Weather

Santa Cruz County Storm Central: The latest on the winter storms, swell damage

A man surveys stormy seas from the jetty in Capitola.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Storm Central keeps you updated as we watch, wait and assess. Check back here as Lookout correspondents reach out across the county and stay close to the county’s emergency operations centers to bring you the latest through the day.

1

Welcome to Lookout’s Storm Central.

To make sure you stay on top of the storm, sign up for our breaking news email alerts here, as more than 20,000 Santa Cruzans have already done. And take advantage of our breaking news texts by signing up here.

Last, help us, and your neighbors. Send us reports, photos and videos of what you are seeing and experiencing, and any questions you would like answered. Send those to news@lookoutlocal.com, subject line ”Storm,” or reply to any Lookout breaking news text you receive.

Jump to sections: Where we standPrevious updatesPower outages | Evacuation orders Evacuation sheltersRoad closures Emergency declarations | School closures Travel advisoriesStorm trackers | State park closures

2

Latest News

Where we stand on Tuesday

Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 1:40 p.m. — The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office lifted the remaining evacuation orders in two spots in the county. “The risk has subsided at this time for certain zones that were previously under evacuation warning,” the agency wrote of a pair of areas along the Pajaro River east of downtown Watsonville, while also giving the all-clear for a zone in the far northwest part of the county where culvert failure had threatened roadways including Whitehouse Canyon Drive.

An evacuation warning for roads between New Brighton and Seacliff state beaches was also lifted.

For more information and to find your zone, click here.

Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 7 a.m. — A sunny day lay ahead Tuesday for Santa Cruz County, and though another storm system was set to arrive Wednesday afternoon and evening, the forecast was mainly dry for at least the coming 10 days.

Those days, the White House announced late Monday, will include a visit to the Central Coast on Thursday from President Joe Biden. Details on where and when weren’t yet available Monday morning, but Lookout will have continuing coverage.

With cleanup efforts continuing across the county, evacuation orders and warnings were mostly lifted. An area along the Pajaro River east of downtown Watsonville remained under an evacuation order, with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office citing continued concerns over possible flooding. The failure of a culvert near Whitehouse Canyon Drive and resulting threat to roadways had a small section in the far northwest part of the county still under an evacuation order.

The oceanfront areas along Beach Drive, Las Olas Drive and Potbelly Beach Road in Aptos, meanwhile, were under an evacuation warning, with the sheriff’s office citing concerns over high tide impacts. For more information and to find your zone, click here.

Meteorology experts are still digesting the impacts of the run of storms, and eye-popping rainfall totals are among them, Max Chun reports.

National Weather Service meteorologist Brayden Murdock told Lookout that a remote automated weather station (RAWS) in Ben Lomond measured 15 inches of cumulative precipitation between Oct. 1 and Dec. 26. As of 11:50 a.m. on Monday, that number had reached 51 inches — a 36-inch increase in just three weeks. He said that while it’s hard to say if this amount of rainfall is record-setting, the previous time this station measured that much precipitation in such a short period of time was in January 2017, when the Ben Lomond station measured 32.29 inches for the month.

Read more from Max here.

Paradise with a price: John Laird’s long view of dealing with the aftermath of natural disaster

Sen. John Laird has seen it all over the better part of a half-century in public service in Santa Cruz County.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Before he was state Sen. John Laird, he was the County of Santa Cruz’s John Laird, and before that, he was Santa Cruz mayor, city councilmember and staffer John Laird. They were formative years for observing and responding to disasters. And they taught him perspective both on accepting nature’s random, inevitable penance and finding ways to make this uniquely disaster-prone county as ready as possible for the next lashing. Mark Conley checks in with Laird here.

Devastating storms might be over, but officials caution California to stay vigilant

Workers prepare to close Rio Del Mar Boulevard in Aptos on Saturday because of flooding.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

As the skies begin to clear and a relentless series of atmospheric rivers starts to move out, Californians are finally catching a break as they assess the aftermath of weeks of downed trees, landslides and devastating flooding.

River levels are receding in some areas, top climate officials reported in a briefing Monday, and the worst of the rain appears to be over.

One more storm system is forecast to roll through California on Wednesday, said California State Climatologist Mike Anderson, but it won’t pack as much of a punch as the previous ones. The rain, which isn’t expected to hit farther south than Santa Barbara, appears barely strong enough to qualify as an atmospheric river.

But officials caution the public to remain vigilant. Landslides, sinkholes and other hazards could still strike because the ground has received such a soaking, and tree branches — dried up from years of drought and whiplashed by high winds — remain a deadly hazard.

Read more here from our partners at the Los Angeles Times.

3

Previous updates

FROM MONDAY, JAN. 16

Monday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m. — With cleanup efforts continuing across the county, evacuation orders and warnings were mostly lifted. An area along the Pajaro River east of downtown Watsonville remained under an evacuation order, with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office citing continued concerns over possible flooding. The failure of a culvert near Whitehouse Canyon Drive and resulting threat to roadways had a small section in the far northwest part of the county still under an evacuation order.

The oceanfront areas along Beach Drive, Las Olas Drive and Potbelly Beach Road in Aptos, meanwhile, were under an evacuation warning, with the sheriff’s office citing concerns over high tide impacts. For more information and to find your zone, click here.

More showers, canceled MLK Day march and storm recovery

A rainbow appears out of stormy skies over Pleasure Point on Monday morning.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Monday, Jan. 16, at 9:20 a.m. — The Martin Luther King Jr. Day forecast around Santa Cruz County calls for continued rain, with thunderstorms possible, though we should see far lighter precipitation than we have recently — less than a tenth of an inch. And other than a bout of precipitation Wednesday, a mostly dry stretch is ahead.

Citing the rainy forecast and the ongoing emergency situation around the county, NAACP Santa Cruz has canceled the MLK Day march set for downtown Monday.

There were 62 road closures across the county and more than 2,800 people remain without power. A flood watch remains in effect through noon Tuesday, but residents, businesses and cleanup crews were shifting from emergency mode into starting the long process toward recovery.

Read more from Max Chun.

FROM SUNDAY, JAN. 15

Sunday, Jan. 15, at 3:39 p.m. Here’s the National Weather Service’s latest forecast

Now: Rain. High near 48. South southwest wind around 11 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Sunday night

Showers and possibly a thunderstorm. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. Steady temperature around 43. East southeast wind 14 to 20 mph becoming north after midnight. Winds could gust as high as 30 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New rainfall amounts between three quarters and one inch possible.

Monday — Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Rain, mainly before 4 p.m., then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 4 p.m. High near 55. Northwest wind 18 to 21 mph, with gusts as high as 32 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.

Monday night

A chance of showers and thunderstorms before 7 p.m., then a chance of rain, mainly between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Partly cloudy, with a low around 42. Northwest wind 9 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 26 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.

Tuesday

Sunny with a high near 56. North northwest wind 11 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 22 mph.

Tuesday night

Patchy fog after 4 a.m. Otherwise, mostly clear, with a low around 39.

Wednesday

Rain likely after 4 p.m. Patchy fog before 9 a.m. Otherwise, partly sunny, with a high near 56. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

Wednesday night

Rain likely, mainly before 10pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 42.

Thursday

Mostly sunny, with a high near 55.

Thursday night

Patchy frost after 3 a.m. Otherwise, mostly clear, with a low around 35.

Friday

Areas of frost. Otherwise, sunny, with a high near 56.

Friday night

Patchy frost. Otherwise, clear, with a low around 34.

Saturday

Areas of frost. Otherwise, sunny, with a high near 58.

Saturday night

Patchy frost. Otherwise, mostly clear, with a low around 36.

Sunday

Areas of frost. Otherwise, sunny, with a high near 58.

Sunday, Jan. 15, at 10:47 a.m. — A check of Pacific Gas & Electric outage status charts shows that Santa Cruz County led the state in both active outages and customers currently impacted. As of Sunday morning, 119 active outages affecting 3,773 customers. As PG&E crews that have poured into the county work through the two-week siege, PGE said 144,211 customers have had their power restored since Dec. 30. Outage map here.

As of Sunday morning, 12 county roads had “hard closures.” They are: Buzzard Lagoon Road, China Grade Road, Glenwood Drive, Granite Creek Road, Hazel Dell Road and Highland Way. For more specific information on these, and 60 other closures of various kinds, go here.

Sunday, Jan. 15, at 9 a.m. — Don’t put away your umbrellas just yet. There’s more rain headed to Santa Cruz County after another wet Saturday that brought more flooding and evacuations.

The National Weather Service forecasts showers throughout the day and into Monday, bringing up to 2 inches of rain total over the remainder of the long weekend. A flood watch remains in effect through Tuesday and there is a beach hazard statement in effect until Monday morning because of the potential for large waves. So best to stay out of the water today.

But then things should start drying out and the sun should make a reappearance come Tuesday.

FROM SATURDAY, JAN. 14

Biden declares major disaster in Santa Cruz County

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, center, views damage to Seacliff State Beach with state and local officials.
Left to right: Second District Supervisor for Santa Cruz County Zach Friend, Chief Deputy director of Cal OES Lisa Ann L. Mangat, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Deanne Criswell and Deputy District Superintendent of Santa Cruz State Parks Jordan Burgess, view the heavy damage done to Rio Del Mar and Seacliff State Beach on Saturday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Saturday, Jan. 14, at 10:30 p.m. — President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Santa Cruz Saturday night, hours after FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and members of her staff, toured storm-damaged pars of the region. Local and state officials had been urging the White House for the declaration, which is set to unlock federal dollars for local governments and residents to pay for storm recovery. Criswell visited parts of Rio Del Mar and Capitola on Saturday and was expected to tours areas of the San Lorenzo Valley.

That visit came as another atmospheric river hit the county on Friday and Saturday, filling already-swollen creeks and rivers, the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation orders for Felton Grove, Paradise Park, parts of Soquel Village and Rio Del Mar.
Read the latest here.

Top FEMA official tours Santa Cruz County amid request for White House disaster declaration

Saturday, Jan. 14, at 4 p.m. — The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured storm damages across Santa Cruz County on Saturday, days after the state requested an expedited disaster declaration from the White House.

Workers prepare to close Rio Del Mar Boulevard in Aptos on Saturday because of flooding.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and members of her staff visited parts of Rio Del Mar, Capitola and were set to survey areas of San Lorenzo Valley as part of a multi-day tour of California communities devastated by floods, landslides and power outages after several rounds of intense storms.

