Santa Cruz County cleans up from New Year’s Eve storm — and prepares for yet another atmospheric river

Fallen trees and limbs line the San Lorenzo River on Monday, Jan 2, 2023
Fallen trees and limbs line the San Lorenzo River on Monday afternoon after heavy storms soaked Santa Cruz this past weekend.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Local)

Emergency crews were cleaning up from a New Year’s Eve rainstorm that flooded waterways, closed roads and downed trees and power lines. Local officials were also preparing for another atmospheric river to hit the county starting late Tuesday night or early Wednesday that is expected to bring up to 3-6 inches of rain to parts of the county and as much as 10 inches to areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Note: This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Emergency crews across Santa Cruz County were mopping up widespread damage from a weekend storm and preparing for another major downpour to hit the region on Wednesday, the third atmospheric river to batter the coast since Christmas.

Road Closures

Northbound Highway 1 in Santa Cruz remained closed Monday afternoon as crews worked to remove a buildup of debris beneath the bridge over the San Lorenzo River. Drivers were being detoured off the highway at Ocean Street and redirected to Water Street before picking up Highway 1 at River Street.

Across the county, two dozen roads remained closed Monday because of flooding, downed trees, power lines and landslides. See a list of road closures here, along with traffic conditions here.

A fallen tree in the middle of Park Ave past McGregor Ave in Aptos on Monday, January 2, 2023.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Local)

One lane of Highway 9 north of Boulder Creek was reopened between Bear Creek Road and Riverdale Boulevard Sunday night after crews removed debris from a mudslide.

Workers also reopened one lane of Highway 9 at Scenic Way, south of Ben Lomond, while a section of the highway between Paradise Exit Road and Glengarry Road remained closed because of several landslides that left several 100-foot-tall trees leaning precariously across the roadway, county officials said.

At least one person was killed during the storms. A 72-year-old Santa Cruz resident was discovered under a fallen tree at Lighthouse State Beach.

Local residents were cleaning up from flooded creeks, rivers, beaches and roadways that brought severe flooding to parts of Watsonville, Soquel, Capitola and communities in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Beach cleanup

Cori Land and Gwen Hubner were among a group of residents who spent New Year’s Day cleaning up piles of storm debris on Seabright Beach. “We picked up almost 45 pounds of trash,” Land said. “Together with everyone, we cleaned the whole beach.”

Gwen Hubner helps clean up debris that collected on Seabright Beach, a day after a New Year's Eve storm.
(Cori Land)

Another atmospheric river is on its way

Local officials were also preparing for another storm to hit the county starting late Tuesday night or early Wednesday that is expected to bring up to 3-6 inches of rain to parts of the county and as much as 10 inches to areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The National Weather Service warned that the coming deluge could be even stronger than the New Year’s Eve storm.

The swollen Soquel Creek on Monday, January 2, 2023.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Local)

Another round of heavy rains and what the NWS called “dangerously strong” winds raised the risk of even more flooding in already-swollen creeks and rivers. The NWS also warned of multiple landslides, particularly in wildfire burn scars, given the ground is already saturated from previous rainfall.

“Given the saturated soils and recent rains we can expect rapid responses on smaller creeks with quick rises on the mainstem rivers Wednesday through Friday,” the NWS said. “This system will result in an increased risk of mudslides and debris flows across the region and especially over recent wildfire burn areas.”

The San Lorenzo River peaked at nearly 22 feet on Dec 31 — up from less than four feet a day earlier. In Watsonville, the Pajaro River remained at nearly 25 feet on Monday, up from less than 15 feet heading into the New Year’s Eve storm. Track local waterways here.

Storm preparation and resources

PG&E Incident Commander Sid Silva was at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk Monday preparing for the upcoming storm.
PG&E Incident Commander Sid Silva was at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk Monday preparing to have as many as 50 workers on hand to repair any power outages as a result of the upcoming storm.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Local)

At the Santa Cruz Boardwalk on Monday afternoon, a team of PG&E workers were preparing for the coming storm. Incident Commander Sid Silva said the utility company was working to clean up from Saturday’s storm and also studying weather models to prepare for damage from the forecasted deluge on Wednesday.

“Obviously the ground is very saturated right now. There could be a lot of trees falling, so we want to make sure that we’re prepared to repair those power lines if anything happens,” he told Lookout.

Silva said PG&E could add as many as 30-50 additional crew to the area, with repairs taking anywhere from three days to two weeks, depending on the extent of the damage from Wednesday’s rainfall.

Watsonville Police said sandbags and sand were available at the Fire Station at 115 2nd Street and at Ramsay Park.

Santa Cruz County put together a list of disaster resources. Find it here. The county also published a storm preparation checklist and a list of locations where residents can pick up sandbags and sand.

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