a few more hours of rising tide and a surging swell.
(Courtesy Clay Butler)

Mark Conley was in Capitola, where one of the biggest northwest swells in recent memory is set to test the resolve of the 166-year old Capitola Wharf that has undergone retrofits to its pilings in recent years. Read his dispatch here.

And in Watsonville, volunteers were busy filling and distributing as many as 30,000 sandbags to local residents. By Wednesday afternoon, crews had already gone through 600,000 pounds of sand and were still struggling to keep up with demand. Read the latest here.

These stories, and so many more, are also available on our storm blog.

Santa Cruz County Storm: Where we stand after Wednesday evening

Santa Cruz beaches were busy with people parsing through the debris left behind by heavy storms.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Road closures are beginning to pile up in North County, evacuation orders have been issued in parts of Watsonville and Capitola, Rio del Mar, Soquel Village, Paradise Park and in the northwest tip of the county, and rain is expected to continue into the late afternoon on Thursday — along with a rising XL swell expected to be among the biggest in 15 years. High winds and falling power poles and trees remain the chief concern heading into the evening. Wind gusts have reached up to 50 mph in parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains and along the coast. As dawn breaks, local officials are taking stock of the extent of the damage.

Housing Matters PROMOTED CONTENT ROADBLOCK (Strength in numbers: How data is helping solve homelessness)

Capitola, Soquel told to evacuate, but some residents say they plan to stay

Bob and Dusty Mendes.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office ordered neighborhoods in portions of Soquel, Felton, Rio Del Mar, Watsonville and Pajaro Valley to evacuate immediately. In a separate order, the city government placed portions of Capitola Village under evacuation. But as police officers went door to door in the neighborhoods at risk, they found many people were choosing to stay.

Capitola Village will be on swell watch Thursday morning

Big swell

Capitola Village, sitting closer to the Pacific Ocean than any other local area, knows when its in harm’s way. With a massive northwest swell projected to send large waves crashing into its decreasing shoreline Thursday, those who work closest to that meeting of land and sea were watching closely.

‘We can’t produce the sandbags as fast as we’re handing them out’

Volunteers fill sandbags in Watsonville on Wednesday, January 4, 2023.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Local)

At Joyce-McKenzie Park in Watsonville, crews have been working nonstop since Tuesday morning to distribute sandbags to elderly residents around the Bridge Street Canal area. For days, hundreds of cars have lined up along Joyce Drive looking for sandbags to protect their homes. “It was pretty chaotic yesterday,” said Joe Medina, a park superintendent for the city of Watsonville. “So we got the line moving a little faster.” Read more here.

Santa Cruz County Job Board

A reminder: Lookout is working on an ongoing series exploring working life and we’d love your input. How did you get your job? What do you love most about it? What are the biggest challenges? What do students and recent graduates need to know about how to get into your industry? Share your stories and career advice with us — email us at and put “career advice” in the subject line.

There’s more to come from Lookout this week. Stay current by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and by signing up here for breaking news alerts and for our other newsletters, including the specially curated Sunday Reads.

Lastly, our content isn’t possible without community support, so if you’re not already, please consider becoming a Lookout member.

Stay safe and dry this Thursday!

Tamsin McMahon
Lookout Santa Cruz