“The state is very honored that FEMA decided to come and see the damage in person,” said Diana Crofts-Pelayo, Assistant Director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, in an interview. “We know that there are lots of states right now in the country that are experiencing a lot of different disasters. So the fact that she came here personally with her staff means a lot.”

Criswell arrived in the state two days ago and spent part of Friday in Sacramento at the Cal OES command center and toured storm damages in Merced County.

On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom has urged the Biden Administration to declare a major disaster in California, which would allow the state and local governments to access federal money to pay for storm recovery. Rep. Jimmy Panetta toured damaged parts of the county on Friday and said he believed the White House would issue an expedited disaster declaration, which would fast-track FEMA support.

FEMA’s Criswell is viewing the damage to Santa Cruz county this weekend as part of assessing those requests, Crofts-Pelayo said. “They’re kind of looking at the damages, which is part of the reason for that visit today,” she said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll get an answer soon.”

— Kevin Painchaud

The Esplanade in the Rio Del Mar neighborhood of Aptos flooded again on Saturday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Felton Grove, Paradise Park, parts of Soquel Village and Rio Del Mar ordered to evacuate as more heavy rains bring new flood risks

Saturday, Jan. 14, at 2 p.m. — Concerned about rapidly rising levels of the San Lorenzo River, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies evacuated Felton Grove on Saturday morning. The evacuation order remains in place for anyone living in the evacuation zone east of Felton along Graham Hill Road.

“If you live in the neighborhood, please leave now,” the county government wrote on Twitter Saturday morning.

Soon after, they issued evacuation orders for Paradise Park and parts of Soquel Village, including Soquel Wharf Road. By early afternoon, the evacuation orders had extended to neighborhoods near Watsonville, along with Rio Del Mar in Aptos, as large portions of the Esplanade flooded because of heavy rains and stormwater runoff.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Corralitos Creek near Freedom. The Sheriff’s Office said Saturday afternoon that the Salsipuedes Creek was beginning to flood.

Emergency shelters are open at Cabrillo College and at the County Fairgrounds, near Watsonville.

More rain is on the way, with the NWS warning that the heaviest rains were due to hit the Central Coast between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday night.

The NWS forecasts more showers on the way for Sunday into Monday, bringing as much as six inches of rain in total over the long weekend before we’re finally expected to start drying out next week.

A flood watch remains in effect for the county through Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. and the NWS warned that the San Lorenzo River could continue to see a rapid rise on Saturday. A high surf warning is set to expire at 10 a.m. Saturday, though the weather service warned of dangerous surf conditions for the rest of the day.

More than 3,000 PG&E customers remained without power across the county as of Saturday morning, the utility said. Most of those were in the San Lorenzo Valley, which was hit hard by the recent storms. Across the county, 53 roads continue to have emergency closures – nearly 25 of them in the San Lorenzo Valley. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department said Friday that crews from the county are working to place portable cell towers in Lompico and Zayante.

Volunteers needed to help with storm cleanup

Saturday, Jan. 14, at 8 a.m. —The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County is looking ahead to the post-atmospheric river period and is looking for volunteers to help with cleanup projects, to begin Monday. Emergency shelters are currently fully staffed, and do not need volunteers. But cleanup from the storms will be needed in the coming days in a variety of tasks, from manual labor to staffing phones. For adults 18 and over only.

Click here for more information and to register.

— Wallace Baine

UPDATED: Sheriff: Damage from ongoing siege likely to exceed $140M of ’17 storms

The scene in Felton Grove on Tuesday.
Left to right: Congressman Jimmy Panetta, Santa Cruz Supervisor Zach Friend, Assemblymember Dawn Addis and, State Senator John Laird viewing storm damage at Seacliff State Beach in Aptos on Friday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Saturday, Jan. 14, at 7 a.m. — With still another wave of atmospheric rivers forecast to come through Santa Cruz County, Rep. Jimmy Panetta toured the Santa Cruz Mountains to assess what the community has endured so far.

Sheriff Jim Hart told Panetta and a group of emergency responders and 5th District County Supervisor Bruce McPherson that he believes the mountain communities have experienced the most severe damage in the county. About 3,000 people in the San Lorenzo Valley were still without power Friday, and landslides, washouts and infrastructure failures have cut off some neighborhoods from accessing emergency services.

Hart said electric utility Pacific Gas & Electric has dispatched 2,800 workers to restore power to, ideally, 2,000 customers by the end of Friday.

“In 2017, when we had that storm event, the county estimated about $140 million in damages,” Hart said. “I think this prolonged event is going to exceed that amount.”

McPherson — whose district includes the San Lorenzo Valley, most of Scotts Valley and a small part of Santa Cruz — said he can’t remember a natural disaster this widespread since the 1980s.

“As a native in Santa Cruz, I haven’t seen a situation this disastrous since the earthquake in 1989,” McPherson said. “This storm, throughout the whole county, has put pressure on everybody.”

Read the full story from Christopher Neely here.

FROM FRIDAY, JAN. 13

On Highway 17, a huge pothole nicknamed ‘Potzilla’ is chewing up commuters’ tires

Friday, Jan. 13, at 6:15 p.m. — Nicknamed “Potzilla” for its unrelenting determination to grow in size and cause flat tires, a pothole in Los Gatos on Highway 17 is wreaking havoc for commuters heading to Santa Cruz from San Jose.

A Facebook group for Highway 17 commuters with nearly 25,000 members coined the nickname for the pothole located in the southbound lanes, just south of The Cats Restaurant and Tavern. It has been patched over before and returned with a vengeance, likely as a result of the past two weeks of rainstorms eroding the road.

“Looks like the infamous pothole is back around The Cats in Los Gatos,” read one Facebook post on Friday. “Just passed five cars [with flat tires] on Highway 17 southbound.”

Caltrans spokesperson Pedro Quintana said in an email Friday evening that “crews have responded to that area several times” within the past few weeks. “Caltrans maintenance will fix the potholes along State Route 17 but the unprecedented amount of rain will just wash away the asphalt mix,” he added.

He said the agency has received reports of 391 potholes in the first 12 days of this month on roadways under its jurisdiction, compared to 308 potholes for all of January 2022.

Read more from Hillary Ojeda

Rain returns to Santa Cruz County

Friday, Jan. 13, at 7:15 a.m. — Rain was set to return as Friday dawned around Santa Cruz County, with the forecast calling for showers on and off throughout the day before a stronger system moves in Saturday. Some areas could see as much as 6 more inches of rain by Monday.

Light to moderate rainfall was expected across Northern California on Friday; the risk of new flooding for much of the San Francisco Bay Area won’t begin until late Friday night or Saturday morning.

A flood watch is set to go into effect Saturday morning for the entire greater San Francisco Bay region, stretching from Sonoma County in the north through Monterey County in the south, and last until Monday afternoon. Per the National Weather Service, “A flood watch is issued when conditions are favorable for a specific hazardous weather event to occur. A flood watch is issued when conditions are favorable for flooding. It does not mean flooding will occur, but it is possible.” Find more information here on the differences among flood watches, advisories and warnings.

A high surf advisory is also in effect into Saturday, with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office issuing evacuation warnings for Beach Drive, Las Olas Drive and Potbelly Beach Road along the Aptos shoreline because of a high risk of flooding.

Rain is expected Saturday, as are gusty winds, but it will turn to scattered light showers by evening.

Another, but weaker storm, is forecast to arrive Sunday into. Expect rain, and flood risk persists.

Amid these conditions, Gov. Gavin Newsom and members of California’s congressional delegation are pushing the Biden administration to formally declare a major disaster in the state, Christopher Neely reports, a move that would free up more resources to speed recovery in Santa Cruz County and beyond. Read more here.

Lookout previously reported that local officials put early estimates of damage to public infrastructure at $36 million, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they expect that figure to at least double as the extent of damage becomes clearer, to say nothing of more storms on the horizon. Get that update here.

More recent storm coverage:

  • Local governments and community organizations are scrambling to mount recovery efforts, with more meetings — virtual and in-person — set for Friday for Santa Cruz County residents wanting information about next steps. You can find more information on those meetings and other resources here.
  • And with thousands of local residents without power, particularly in the Santa Cruz Mountains, our partners at the Los Angeles Times look at the vulnerability of the state’s power grid, which is under nearly constant threat amid the changing climate. Read more.

Wanted: reader photos

Reader and Lookout member Claudia Webster captured this slightly-too-on-the-nose photo at Natural Bridges State Beach.
(Via Claudia Webster)

If you have a Santa Cruz County storm image you’d like us to see, email it to us at news@lookoutlocal.com. Please include where and when it was taken, and any other relevant details, plus contact information. And if you’re a Lookout member, let us know that, too. No promises, of course, but we’ll do our best to share it.

FROM THURSDAY, JAN. 12

High surf warnings extend into Saturday

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 8:22 p.m. — The National Weather Service released a coastal hazard message warning of high surf through Saturday.

The Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office issued an evacuation warning for areas along Beach Drive, Las Olas Drive and Potbelly Beach Road because of a high risk of flooding.

Water conditions are expected to be dangerous for swimming and surfing.

Local conditions could include 15-to-20-foot waves and more erosion along the coastline. Large waves can sweep across the beach without warning and pull people into the sea from rocks, jetties and beaches. These waves can also move large objects like rocks and logs, which can be dangerous. The City of Santa Cruz was warning people to stay out of the ocean.

Storm recovery: Find resources here as Santa Cruz County agencies, community groups scramble to coordinate

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 7:53 p.m. — Santa Cruz County community organizations and government agencies are scrambling to both respond to current urgent storm-related conditions as well as provide recovery resources.

Several organizations and officials are providing info-sessions on filing claims Thursday and Friday, starting at 4 p.m. each day, while at the same time preparing for coming storms.

Community Foundation Santa Cruz County CEO Susan True said recovery efforts have been hampered by the fact that the damage is spread across such a wide swath of the region, from Pajaro to Boulder Creek, and involves power outages, flooding and destruction from ocean swells.

“We have both residential, business and public damage in so many different parts of the county that it’s hard to even know exactly what people need,” she said.

Tony Nuñez, communications manager for local nonprofit Community Bridges, added that local agencies and community groups are eventually aiming to have one location or platform for recovery resources for everyone in the county, but it’s a difficult goal.

“We’re so spread out, and the needs of, say Capitola Village are going to be totally different than the needs of the community in Watsonville, or our neighbors over in Pajaro or people up in Felton,” he said. “There have been conversations about having a one-stop shop for where nonprofits can come together and triage.”

Read more from Hillary Ojeda and see a list of resources for county residents affected by the storms.

