One dead as atmospheric river prompts evacuations, landslides and road closures across Santa Cruz County

A landslide closed Highway 9 north of Boulder Creek on Saturday, December 31, 2022,
(Caltrans)

Heavy rains ahead of New Year’s Eve prompted evacuation orders and warnings in Felton, Watsonville, widespread power outages and landslides in the Santa Cruz Mountains. More rain is set to hit the region next week after a brief reprieve.

At least one person was killed as heavy rains pounded Santa Cruz County on Saturday in a storm that forced evacuations, closed roads, caused landslides and threatened to flood local waterways.

Storm Central keeps you updated as we watch, wait and assess. Check back here as Lookout correspondents reach out across...

Fatalities

A 72-year-old Santa Cruz resident was pronounced dead after being found underneath a fallen tree at Lighthouse Field State Beach Saturday afternoon, California State Parks reported. A passerby spotted the victim around 1:30 p.m. and called 911.

The victim’s name was not released.

Evacuations and shelter-in-place warnings

County officials issued evacuation orders Saturday morning for Felton Grove and Paradise Park because of a risk of flooding of the San Lorenzo River. Public safety workers were set to tour the area Sunday to assess whether the evacuation order could be lifted.

In Watsonville, residents of neighborhoods along the Salsipuedes and Corralitos creeks, in the area of Highway 152 and College Road, were placed under an evacuation warning. The warning was lifted Sunday morning.

Watsonville Police issued a reverse 911 call urging residents in neighborhoods along Bridge Street to shelter in place because of heavy flooding.

Areas of Watonsville were placed under an evacuation warning on Saturday.
(County of Santa Cruz)

Power outages

Pacific Gas and Electric reported that more than 5,000 customers lost power across Santa Cruz County over the course of Saturday’s story. More than 2,300 remained without power Sunday afternoon. Check the latest on the outages here.

Road closures

An active landslide closed Highway 9 north of Boulder Creek, between Bear Creek Road and Riverdale Boulevard, Saturday. California Highway Patrol estimated the debris would take several days to fully clear. The road was also closed from Vernon Street to Glengarry Road, south of Felton, because of mud and rock slides.

Downed trees and power lines in the 500 block of Hazel Dell Road in Corralitos.
Downed trees and power lines in the 500 block of Hazel Dell Road in Corralitos.
(Reader submitted)

All northbound lands of Highway 1 in Santa Cruz were set to be shut down as of 2 p.m. on Sunday so crews could remove debris that accumulated under the bridge that spans the San Lorenzo River.

Caltrans said crews were set to work overnight and possibly into Monday morning and would need to use a crane to help remove debris. “This work is necessary to ensure the structural integrity of the bridge and to help reduce the possibility of upstream flooding,” the agency said in an e-mailed statement.

Woody debris in San Lorenzo River below Highway 1 in Santa Cruz, Jan. 1, 2023
Woody debris in San Lorenzo River below Highway 1 in Santa Cruz, Jan. 1, 2023
(Caltrans)

More than two dozen roads were closed across the county during the storm because of flooding, downed trees, power outages and other emergencies. See a full list of closures here.

The widespread disruption came as an atmospheric river hit much of the Central Coast ahead of New Year’s Eve, with another weather system expected to arrive next week.

A flood warning remained in effect Sunday afternoon for much of Santa Cruz County.

The wet weather that began on Thursday morning delivered close to three inches of rain in Ben Lomond and Felton, nearly two inches in Davenport, and more than one inch in Boulder Creek, according to NWS meteorologist Rick Canepa.

Canepa said that it’s hard to say how this year’s rainfall compares to that of previous years, but that the precipitation we’re seeing is a positive sign for the area.

“It’s a good start, not just in the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Coast, but across the West,” he said. “The mid-September rain we saw was a bit unusual, too, but a good thing to see in the middle of what could have been a bad fire season.”

According to data from the California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS), the City of Santa Cruz has seen 10.95 inches of rainfall since Oct. 1. That’s more than an inch more than the average seasonal rainfall to date — 9.74 inches.

Weather Forecast

The first day of 2023 is offering a break in the rain, though short-lived. Another weather system will drift into the area on Monday, but will produce lighter rainfall all around — about a half-inch or so.

Another atmospheric river is set to hit the region on Wednesday or Thursday, with rain expected to continue into the second week of January, the NWS reported.

The weather service warned that the wet weather has heavily saturated the soil, raising the risk of flooding and shallow landslides even after the rain stops.

-With reports from Max Chun.

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