A large tree blocked Cabrillo College Drive in Aptos on Sunday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Weather

UPDATE: High winds and downpours hitting Santa Cruz Mountain areas; SLVUSD closed Monday

On Saturday morning, Sheriff’s deputies began making door-to-door warnings, telling residents in CZU Fire burn areas to be prepared to evacuate. That was upgraded to a mandatory order starting 8 a.m. Sunday. SLVUSD schools will be closed Monday.

Heavy winds and downpours continue to hit the Santa Cruz Mountains Sunday evening, and the San Lorenzo Unified School District announced its schools will be closed Monday.

The announcement on the district website said it was being done at the request of public safety officials, who want the roads as clear as possible.

“In addition, Red Cross is using several buildings at the San Lorenzo Valley tri-campus as an evacuation center for those evacuated in the event of debris flows,” the statement read.

Public safety officials are also reporting downed trees throughout the region and possible power outages.

A Pacific Gas & Electric map of power outages showed, as of 5 p.m., a scattering of outages along the coast, but more significant outages in the areas north of Boulder Creek and Scotts Valley. By 7:30 p.m., the number of outages had markedly increased to include parts of Santa Cruz on Highway 17 as well as parts of Capitola.

And the San Jose State Fire Weather Lab reported gusts of 86 miles per hour at its Umunhum Station, which is in the Santa Clara County side of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A map of power outages as of 5 p.m. on Oct., 24, 2021.
(Courtesy PG&E)

Anticipating downpours of 3 to 5 inches in the Santa Cruz Mountains and San Lorenzo Valley on Sunday, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Office’s deputies began making door-to-door evacuation warnings Saturday morning to residents in the CZU Fire burn scar area.

That was upgraded to a mandatory order Saturday afternoon, which went into effect until 8 a.m. Sunday. An evacuation point and shelter has been set up at San Lorenzo High School, 7105 Hwy 9 in Felton.

To determine if your home is affected, look up your address here. Updates on evacuations, weather conditions and road closures can be found on the county’s Twitter and Facebook pages. The National Weather Service said the specific watch time for the mountain region will be between 1 and 11 p.m. Sunday.

If asked to evacuate, residents should:

  • Follow all instructions, including travel routes
  • Wear protective clothing and good shoes
  • Bring a first-aid kit and emergency supplies
  • Lock their homes and shut off utilities if asked to do so
  • Let friends and family know when you leave and where you are going

The number for Red Cross assistance is 866-272-2237, and those needing help with large animals should call Equine Evac at 831-708-8998.

A large trough of low pressure hovering off the coast of the Pacific Northwest is driving repeated rounds of precipitation in the northern part of California and ushering in the first major storm of the season, National Weather Service forecasters said.

What’s known as an “atmospheric river” will be pumping continuous moisture over the region, said Ryan Kittell, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Oxnard station.

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On Thursday morning, scattered showers were reported across Central and Northern California, and more storms were moving in.

The northern Sierra Nevada had already received about 10 inches of snow by the beginning of the week, and 1 to 2 feet more might be dumped in the region early next week, Heller said.

Weather officials said the Sacramento area and north could receive a half-inch to 2 inches of rain, with the majority falling along and north of Interstate 80. Mountain areas might get up to 4 inches. About half an inch could fall over San Francisco, and the northern coastal areas, including portions of Sonoma and Trinity counties, could see 1 to 2 inches of rain.

Another storm, which Heller called the “really heavy hitter,” is slated to roll in Sunday night and will be even stronger.
Between 3 and 5 inches of rain are forecast for the Santa Cruz Mountains, and 1 to 3 inches elsewhere in the county, from Saturday night through Tuesday, with most precipitation falling from Sunday into Monday; around 3 to 4 inches are forecast to fall over the Sacramento and San Francisco areas. By the time skies clear next week, mountain regions could see up to 10 inches.

Graphic illustration showing the moisture plume in an atmospheric river.
Graphic illustration showing the moisture plume in an atmospheric river lifting over coastal mountains and the Sierra Nevada, dropping rain and snow.
(Paul Duginski / Los Angeles Times)

Heller described the atmospheric river as bringing long bouts of rain in a narrow corridor of moisture in the atmosphere.

“It’s almost like a front, except [where the moisture is] is just more concentrated.” The one hitting Northern California is considered moderate to strong.

“Normally, the way it works is we just have this band of moisture move down the coast. And that’s the kind we’re going to see in Southern California,” Kittell said. “But up there, they actually have it where it stalls.” The storm system could hover for days over the central part of the state.

Storms during this time of year are not uncommon, Heller said, but it’s been several years since they arrived this early.

A rainy day in downtown Santa Cruz on Oct. 20, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

And not a moment too soon. California just recorded its driest water year in a century. Average precipitation for the state’s 2021 water year was about half of what experts consider typical.

Earlier this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide drought emergency, imploring Californians to conserve water in the face of one of the state’s most severe droughts on record.

There are cautious hopes that the coming rains will bring relief and reduce fire risk in the state’s parched regions, but they’re not expected to end the drought.

“Unfortunately, two years of drought — one storm is not going to fix it,” Heller said. Sacramento typically records 12.63 inches of rain per water year. Last year, it was closer to 7 inches.

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The rain could be beneficial but it also brings risks. The National Weather service issued a flood watch from Thursday afternoon through Friday morning for northern burn scars, including this year’s nearly one-million acre Dixie fire, as well as last year’s North Complex, Zogg, and CZU Lightning Complex fires.

There are fears that the influx of heavy rain “could bring potential ash and debris flows over recent burn scar areas in Shasta, Tehama, Butte and Plumas counties,” the weather service said in an advisory.

Concerns are lower in Southern California, where comparatively less rain is expected and some burn scars are older, and therefore less prone to slides and flooding, weather officials said.

But officials are “moderately concerned” about the area charred by the recent Alisal fire in western Santa Barbara County, which ignited Oct. 11.

“It’s really fresh,” Kittell said. “There’s a few vulnerable areas that any kind of mud and debris flows would cause some issues.”

Strong winds around the county brought down trees of all sizes. This tree toppled in a townhouse community in Aptos.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

UPDATE: The original version of this story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times and was updated on Saturday and Sunday by Lookout Santa Cruz staff.