Updated story: Storm damage tops $36 million across Santa Cruz County, but local officials warn estimates could double

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 7:45 p.m. — Santa Cruz County and its four cities sustained more than $36 million in damages to public infrastructure in storms that also damaged at least 200 homes.

Local officials say they expect that figure to grow dramatically in the weeks to come as they continue to assess the devastation wrought by storm surges, floods and landslides. And more rain is on the way.

Roads maintained by the County of Santa Cruz have sustained more than $23 million in damages, while parks have sustained $7 million, Assistant County Administrative Office Nicole Coburn said Thursday afternoon during a Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce meeting.

“I expect that number is going to grow,” she said. “I would not be surprised if that number doubles by the time we are done.”

Read the latest updates on storm damage here.

Several PVUSD schools to remain closed Friday

Based in Watsonville, Pajaro Valley Unified School District is the largest in Santa Cruz County.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 7:10 p.m. — While the majority of schools across the county are now open, several schools in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District continue to be impacted by evacuation warnings and accessibility issues.

Ann Soldo Elementary, Hall District Elementary, Ohlone Elementary, Radcliff Elementary, Pajaro Middle and Watsonville High will remain closed Friday.

“For most in the Santa Cruz portion of our district, circumstances are holding steady or improving,” Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez wrote in a letter to families Thursday. “However, we recognize that our students, staff and families in Monterey County continue to experience hardships due to evacuation orders and ongoing significant road closures.”

Alternative Schools Infant Development Center at Watsonville High and Post Secondary at Watsonville Youth Center will also remain closed Friday.

Rodriguez said that on Monday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the district will notify all families of remaining closures for Tuesday. Monday is a national holiday.

The district is offering the following learning and wellness resources to families and students impacted by the storms:

In a joint effort, PVUSD’s Expanded Learning Opportunities program and the YMCA are providing academic and enrichment programming for students who attend closed schools. The program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on days schools are closed.

Registration is done in-person at YMCA, located at 27 Sudden St. in Watsonville. For more information, reach out to extendedlearning@pvusd.net.

As for wellness resources, the district’s Family Engagement and Wellness Center, located at 530 Palm Avenue in Watsonville, provides a wide range of services including food from Second Harvest Food Bank Food Co-op. Students from closed schools can also receive cold and ready-to-heat school meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) from the wellness center during school closure days from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The meals are provided by the district’s nutrition services department.

— Hillary Ojeda

Under fairer skies, water level on Pajaro River recedes

Kayakers on the Pajaro River on Thursday.
(Wallace Baine / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 12:40 p.m. — The Pajaro River at the bridge between Watsonville and the town of Pajaro was significantly lower Thursday morning than in previous days. That’s according to a water-level marker under the bridge itself, which Tuesday reached close to 31 feet. On Thursday, it was down to between 25 and 26 feet.

Still, San Juan Road on the Monterey County side of the river was closed from the Pajaro River Bridge at Watsonville, all the way to Aromas.

The lower levels of the river inspired at least one group to break out their kayaks and take on a mini-adventure downriver. As the trio of kayakers passed under the bridge, the man in the back of the group gestured up to onlookers at the bridge and, referring to himself, cried, “Loco!”

— Wallace Baine

Early estimates peg storm damage at $36 million, but much more to come

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 9:15 a.m. — Early tallies estimate over $36 million in damages for Santa Cruz County and its cities following storm

Since the series of storms that brought pounding rain, wind, storm surges, floods and landslides began on the Central Coast on New Year’s Eve, Santa Cruz County and its four cities have tallied at least $36.1 million in damages to publicly owned infrastructure.

That preliminary number is evolving, however, and officials in the jurisdictions will be assessing the true cost of damage for weeks to come, as more rain is expected through at least the middle of next week. In some cases, those preliminary assessments include only the New Year’s Eve storm. And although more than 150 residential and commercial buildings sustained damage, a financial tally of damage to privately owned property remains unknown.

Roads and parks maintained by the County of Santa Cruz have sustained more than $21 million and $6.8 million in damages, respectively, from the storms that hit between Dec. 30 and Jan. 7. County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said infrastructure costs are tracked for requests for financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and under the California Disaster Assistance Act.

In total, the areas under the county’s jurisdiction had 144 yellow tags and eight red tags among residential and commercial structures as of Thursday morning.

Paul Horvat, who manages the City of Santa Cruz’s Office of Emergency Services, said initial damage assessments exclude private and commercial property and are the first step in getting the county, state and, eventually, the federal government’s attention to the damage sustained locally.

Read more from Hillary Ojeda and Christopher Neely.

County catches breath on a rainless day

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 7 a.m. — No rain in the forecast for Thursday meant a breather for Santa Cruz County residents under siege from the barrage of storms, but just a brief one: Another atmospheric river is set to hit the Central Coast on Thursday night and into the weekend, bringing with it the potential for thunderstorms, hail, gusty winds and more high surf.

The high surf isn’t expected to cause the same dangerous ocean swells that devastated coastal communities like Capitola Village, Rio Del Mar in Aptos and West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz last week, National Weather Service meteorologist Valerie Thaler told Lookout.

The next storm is expected to drop less rain than the region has seen in recent weeks, with a total of 2-3 inches set to fall in low-lying areas of the county between Thursday and Sunday, along with 4-5 inches in the mountains, Thaler said.

The wet weather is forecast to continue into next week, though those showers should drop a lighter total of 1-2 inches of rain between Monday and Wednesday, before finally tapering off.

The City of Santa Cruz aims to use Thursday’s break in the weather to do some emergency repairs on the San Lorenzo River levee near downtown:

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office had lifted almost every evacuation order for the area as of Wednesday, though evacuation warnings remained in place for parts of Watsonville, Rio Del Mar, Soquel, Capitola, Paradise Park, Felton and Boulder Creek. You can find the most current evacuation order and warning maps here.

Because of local road closures and an evacuation order affecting the Monterey County side of the Pajaro River, some schools in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District were to remain closed Thursday. Those schools are Ann Soldo, Calabasas, Hall District, Ohlone and Radcliff Elementary; Lakeview and Pajaro Middle; and Watsonville Renaissance high schools.

After closing Tuesday and Wednesday because of the storms, the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District was open Thursday. Most other county school districts had reopened schools by Wednesday.

Flooding could turn Monterey Peninsula into an island, stranding residents for days, officials warn

A flooded road in Laguna Beach, Calif.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

All eyes will be on Monterey County on Thursday and Friday as officials warn that a new storm could cut off the Monterey Peninsula due to flooding.

The Salinas River was expected to rise past flood stage at the town of Spreckels on Thursday afternoon and peak Friday evening, said Jeremy Arrich, manager of the Division of Flood Management with the California Department of Water Resources.

The peak flood level could be one of the highest on record.

Many areas along the Salinas River in Monterey County were under evacuation orders or warnings. Flooding could sever access between the Monterey Peninsula and points north, including Salinas, the county’s most populous city, Santa Cruz County and the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Residents both on the peninsula and in the Salinas area should expect to be cut off for two to three days,” Monterey County officials said in a statement. Sheriff Tina Nieto urged residents and businesses to prepare “for what could be the ‘Monterey Peninsula Island,’ as we call it,” she said at a news conference.

“Monterey Peninsula may become an island again like it did in the ’95 floods.”

Read more from our partners at the Los Angeles Times.

Atmospheric rivers, bomb cyclones and red tags: A guide to storm lingo

Satellite view of bomb cyclone and atmospheric river.
(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration & Los Angeles Times)

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 6:00 a.m. — As storms continue to rage through Santa Cruz County, there’s a hurricane of technical terms and official statements whirling across the region. In this quick guide, Lookout defines some essential words and phrases about the recent extreme weather.

From the Civic to Depot Park: How are Santa Cruz’s unhoused citizens holding up in the storms?

One of the 23 unhoused folks who stayed at the Depot Park shelter Monday night preps for a morning smoke.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 5:26 a.m. — Helping Santa Cruz’s most vulnerable residents, those experiencing chronic homelessness, find cover from the elements has been challenging during this historic run of extreme winter weather. An emergency 24/7 shelter at the Civic Auditorium was shut down due to what the city called “inadequate resources” and what others described as a chaotic environment. Another smaller overnight shelter that launched at Depot Park is attempting to fill the void and staffed by an organization better equipped to handle the unhoused population, observers say.

More here from Mark Conley.

California suddenly has so much snow — ‘great elixir for drought’ but unlikely the cure

The view Jan. 7 from UC Berkeley's Central Sierra Snow Lab in Soda Springs

Piles of snow in the Sierra Nevada are the result of a series of powerful atmospheric river storms that have pummeled California over the past two weeks. The storms have claimed at least 19 lives as they topple trees, overtop levees and send people scrambling for higher ground.

But while the storms have delivered chaos, they have also helped to make a dent in drought conditions. The state’s snow water equivalent — or the amount of water contained in the snow — was 226% of normal on Wednesday, marking a high for the date not seen in at least two decades.

The previous time snowpack neared such a high on Jan. 11 was in 2005, when it was 206% of normal, according to state data.

Even more promising, the Sierra snowpack on Wednesday measured 102% of its April 1 average, referring to the end-of-season date when snowpack in California is usually at its deepest. This is the first time that’s happened on Jan. 11 in at least 20 years.

More here from the Times.

FROM WEDNESDAY, JAN. 11

Another round of rain heads toward Santa Cruz County

Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 6:45 a.m. — Another round of rain was making its way into Santa Cruz County as Wednesday dawned, with forecasts calling for as much as 2 additional inches in certain areas.

That came after a dry Tuesday afternoon saw evacuation orders reduced to warnings in some parts of the county, though evacuation orders were still in place in a few spots, including along the Pajaro River in Watsonville.

The Pajaro River levee was set for some emergency repairs Wednesday after showing signs of seepage amid the recent deluge. Work was to take place on an earthen section of the levee in an agriculture area more than a mile upstream from the confluence of the Pajaro River and Salsipuedes Creek.

Some schools in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District affected by evacuation warnings were to remain closed Wednesday, and the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District, after originally planning to resume classes, told families late Tuesday that its schools would also remain closed amid downed trees and other logistical issues. Other county school districts, including Santa Cruz City Schools, were on track for regular instruction.

In-person instruction was also set to resume Wednesday at UC Santa Cruz, where power was restored Tuesday. However, with some UCSC faculty and students facing obstacles including accessibility and power, the school asked instructors whose classes are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to contact their students with their current plans, and asked students to monitor their email for updates from instructors.

Tuesday also brought a visit California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who toured areas of Capitola Village and Seacliff State Beach. Newsom lauded the Biden administration for its commitment to aiding the state as a whole but said it was too early for details on local recovery efforts.

“All that’s being assessed. All that will be determined,” he said of who might pay for repairs to wharves battered by last week’s high surf. Once damage assessments have been made, and federal and state funds have been collected, “then we’ll be able to make a much sounder judgment and assessment of what we actually will deliver.”

Felton Grove rides along the San Lorenzo River, which has hit flood stage on multiple occasions since New Year's Eve.
Felton Grove rides along the San Lorenzo River, which has hit flood stage on multiple occasions since New Year’s Eve.
(Christopher Neely / Lookout Santa Cruz)

And with floodwaters receding along the San Lorenzo River, residents in the Felton Grove neighborhood waded into cleanup efforts with varying degrees of optimism.

“I love this place, I love the neighborhood. In the summer, the water is crystal clear and it’s a magical place to be. But, man, there is a total flip side,” longtime resident Ron Oliveira told Lookout’s Christopher Neely. “Brother, after 20 years and four floods, it’s just, like, enough.”

What to expect as a new set of storms moves in

The seventh of nine atmospheric river storms since Christmas was expected to hit California on Wednesday, and more flooding is possible through the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, officials said.

Speaking to reporters in hard-hit Capitola, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday warned about more damage to come. Already, state officials have tallied at least 17 storm-related deaths across California in recent weeks.

“We’re not out of the woods,” Newsom told reporters. “This place is soaked. ... These conditions are serious, and they’re deadly.”

Newsom previewed three more atmospheric river-fueled storms, which should continue through at least Jan. 18, meaning another week of rain, at least for Northern California. Officials said a number of area rivers still could flood with the continuing rains.

“The endless stream of atmospheric river events will refocus on Wednesday across Northern California,” the National Weather Service said. An atmospheric river is a plume of moisture that’s essentially a river in the sky — and the most powerful ones can produce extreme rainfall, floods and landslides.

Read more from our partners at the Los Angeles Times.

Death toll rises to 18 statewide as cleanup continues

Repair and cleanup efforts were continuing across California on Wednesday, even as the weather-weary state found itself in the path of yet another in a seemingly ceaseless parade of storms.

The latest system — the seventh atmospheric river storm to train its eye on the state since Christmas — threatens to further swamp a state already reeling from widespread flooding, mudslides, washed-out roads, and downed trees and power lines.

Sonoma County sheriff’s officials on Wednesday announced a person had been found dead in a car submerged in 8 to 10 feet of water, bringing the total number of confirmed storm-related fatalities to 18.

A tornado also briefly touched down in Calaveras County on Tuesday morning, causing extensive tree damage, according to the National Weather Service.

More here from the Times.

FROM TUESDAY, JAN. 10

Many Santa Cruz County schools resume classes Wednesday, though SLV, some Pajaro Valley schools to remain closed

Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 8:32 p.m. The Pajaro Valley Unified School District will open most of its schools Wednesday, after closing many campuses because of storms. But several PVUSD schools impacted by ongoing evacuation warnings will remain closed.

In a letter to families Tuesday afternoon, the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District said its schools would remain closed Wednesday.

“Although it was our intent to open schools tomorrow, Wednesday, January 11, 2023, the trees that fell across Highway 9 by El Solyo Heights took out power to our tri-campus and several other areas around the schools,” the letter read. “In addition, that event also closed Highway 9 from El Solyo Heights to the high school entrance.”

Santa Cruz City Schools will have regular instruction Wednesday. Scotts Valley Unified School District has remained open this week and plans to continue with classes on Wednesday. Soquel Union Elementary School District Superintendent Scott Turnbull said all of the district’s schools will be open on Wednesday.

Read Hillary Ojeda’s story for the full details on school openings and closures for Wednesday.

Pajaro River levee system to undergo emergency repairs Wednesday after showing signs of seepage

Flooded fields that run along East Lake Avenue in Watsonville on Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 8:26 p.m. The County of Santa Cruz said late Tuesday that it would carry out emergency repairs to the Pajaro River levee system, which was showing signs of seepage after more than a week of heavy rains.

The stretch of river that runs through Watsonville has continued to steadily rise since Monday and measured over 31 feet Tuesday afternoon after more storms swept through Santa Cruz County.

Read the full story here.

Seacliff State Beach remains closed after suffering “catastrophic damage” to pier, seawall and campground

The closed and damaged pier at Seacliff State Beach in Aptos on Tuesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 8 p.m. Seacliff State Beach remained closed to the public after “catastrophic damage” to its campground from ocean swells that destroyed a seawall and wiped out 63 campsites and 26 hookup sites.

“We’ve lost so much pavement and underground utilities there. More than half the seawall is gone in there,” said Chris Spohrer, district superintendent for the Santa Cruz District of California State Parks.

The day-use side of the park suffered significant damage to its seawall, as well as damage to the promenade, Spohrer said. On Tuesday, state parks workers were placing heavy rock on areas of the promenade where the seawall had been crushed by large waves.

Recent storms also destroyed half of the pier at Seacliff and left the remaining sections “severely damaged,” he said. He didn’t have an estimate for the cost to repair the damage, but said the agency expected at least a portion of the money to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

California State Parks Santa Cruz District Superintendent Chris Spohrer.
California State Parks Santa Cruz District Superintendent Chris Spohrer at Seacliff State Beach on Tuesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Spohrer warned that forecasts were calling for another large, western swell to hit the area Friday during a period of reasonably high tide, a dangerous combination responsible for the original damage to the state beach last week.

State Park officials were asking the public to stay away from the park given the damage, temporary fencing and work by crews operating heavy machinery to stabilize and area.

“Being honest, we’re having a lot of people come down already and we’re trying to manage that, but we are asking for the public’s cooperation to stay away because of the dangers and because it impedes our ability to do the work down here,” Spohrer said.

He said park officials would assess whether some areas of the park may be able to reopen to public use on the weekend.

— Kevin Painchaud

County officials, law enforcement estimate more than $28 million in damages from storms through Jan. 7

An aerial phot of a landslide that closed Highway 9 at Ben Lomond on Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 7:48 p.m. Unincorporated areas of the county received more than $28 million in damages from storms between Dec. 30 and Saturday, Jan. 7, said Dave Reid, director of the Santa Cruz County Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience. The estimates so far don’t include damages that occurred since Sunday, and they don’t include damages from cities or other entities.

Costs for unincorporated areas are so far estimated to be more than $21 million in road damages and more than $6.8 million in damages to at least 16 park sites and three coastal access park sites.

In addition, officials estimate more than $1.2 million in damages to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District. Lookout has yet to confirm damages from cities.

Santa Cruz County Undersheriff Chris Clark said the impact and nature of the storms since December is unprecedented.

“Soquel Village flooding twice in a matter of eight days. It’s just incredible,” he said. “The storm surge that we saw impacting Beach Drive, Las Olas and the city of Capitola, and Santa Cruz — really unprecedented.”

Matt Machado, Santa Cruz County Public Works director, said as a result of storm damage, there are 11 sites on roads that have permanent, longer-term damage that need major repairs.

“Through each storm we saw upwards of 45 storm damaged roads closed due to trees, wires, landslides, various storm damage related reasons,” he said. “And then the next day the crews would get out there and they cleared that up and got those roads open. They’ve been working nonstop trying to get those roads open.”

Clark highlighted the unique challenges of this event and how to move forward with the forecast for rain in the coming days.

“To think that we had evacuations on New Year’s Eve, we had evacuations again Jan. 3 and again Jan. 5 for the storm surge, and then evacuations again as recently as yesterday,” he said. “We’re gonna continue to watch the weather as we go forward. Knowing just how odd this whole event is, I think the real question is, how does this play out in the future?”

Read more from Hillary Ojeda and Christopher Neely

Newsom sees Capitola, Seacliff damage first-hand

California Gov. Gavin Newsom views storm damage to the pier at Seacliff State Beach in Aptos on Tuesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 6:09 p.m. — “We are soaked,” Newsom told a news conference Tuesday on the denuded deck of Zelda’s on the Beach on the Capitola Esplanade. “This place is soaked. Now, just a more modest amount of precipitation can have an equal or greater impact on the conditions on the ground.”

Newsom visited Capitola Village with 2nd District Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend, Capitola Mayor Margaux Keiser and others to see first-hand the storm damage along the Esplanade, especially at the Paradise Beach Grille and Zelda’s. When asked about the damage to the Capitola Wharf, Newsom gestured toward Zelda’s. “Part of the wharf is inside the business right there, quite literally,” he said. “Went right through the window.”

A visit is one thing — getting state and maybe federal help for rebuilding along the Esplanade and damaged wharves is another. It’s early, but Newsom pledges state and probably federal aid.

Read Wallace Baine’s report from Newsom’s afternoon visit.

UCSC: Power restored, in-person instruction to resume Wednesday

Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 3 p.m. — UC Santa Cruz is set to resume in-person instruction Wednesday and power has been restored, after widespread storms caused some areas of campus to lose power Monday and forced the school to move to remote instruction Monday and Tuesday,

However, some UCSC faculty, employees and students still face challenges, such as continuing loss of power in other parts of the county where they live, and obstacles to arriving to campus in-person.

The university is asking instructors whose classes are scheduled to meet Wednesday to contact their students with their current plans, and students should be monitoring their email for updates from instructors.

“As previously communicated, instructors have the authority to make emergency temporary instructional adjustments, including the use of the remote modality, as needed to best support learning. Instructors should inform their department chair, program director, or college provost about emergency temporary instructional adjustments,” read a Tuesday message to the campus. “Instructors are encouraged to communicate with students before administratively dropping them from the class, since they may not be attending class due to storm-related conditions.”

UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason said power was restored to the Family Student Housing community Tuesday, and the rest of campus continued to have power.

— Hillary Ojeda

The soak slog continues

Tuesday, Jan. 10, at noon — As if Santa Cruz County hadn’t already seen enough, storms Monday night into Tuesday morning brought their own twist, throwing lightning and hail into the mix, with another strong band of rain and exceptionally strong winds.

Ashley Keehn, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, said as a result of the overnight storm, first responders have been working to relieve an overwhelming number of calls about downed trees, with one injury in La Selva caused by a downed tree on a home.

Power outages and road closures have multiplied since Monday night’s storm. As of Tuesday morning, the sheriff’s office reported that more than 19,000 people were without power. The most widespread outages were in the mountains around Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond, as well as Rio Del Mar and around Manresa State Beach.

As of Tuesday morning, 64 county roads were experiencing closures, mostly concentrated in the Santa Cruz Mountains, especially around Felton and Boulder Creek, as well as north of Scotts Valley. Highway 17 southbound was closed near Redwood Estates but was estimated to open by midnight.

Highway 9 remained closed in two areas, in Ben Lomond between upper and lower Glen Arbor Road, as well as in Boulder Creek between Big Basin Road and Monaco Lane. Highway 236 remained closed as well, between Little Basin Road and the East Ridge Trail trailhead. No estimates have been made on when the roads will be cleared.

The San Lorenzo River along Highway 9 on Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Still, the “parade of storms” continues to march onward, and will continue to rain on any hopes for an extended reprieve into next week, says National Weather Service Bay Area meteorologist Jeff Lorber. For Tuesday, NWS forecast another three-quarters of an inch of rain and wind gusts up to 45 mph in the coastal areas of Santa Cruz County, and 1.5 inches and up to 60 mph wind gusts in the mountains. Expect hail and some scattered lightning as well.

“There will be intermittent, on-and-off storms into the middle of next week,” Lorber said. High surf and wind advisories remain in effect for Tuesday.

All eyes remain on the Pajaro River, which tends to take at least 24 hours before the true impact of the rain is revealed. The stretch of river that runs through Watsonville has continued to steadily rise since Monday and measured over 31 feet Tuesday morning. The San Lorenzo River, which filled and spilled on Monday, had receded considerably and sat well below its flood point.

Gov. Gavin Newsom was scheduled to tour storm-damaged parts of Capitola Village on Tuesday afternoon.

— Christopher Neely and Hillary Ojeda

Watching and waiting in Pajaro

Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 12:15 p.m. — Manuel Rodriguez stands astride his bicycle on the Pajaro River levee, gazing at the opaque brown water rushing by. He doesn’t like what he sees.

“It’s at 31 now,” he says, gesturing to a river level marker under the bridge. It’s about 11 a.m. Tuesday. “It could breach, today or tonight.”

Rodriguez lives just a couple of blocks away in the town of Pajaro. He was there, in fact, in 1995, when a ruinous flood from a breach in the river levee struck Pajaro. In 1995, he said, the waters came in the middle of the night. Local firefighters helped him and his family escape. He settled at a sister’s house in the town of Las Lomas. Because he couldn’t get to his job site in downtown Watsonville, he was out of work for two weeks.

He was warned to evacuate amid the ongoing barrage, but he has decided to stay in his two-story home. “I can go upstairs and stay for a couple of days up there,” he says. “As long as we have the electrical.”

In 1995, his ground-level home was inundated with mud he says “was like Jello.” Holding his hands about 2 feet apart, he says, “And we had worms, like this. It was incredible. But, man, we had some good fertilizer. Our gardens looked great that summer.”

— Wallace Baine

Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 2 p.m. — The latest in a series of intense winter storms was forecast to continue to lash Northern California on Tuesday, bringing periods of thunderstorms, heavy rain, wind and hail to the already waterlogged region as the death toll from the extreme weather climbs.

The back-to-back storms across the Golden State have killed at least 16 people, including a Santa Cruz man who was found under a fallen tree at Lighthouse Field State Beach amid the Dec. 31 storm.

Two motorists died early Tuesday in a crash on Highway 99 in Tulare County when a tree that had been struck by lightning fell into the road, authorities said.

Read more from our partners at the Los Angeles Times.

FROM MONDAY, JAN. 9

How bad is it? is the worst over?

The San Lorenzo River flowing rapidly Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

Monday, Jan. 9, at 7:46 p.m. — Those seem to be the questions of the moment after at least 20 inches of rain in Santa Cruz County since New Year’s Eve.

Correspondents Christopher Neely and Hillary Ojeda report that Monday proved less destructive than had been feared for most in the county.

But there are the buts. With soils so saturated and new ocean swells set to join a new rainstorm forecast to begin at midnight — 1.5 inches of rain and 50 mph winds to the coastal areas and up to 3 inches of rain and 60 mph winds in the mountains in the next 24 hours — it’s hard to predict the week ahead.

“The main band of rain has moved on, but this isn’t over,” National Weather Service meteorologist Brayden Murdock told Lookout from his office in Monterey. Murdock’s and local officials’ careful advice: Don’t relax yet. And probably don’t drive unless you have to — especially out of the county, if you can get out.

“We’ll be watching the storm system coming in tonight closely,” 1st District Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manu Koenig said. “It’s not as big as the one today, but the ground is so saturated that even relatively small amounts of rain can have an impact. To put it in perspective, we’ve had over 20 inches of rain since Christmas. The ground just can’t absorb anymore water and so new rain flows right into the creeks and rivers.”

Read our full report: Santa Cruz’s bomb cyclones might be gone — but don’t relax yet.

Several Santa Cruz County K-12 schools extend closures into Tuesday

A dad helps his daughter through the flooded streets in his Watsonville on Monday, January 9, 2023.
A dad helps his daughter through the flooded streets in his Watsonville neighborhood on Monday morning.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Monday, Jan. 9, at 7:10 p.m. — As the storm’s conditions rapidly changed, more K-12 Santa Cruz County public schools announced closures for Monday and Tuesday.

“As of now, the majority of schools are currently closed or remote for the day,” County Office of Education spokesperson Nick Ibarra said Monday afternoon. “Remote arrangements may vary by school.”

All Pajaro Valley Unified School District schools closed Monday and Tuesday, affecting more than 18,000 students. Three of the county’s single-school districts closed due to the storm on Monday: Bonny Doon, Mountain and Happy Valley, according to Ibarra.

San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District joined other districts in canceling class Tuesday.

“Based on the current mudslides and the projected storm coming in overnight, including the possible closure of the Felton intersection; the District feels it is in the best interest of our families and staff to take a Storm Day for Tuesday, January 10, 2023,” read a Monday evening statement. The district plans to have students return to school on Wednesday.

Scotts Valley Unified School District schools had class Monday and planned to be open for the week. Several districts still weren’t scheduled to return from their holiday breaks until Tuesday and Wednesday.

Soquel Union Elementary School District said it would close Main Street Elementary and Soquel Elementary schools on Tuesday — the first scheduled day back to school for the district.

The storms have also affected private schools and charter schools, causing several closures.

Read the full story from Hillary Ojeda.

Evacuation orders lifted, downgraded for parts of the county; others remain in effect

Sandbags at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting in Downtown Santa Cruzon Monday, January 9, 2023.
Sandbags at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting in downtown Santa Cruz, where many stores were closed because of an evacuation warning Monday.
(Thomas Sawano / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Monday, Jan. 9, at 6 p.m. — Evacuation orders were lifted or downgraded for several parts of the county Monday evening as water levels subsided in many of the region’s rivers and creeks.

Officials lifted an evacuation warning for downtown Santa Cruz and downgraded evacuation orders to warnings in parts of Capitola, Soquel, Paradise Park, Boulder Creek, Felton and Ben Lomond.

Evacuation orders remained in effect for neighborhoods of Watsonville and the surrounding area because of rapidly rising water levels in the Pajaro River, along with low-lying areas of the Rio Del Mar esplanade. See the complete evacuation map here.

Highway 9 near Ben Lomond remains closed after massive landslide

An aerial phot of a landslide that closed Highway 9 at Ben Lomond on Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Monday, Jan. 9, at 5:45 p.m.— A significant stretch of Highway 9 near Ben Lomond was shut down after a massive landslide sent trees and power lines tumbling onto the roadway and covering all lanes with a mess of mud, rocks and vegetation.

Caltrans officials received word of the slide very early Monday morning, said Jake Bradbury, a San Luis Obispo-based Caltrans engineer who was working to clear the highway.

Crews shut down upper and lower Glen Arbor Road in Ben Lomond.

Bradbury said it was too early to assess the full extent of the damage. “We’re very much in the preliminary stages of finding out what the next steps are,” he said. He had no estimate for how long the highway would be closed: “indefinitely, for sure.”

Community Foundation’s new match for Disaster Fund

Monday, Jan. 9, at 6:25 p.m. — So far, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County has made $60,000 in disaster-related grants, with help going to Community Bridges, the Community Action Board and others. It’s now got a dollar-for-dollar match going, up to $75,000 in donations. Get more information and donate here.

The scene at Tannery Arts Center after morning flooding

Flooding at the Tannery Arts Center
(Via Twitter)

Monday, Jan. 9, at 4:50 p.m. — Gazing out at the fast-moving murk of the San Lorenzo River on Monday afternoon, one resident of the Tannery Arts Center — which experienced significant flooding that morning — called down from his second-story balcony. “I feel safer up here than down there,” he said.

With the Tannery sitting directly on the banks of the San Lorenzo, images of the moat of water that covered much of the combined housing and studio complex were making the rounds on Twitter.

But resident Genoa Brown mused that the architects of the combined housing and studio complex must have designed it with exactly such adverse flooding conditions in mind. The complex’s river-facing apartments sit above parking garages – meaning that even when the San Lorenzo overflows, its residences remain dry.

As of around 1 p.m. Monday, water levels at the Tannery had subsided. Earlier in the week, debris caught in the footbridge spanning the San Lorenzo just downstream from the complex was cleared by city workers, out of concern that it could act as a dam for the deluge of water moving down the river.

For now, the scene at the Tannery feels calm.

“The only scene that’s playing in my head — more out of my own morbid amusement — is that the water reaches the cemetery [just across the river] and washes up all these buried people,” Brown said. “But maybe that’s because I watch too many zombie movies.”

— Thomas Sawano

More than 30,000 under evacuation order across the county; more than 6,000 without power

Monday, Jan. 9, at 3:50 p.m. — More than 32,000 people across Santa Cruz County were under evacuation orders on Monday.

Spokesperson Jason Hoppin said the county was prioritizing those in lower-lying areas such as Paradise Park and parts of Watsonville by sending sheriff’s deputies and staff to residents’ homes to ask them to evacuate. The county was also employing reverse 911 calls to directly reach residents at risk.

“It’s going to be a rough day,” Hoppin said.

A Pacific Gas & Electric spokesperson said there were 102 outages across Santa Cruz County as of late Monday morning, impacting 6,224 customers.

The utility said it has struggled to repair outages in some parts of the county because fierce weather conditions have prevented crews from accessing some areas and damaged PG&E equipment.

“We have had some challenges in Santa Cruz County,” spokesperson Megan McFarland told Lookout via email Monday afternoon.

“The storm series continues to hit Santa Cruz County, requiring our crews to stand down for safety and impacting our restoration efforts while creating new outages daily since Jan. 4. The area has experienced extreme damage due to mudslides, rock slides, flooding, and fallen trees, which has damaged our equipment and limited our access to visually inspect lines before repairs can begin.

Additionally, required foot patrols in rugged mountain terrain have created delays as the weather has prevented most aerial patrols. We will continue to work safely and as quickly as possible to assess damage and assign crews to repair and restore power.”

The latest storm system dropped up to 1.5 inches of rain along the coastal areas of the county and as much as 6 inches in the wettest parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Winds reached 53 mph near Natural Bridges State Beach, and nearly 70 mph in the mountains.

Later Monday and into Tuesday, the lingering storm system was forecast bring up to 2.5 more inches of rain to the mountains and 1.5 inches to the coastal areas. A wind advisory remained in effect, with gusts expected to reach over 60 mph among the tallest peaks and 50 mph around the coastal areas.

More than 30 county roads had emergency closures, with 10 extended closures related to impacts from the nearly 10 consecutive days of rain.

Matthew Machado, the county’s public works director, said he expected to add another 10 roads to the extended closures list. He said a bridge washed out near Redwood Lodge and Laurel roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains, adding mudslides and sinkholes were the biggest worries.

Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting had sandbags on hand Monday on Pacific Avenue.
(Hillary Ojeda / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Highways 9, 17, 129 and 236 were all experiencing closures Monday afternoon, as was the northbound ramp to Highway 1 from Ocean Street in Santa Cruz.

A significant stretch of Highway 9 near Ben Lomond was shut down after a landslide covered the roadway in mud, rocks and tree debris. Highway 17 southbound near Laurel Road was shut down due to a combination of a landslide and sinkhole. Highway 236 between Little Basin Road and the East Ridge Trail trailhead, as well as Highway 129 between Rogge Lane in Aromas out to Highway 101, were also shut down due to landslides.

The county’s watersheds remained under close watch after the storm that began overnight Sunday into Monday caused rivers and creeks to rapidly swell and spill over. The San Lorenzo River at Big Trees crested at nearly 25 feet at 7:30 a.m. — almost 10 feet over its flood point of 16.5 feet — but was beginning to recede, and was at 15.5 feet as of 1:30 p.m. Monday. Downstream, the San Lorenzo River through Santa Cruz peaked at just about 24 feet at 9:15 a.m. — 2 feet higher than New Year’s Eve and well above its flood point of 20.6 feet; by 1 p.m., however, this stretch of the San Lorenzo was down to 17.6 feet.

In the Pajaro River watershed, the Pajaro River near Watsonville, which was running around 11.5 feet before New Year’s Eve, was approaching 27 feet and rising as of 1 p.m. Monday. Corralitos Creek near Freedom crossed its flooding threshold of 11.5 feet at 6 a.m., cresting as high as 15 feet but rapidly receding as the afternoon progressed. Salsipuedes Creek near Watsonville, which was running as low as 4.5 feet before New Year’s Eve, reached over 13 feet Monday morning but was also receding, though slowly, in the afternoon.

Brayden Murdock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Bay Area, cautioned that the rivers, especially the Pajaro, could see delayed impacts, and wouldn’t peak until later Monday night.

— Christopher Neely

Highways 9, 17, 129 and 236 all closed as winter storms stretch into second week

City workers prepare to set up a road block on E. Lake Street and Bridge Street in Watsonville on Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Monday, Jan. 9, at 1:35 p.m. Three state highways running through Santa Cruz County were closed Monday afternoon due to landslides and sinkholes as the unrelenting rain stretches into a second week.

Highway 17 southbound has been shut down at Laurel Road due to a combination of landslide that covered the southbound lanes around 9:15 a.m. and a sinkhole that occurred right after, according to Caltrans’ road closure map.

Highway 9 was closed between upper and lower Glen Arbor Road in Ben Lomond after a significant landslide covered both lanes. In Santa Cruz, Caltrans also closed Highway 9 in both directions at the intersection of Highway 1 and near River Street due to flooding.

Highway 236 was also closed in both directions between Little Basin Road and the East Ridge trailhead due to a landslide. Highway 129 between Rogge Lane in Aromas and Highway 101 was also shut down due to a landslide.

Highway 1 northbound ramp from Ocean Street was closed for emergency work, but was expected to reopen around 4 p.m. Monday. Caltrans had not issued timetables for any of the other closures.

— Christopher Neely

Red Cross workers come from out of state to assist with county evacuation efforts

Chuck Scripter, the supervisor at the Red Cross shelter at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.
(Wallace Baine / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Monday, Jan. 9, at 1:25 p.m. Chuck Scripter woke up Sunday in Nebraska, but Monday he found himself standing in the middle of Crosetti Building at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. He’s not even exactly sure where he is. “Is it ‘Westerville’?” he said.

Scripter is the supervisor of the Red Cross shelter opened Monday morning at the fairgrounds. A volunteer from North Platte, Nebraska, he’s in charge of a Red Cross crew of seven at the fairgrounds, five of whom are from out of state, like he is.

At around 1 p.m., there were roughly 60 to70 people who had checked in as part of the emergency evacuation order issued in Watsonville and Pajaro. Each gets a cot, two blankets and a comfort pack with toiletries and other necessities. Snack foods are provided, but Scripter was working to get some local vendors to come in with an evening meal.

This hall could fit about 140 cots, but there are two more buildings the fairgrounds has made available to house more displaced by the floods.

Scripter’s previous trip to California was to the Sacramento area for fire relief. He’s been working as a volunteer at the Red Cross for more than 20 years. “I’ve been on plenty of disasters,” he said. He gives the Red Cross a 30-day window in which he is prepared to leave for a disaster zone at a moment’s notice.

“Then, they’ll give you call and tell you, ‘Get your bags packed.’”

The Red Cross shelter at the fairgrounds is open to all who need a short-term place to stay due to the flood evacuations. Red Cross volunteers can stay on one assignment for up to two weeks before they are rotated out, either back home or to another assignment. In the meantime, Scripter said isn’t sure when he’ll see North Platte again: “Could be tomorrow, could be two weeks from now.”

Find more information on Santa Cruz County shelter sites here. The City of Santa Cruz on Sunday opened the Freight Building at Depot Park as a temporary shelter; more information here.

— Wallace Baine

Soquel Creek neighborhoods breathe sigh of relief

Steve Pittmann, the assistant tasting room manager at Bargetto Winery
Steve Pittmann, the assistant tasting room manager at Bargetto Winery, shows how the Soquel Creek level had dropped Monday morning.
(Mark Conley / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Monday, Jan. 9, at 10 a.m. — Though too early to proclaim victory, there was a feeling of relief mid-morning along Soquel Creek as the village opened up and the sandbags went for naught.

Early concerns about a repeat of the flooding that surprised homeowners and businesses on New Year’s Eve abated as the creek level dropped dramatically Monday.

At Bargetto Winery, which sits directly above a wide part of the creek, assistant tasting room manager Steve Pittmann and shipping manager Terry Moore had watched the water drop by approximately 5 to 6 feet in the previous three hours.

“At 7:30 this morning, it was getting up close to where it was on New Year’s Eve,” Moore said. “This is a lot better.”

Officials suspect that undetected blockages upstream were the culprit in the previous flooding that swamped Soquel Village.

Pittmann and Moore said it felt as though the early creek rise Monday could’ve been the result of new blockage — “All it takes is one big tree to fall in the wrong place,” Pittmann said — that created a fast upward surge reminiscent of the New Year’s Eve trouble.

But as only light raindrops fell with the forecast calling for the weather to clear by mid-afternoon, they said they mainly felt relieved to see the next potential disaster for their friends in lower-lying parts of the creek averted for the time being.

“From what I saw, I definitely thought it was going to go higher,” Moore said.

— Mark Conley

Evacuation orders issued for parts of of Soquel, Rio Del Mar, Watsonville, Ben Lomond, Felton

Monday, Jan. 9, at 8:30 a.m. — The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office issued evacuation orders for communities along the region’s creeks and rivers as another storm battered the coast, raising the risk of flooding.

The evacuation orders cover neighborhoods along the San Lorenzo River, Soquel Creek, Corralitos Creek, Salsipuedes Creek and Aptos Creek.

The evacuation orders cover:

San Lorenzo River
Felton: Felton Grove; Beth Drive/Gail Drive/River Lane
All of Paradise Park

Soquel Creek
Soquel: Soquel Wharf Road/Soquel Village; Main Street and South Main Street; Cherryvale Avenue

Corralitos Creek
Watsonville: Freedom Boulevard
Interlaken: Holohan Road/East Lake Avenue

Salsipuedes Creek
Watsonville: College Road; Lakeview Road; Riverside

Evacuation orders in Watsonville.
(City of Watsonville)

Aptos Creek
Aptos: Forest Drive, Creek Drive; Glen Drive; Rio Del Mar Esplanade

Ben Lomond: Mill Street

All of the community of Pajaro in Monterey County

Schools:
Pajaro Valley Unified School District closed all of its schools Monday amid flash flood warnings after announcing plans Sunday to close a number of schools Monday and Tuesday.

Main Street Elementary School and Soquel Elementary School in the Soquel Union Elementary School District were to be closed Tuesday — the first scheduled day back from the holiday break — given their proximity to Soquel Creek. The district said it would monitor the situation and decide about Wednesday and beyond as soon as possible.

Shelter:
An overnight shelter has opened at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, 2601 E. Lake Ave. in Watsonville. The shelter will also accommodate domestic and large animals.

Those needing transportation services can call Lift Line: 831-688-9663.

Find more information on shelters from the county here and the City of Santa Cruz here.

Biden declares emergency as latest parade of cyclones takes aim at California

Late Sunday, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in California, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide emergency resources.

“We expect to see the worst of it still in front of us,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Sunday. “We’re anticipating very intense weather coming in [Monday] and Tuesday morning.”

Read the full story here.

FROM SUNDAY, JAN. 8

Santa Cruz opens emergency shelter at the Freight Building at Depot Park

Sunday, Jan. 8, at 8:15 p.m. — The City of Santa Cruz opened a temporary emergency shelter at the Freight Building at Depot Park, 119 Center St., on Sunday night.

The overnight shelter has capacity for 25 people and is set to remain open through Thursday. Food, beverages, and other supplies will be available and the city says it will organize transportation to overflow shelters if the site reaches capacity.

Evacuation warnings for parts of Watsonville, Soquel, Rio Del Mar and others

Sunday, Jan. 8, at 7:10 p.m. — With another dousing of heavy rain expected Sunday night through Tuesday, Santa Cruz County officials have issued an expanded evacuation warning for residents around Soquel, Paradise Park, parts of Felton, Rio Del Mar and South County near the Pajaro River watershed.

“Residents in low-lying areas should be prepared to evacuate and move to higher ground,” an announcement from Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart read.

Melodye Serino, deputy county administrative officer, said the worst of the storm is expected to arrive overnight. Although the Pajaro River is the greatest concern heading into the latest storm, Serino said county officials are closely monitoring the San Lorenzo River and coastal areas as well.

Residents can check on their evacuation warning status here, and updates on road closures can be found here.

An evacuation warning was also issued for the community of Pajaro in advance of the Sunday evening storm. Pajaro is on the opposite side of the Pajaro River in northern Monterey County. The Monterey County Sheriff’s Department issued the warning Sunday afternoon, instructing residents to be prepared for an evacuation order.

— Christopher Neely and Wallace Baine


In Watsonville, residents watch fragile levee system with growing sense of alarm

Watsonville's lowest-lying neighborhoods near the Pajaro River levee prepare for more rain.

Sunday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. The city of Watsonville waited and worried on Sunday afternoon with rising alarm at the state of the Pajaro River and its tributaries, Salsipuedes and Corralitos creeks.

Last week’s storms did severe damage to coastal communities in Rio Del Mar and Aptos. But in Watsonville, the danger is not in surging ocean waves, but in rising river levels.

The Watsonville Buddhist Temple on Bridge Street is just across the street from the river levee. On Sunday, members were gathering outside the temple, discussing the events of last week when, on New Year’s Eve, water backed up flooding the parking lots surrounding the temple and caused some damage to cars and apartments nearby.

“This is the lowest spot in the neighborhood,” said Kenny Kusumoto as he walked the perimeter of the temple. As he turned the corner, he said, “This whole area was covered in water and mud.”

Read the full story from Wallace Baine.

‘This is extremely serious’: Several PVUSD schools cancel Monday classes due to potential flooding

Sunday, Jan. 8, at 5:56 p.m. — With the increasing threat of Pajaro River flooding, PVUSD is canceling Monday and Tuesday classes for Ann Soldo Elementary School, Hall District Elementary School, Ohlone Elementary School, Calabasas Elementary School, MacQuiddy Elementary School, Lakeview Middle School, Pajaro Middle School and Watsonville High School. About 4,620 students attend those schools.

Read more from Hillary Ojeda here.

The deluge is set to continue

Sunday, Jan. 8, at 3:45 p.m — With a brief lull and a few rays of sunshine, Sunday has so far offered a brief respite for most of us, as hundreds deal with the storm damage already.

Rain was forecast to return overnight and promised a fierce return.

This latest system is “fast approaching” said Warren Blier, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Rain is expected to arrive around 7 p.m., with the most intense rain and wind expected overnight. The rain will begin to taper off midday Monday, but return with a follow-up thunderstorm, but diminished winds, by evening and continue into Tuesday afternoon.

Expect wind gusts Sunday night into Monday to range as high as 45-55 mph between the coastal areas and tallest peaks in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Between Sunday night and Tuesday, the county’s low-lying areas could see more than 3 inches of rain, with up to 8 inches in the wettest areas of the mountains.

“Between now and 7 p.m. is the time to prepare,” Blier said.

Among those preparations, UC Santa Cruz is canceling in-person instruction Monday.

“All classes will be delivered using online or emergency remote instruction, and we encourage our campus community to limit non essential travel,” Chancellor Cynthia Larive wrote Sunday afternoon, adding that the campus would be updated at 3 p.m. Monday about the week ahead.

Read the full story from Hillary Ojeda and Christopher Neely.

Capitola's wharf was heavily damaged in last week's storms.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Sunday, Jan. 8, at 9 a.m. — Heavy rains and high winds moved through the region Saturday night. The National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts that the rain will lighten up through Sunday before another intense storm moves in overnight and into Monday.

A flood watch remains in effect for Santa Cruz County through Tuesday afternoon, and NWS issued a wind advisory for Saturday into early Sunday afternoon.

At least 28 roads remain closed across the county. North of Boulder Creek, Highway 236 is closed near Little Basin Road because of a landslide across the roadway. Caltrans said there is no estimated time for reopening.

An evacuation warning remained in effect Sunday for some parts of Boulder Creek, though all other evacuation warnings and orders have been lifted. See a complete evacuation map for the county.

Watsonville issued a flood advisory Saturday afternoon through Tuesday for neighborhoods near Salsipuedes Creek.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District said Saturday that it would notify families on Sunday if any schools or district departments would be closed. Watsonville High School, Pacific Coast Charter School and Ann Soldo Elementary School are all within the flood advisory area, as are the district offices and and maintenance and operations offices.

City of Watsonville flood advisory on Saturday, January 7
City of Watsonville flood advisory on Saturday, January 7.
(City of Watsonville)

Another round of rainstorms — the wetter of the two — is expected from Sunday night through Tuesday afternoon, with heavy rains on Monday. It is expected to bring 3 to 5 inches of rain in most of the Monterey Bay, and 6 inches in the mountains with the possibility of up to 9 inches at the highest peaks.

Wind remains a factor as well. Parts of Santa Cruz could see 30 to 45 mph gusts, with some of the highest peaks in the mountains potentially seeing up to 70 mph gusts.

National Weather Service meteorologist Brayden Murdock said many of the same concerns from this past week’s system remain for the coming storms.

“Our soils are fairly wet now, so a lot of the areas where we’ve seen flooding, we’ll probably see flooding again,” he said. “Some of the main rivers and streams are probably going to be stressed by the rainfall from the second system, so as we continue into the next work week, the areas that have seen localized flooding will probably see it again.

Murdock also said that the high winds in the mountains resurrect worries of fallen trees and power lines, and that the significant rainfall should prompt caution over slides and debris flow in the mountains.

Lookout photojournalist Kevin Painchaud spend the past week crisscrossing Santa Cruz County, capturing video of the...

Residents and local officials continue taking stock of the widespread damage from rain and high winds overnight this week. County officials estimate that 50 homes in Rio Del Mar were damaged or flooded by the high surf from the storms. The storm also closed portions of West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz and damaged the Capitola and Seacliff wharfs.

The Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, which was closed on Thursday, sustained minor damage. The wharf reopened Friday morning, though a high surf advisory remained in effect.

Read more about what’s coming and how the county was impacted by last week’s storms here.

— Max Chun

Lookout photographer Kevin Painchaud has travelled across the county to chronicle the winter storms that hit Santa Cruz...

FROM FRIDAY, JAN. 6

Beach Drive in Aptos closed Saturday and Sunday morning

Friday, Jan. 6, at 5:32 p.m. — The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office said Beach Drive in Aptos will be closed to both vehicles and pedestrians so that crews can clear debris and sand that has accumulated on the roadway. The road is set to be closed starting 6 a.m. on Saturday and reopen 10 a.m. on Sunday.

Disaster Recovery Fund launches

Friday, Jan. 6, at 4:20 p.m. — The Community Foundation Santa Cruz County has launched a disaster fund to help residents and small business owners struggling to recover from the winter storms.

The money will go to nonprofits with deep roots in the county serving vulnerable populations on the front line of flood and storm relief and recovery efforts. Donations will also go to small businesses in coordination with local business improvement districts.

The fund will provide financial support for Santa Cruz County organizations serving vulnerable populations on the front line of flood and storm relief and recovery efforts.

Nonprofits are going door to door in neighborhoods to check on seniors, medically fragile residents, and other vulnerable populations. And with more storms heading this way, the foundation is asking for volunteers to help coordinate sandbagging, assist with cleanup efforts, and make sure residents receive public safety messages.

Donations can be made to the Santa Cruz County Disaster Fund at www.cfscc.org/disaster.

Across Santa Cruz County, community groups are coming together to raise money and launch volunteer efforts to help...

Watsonville closes evacuation center, watches Pajaro River and Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks

Friday, Jan. 6, at 3:00 p.m. — As of Friday afternoon, there was no reported damage to homes and businesses in the city of Watsonville. Mandatory evacuation orders for some neighborhoods for Wednesday night have been lifted, and the evacuation center at Cesar Chavez Middle School has been closed.

As for the projected storms set for Saturday and Sunday, the city is monitoring the water levels at both the Pajaro River and Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks and is urging residents to be aware of the weather and be connected to ongoing developments by checking the news media and the city’salert response network.

High-risk neighborhoods include Pajaro Village, Bay Village, Lake Village, and residential areas near Salispuedes Creek, and along Riverside Drive near the Pajaro River.

The city’sCodeRed emergency notification network can send texts to concerned residents about evacuation orders or other weather developments. Anyone interested in receiving texts can text SCR911 to 99411, or can download theCodeRed app.

Identity released of man killed by fallen tree in Lighthouse Field State Beach

Eric Stark had the entire front wall of his Rio Del Mar home destroyed.
Eric Stark, has been living in his “dream home” in Rio Del Mar since 2018, until his entire front wall was destroyed in storms that wreaked havoc in coastal neighborhoods across the county.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Friday, Jan. 6, at 12:06 p.m. — Authorities on Friday released the name of a 72-year-old man killed after a cypress tree fell on him at Lighthouse State Beach during an intense storm that swept through the area on New Year’s Eve.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Gary Yules, 72, of Santa Cruz died after he was struck by the tree. A passerby called 911 around 1:30 p.m. last Friday.

The tree was uprooted at the base because of saturated soil and windshear during the storm, said Douglas Johnson, a spokesperson for California State Parks.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Yules was a retired certified public accountant who was killed just days after his birthday.

— Tamsin McMahon

About 50 homes in Rio Del Mar damaged

Eric Stark had the entire front wall of his Rio Del Mar home destroyed.
Eric Stark, has been living in his “dream home” in Rio Del Mar since 2018, until his entire front wall was destroyed in storms that wreaked havoc in coastal neighborhoods across the county.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Friday, Jan. 6, at 11:44 a.m. — County officials said Friday that 35,000 people were placed under evacuation orders or warnings during this week’s storms and at least 50 homes in the Rio Del Mar area sustained structural or flooding damage.

About 180 local residents used emergency shelters set up around the county. Deputy County Administrative Officer Melodye Serino said it was impossible for officials to estimate how many people were forced out of their homes, or remain displaced by the storms, since many evacuees may have chosen to stay with friends or family.

In Rio Del Mar, officials are still taking stock of the destruction. Because many homes in the area are vacation rentals and second homes, rather than owner-occupied residences, it will take some time to determine the extent of the damage, Serino said.

“While the dramatic footage of the damage at the shoreline has been the major story in the news, it is important to remember that many vulnerable populations were impacted by the storms and it may be many days before we understand the full impacts to our community,” said Serino.

Across the county, shelters and temporary evacuation points helped people seeking overnight refuge or short-term assistance, respectively.

Serino said the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium provided overnight shelter to between 80 to 100 people, many of whom were experiencing homelessness prior to the storm. The auditorium remains open as an evacuation shelter.

In Watsonville, between 60 to 70 people stayed at Cesar Chavez Middle School. Live Oak Elementary School housed six to 10 people, while the Jade Street Community Center — open to only Capitola residents — housed one or two people. The center was still open as a shelter early Friday afternoon.

As for temporary evacuation points, one group of 200 kids at a local YMCA camp were evacuated to the Scotts Valley Community Center, while the Santa Cruz Bible Church is helping about 40 people who were evacuated from the Willowbrook Residential Care Facility in Ben Lomond. Those residents were set to return to the facility on Friday, Serino said.

She said county officials encourage the public to stay away from coastal areas, to keep sandbags handy and continue monitoring the storm’s developments.

Useful links:

Sand and sandbag locations available here.

Road closure information http://www.sccroadclosure.org/

Disaster preparedness and recovery information https://www.santacruzcounty.us/OR3/DisasterResources.aspx

— Hillary Ojeda

Most evacuation warnings and orders lifted

Friday, Jan. 6, at 11:30 a.m. — The Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office said Friday it has lifted evacuation orders for most parts of the county.

An evacuation order remains in effect for Capitola Village as levels of Soquel Creek have risen rapidly, raising the risk of flooding in low-lying residential areas along Riverview Drive and in Capitola Village.

Capitola Police estimate that six businesses were severely damaged in the storm and have been “red-tagged,” meaning they are not safe for reentry.

Santa Cruz wharf reopens

Friday, Jan. 6, at 10:15 a.m. — The Santa Cruz wharf reopened Friday morning, a day after it was closed because of dangerous waves.

City officials said several piles were broken during storms this week that caused high surf. Wharf staff inspected the damage and determined that the structural integrity of the wharf hasn’t been compromised. Workers are repairing the damage and that work could extend into next week, but the wharf will remain open, the city said. A high surf advisory was to remain in effect through 6 p.m.

— Tamsin McMahon

FROM THURSDAY, JAN. 5

Evacuee at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium describes fleeing the storm

Thursday, Jan. 5, at 5:30 p.m. — After city officials opened an emergency shelter at the Civic Auditorium on Wednesday evening for storm evacuees and anyone needing shelter, they announced it was almost full with 80 people choosing to stay overnight.

Charles McRae was one of those people. On Thursday morning, he stood outside the auditorium with about a dozen other people trying to avoid the rain. He told Lookout he was living in Felton on River Road when the New Year’s Eve storm took him by surprise, leading him to the civic auditorium Wednesday night.

“Saturday evening we got a call to keep a lookout on the height of the [San Lorenzo] river,” he said. McRae stayed with the hopes that the river wouldn’t rise.

On Sunday morning the river started rising and he realized he had to leave. But before leaving the area, he watched as the storm’s strength roared down the San Lorenzo River.

“I could see debris, trees, fences, peoples’ backyards, just flying down the river,” he said.

He then stayed in Santa Cruz at a friend’s house before he had to find another place to stay. A friend later told McRae about the emergency shelter at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, located downtown on Church Street.

“Automatically, I thought, ‘I got to jump on that,’” he said. “They said [it will be open] for two days. They don’t know what’s going to happen. But last night and tonight it will be open.”

He doesn’t know what he’ll do next for housing.

“I don’t know what my next steps are,” he said. “When an opportunity comes knocking, I’m in there.”

— Hillary Ojeda

Nearly 11,000 county residents still out of power as of Thursday afternoon

PG&E crews prepare for the storm on Jan. 4.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Thursday, Jan. 5, at 3:45 p.m. — PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado told Lookout that 10,796 customers were still without power as of 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Crews are working to restore power at 71 different outage locations in the county. The company’s outage map showed that the majority of these outages are in mountain communities like Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond, Bonny Doon and Felton as well as the Davenport area.

Tostada added that various hazards like fallen trees, flooding and blocked roads could block access for some crews, thus delaying restoration.

Further, Tostada added that PG&E is working with mutual aid crews from California, Oregon, New Mexico, Utah and Washington state for additional support.

Check PG&E’s outage map to see the latest updates.

— Max Chun

Road closures remain an issue for mountain communities

Thursday, Jan. 5, at 3:20 p.m. — As of 3 p.m. Thursday, the county’s public works department had closed 23 county roads as a result of the bomb cyclone that rolled through the region on Wednesday into Thursday.

As was the case Wednesday, most of the closures are concentrated within the Santa Cruz Mountains, specifically Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek, Lompico and around the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Whereas the road closures up in the mountains resulted from high winds knocking down trees and power poles, East Cliff Drive between Santa Cruz and Capitola was closed due to some flooding and strong coastal storm surges. Similar closures also occurred along West Cliff Drive.

West Beach Road, at the southern tip of the county, was also closed due to flooding near the mouth of Pajaro River. Although much of South County avoided flooding during the Wednesday into Thursday storm, the area will remain under close watch, as the impacts of the storm on the Pajaro River will not be felt until 9 p.m. tonight. Matthew Machado, the county’s public works director, says two reservoirs upstream from the Pajaro River — the Uvas and Pacheco reservoirs — overflowed Wednesday night.

In addition to the 23 county roads shut down by the storm on Wednesday, seven roads throughout the county remained closed due to damage sustained during the New Year’s Eve storm. This includes Hazel Dell Road at the intersection of Green Valley Road, two points on China Grade Road and Granite Creek Road.

— Christopher Neely

Two more storms on the way for Santa Cruz County between Thursday and Monday

Thursday, Jan. 5, at 2:10 p.m. — As of Thursday afternoon, Rio Del Mar and the mouth of Pajaro River have flooded, strong high tide swells have wrecked the Seacliff pier and overwhelmed Santa Cruz’s West Cliff Drive, forcing partial closure of road and an evacuation of the wharf.

Areas in the Santa Cruz Mountains are still receiving rain, but the peak of this storm has passed. As expected by Wednesday night, rainfall totals for this storm fell short of the alarming forecasts made earlier in the week. Santa Cruz saw about 1.2 inches of rain, Watsonville 1.02 inches, and the mountains received just shy of 5 inches, according to National Weather Service Bay Area meteorologist Warren Blier.

The most significant factor of last night’s storm was the wind, which reached up to 55 mph in Ben Lomond and 52 mph near Natural Bridges. Mt. Umunhum, a Santa Cruz Mountains peak just over the Santa Clara County line, saw wind speeds reach 81 mph. Marin County reported a gust of 101 mph.

In Watsonville, city spokesperson Michelle Pulido says the city is helping residents in the southeastern part of the city return to their homes as evacuation orders have been lifted. In contrast to the New Year’s Eve storm, Pulido says the area saw no flooding. However, the Pajaro River watershed remains under close watch as the Uvas and Pacheco reservoirs, upstream along the Pajaro River, flooded last night, according to Matthew Machado, the county’s public works director. The peak of the storm’s impact on the South County portion of the Pajaro River isn’t expected to arrive until 9pm Thursday night.

The number of county roads under emergency closure stood at 23 as of 1:30 pm. As was the case Wednesday night, the closures are largely contained within the Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek and Lompico regions of the county, with additional closures along East Cliff Drive. Many of the closures are due to downed trees and power poles, as well as coastal flooding due to strong storm surges.

Although this storm has mostly subsided, two more storms will hit Santa Cruz County between Thursday and Monday, Blier says. These storms are expected to be wetter, but with calmer winds. The next storm is forecasted to arrive on Saturday and last until Sunday night, dropping up to 2 inches in Santa Cruz and up to 5 inches in the mountains. The second storm will arrive on the first’s coattails, and rain on the county from Sunday night to Monday night. Santa Cruz will see up to 3 inches of rain, and up to 8 inches in the mountains.

Please continue to send videos, photos and any stories of storm impacts to news@lookoutlocal.com.

— Christopher Neely

Dangerous conditions prompt wharf, partial West Cliff Drive closure

Portions of West Cliff Drive were closed because of dangerous conditions and storm damage.
(Hillary Ojeda / Lookout Santa Cruz )

Thursday, Jan. 5, at noon — Around 9 a.m., Santa Cruz police and fire made the decision to evacuate and close the wharf as ocean conditions threatened public safety. Wharf crewmembers, police and fire personnel are the only people allowed to remain.

“A couple of our sprinkler lines are broken, which causes our fire alarms to constantly go off and send incorrect alerts,” said Wharf Recreation Coordinator Annalise Bryant. “We also had about 20-foot waves reaching the top decks, so it’s all about keeping the public safe and being as proactive as we can be.”

Wharf Supervisor Britt Hoberg added that there is a significant amount of debris in the water as well, which, when combined with large waves, only increases the threat to public safety.

Bryant said that the wharf would be closed until at least 4 p.m., at which point wharf and emergency personnel will reassess.

It is the first time that the wharf has closed since about a year ago, when the Tonga volcanic eruption caused a tsunami last January.

West Cliff Drive didn’t escape storm effects either, as a sizable stretch of the scenic road between Pelton and Almar avenues was closed around the same time. The closure is due to large waves crashing into the cliffs, causing a deluge of sea water to partially flood the road.

According to City of Santa Cruz Communications Manager Erika Smart, police, fire and public works personnel are on scene assessing the damage and planning next steps.

There is currently no timetable for reopening.

Some reports on social media suggested emergency personnel were investigating whether someone was washed into the San Lorenzo River.

Smart confirmed that around 10:10 p.m. on Wednesday, Santa Cruz police, fire, two city lifeguards and the Ben Lomond Swift Water Team responded to reports of someone calling for help near the San Lorenzo River behind the Tannery Arts Center. The Coast Guard was called in, too.

Per Smart, the teams searched for two hours, but did not find anyone.

— Max Chun

The scene from the cement ship
Thursday, Jan. 5, at 11:20 a.m. —What remains of the venerable old SS Palo Alto was hit hard Thursday morning, along with the Seacliff pier it was formerly attached to, as the Pacific Ocean unleashed a historic swell. Kevin Painchaud was there to capture the visuals. Watch his videos here.

Storm damage to Capitola Wharf on Jan. 5.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Thursday, Jan. 5, at 10:10 a.m. — Capitola Village was under siege Thursday morning, as the historic wharf had sustained major damage and businesses along the waterfront Esplanade were crossing their fingers that ocean water didn’t breach their buildings.

Mark Conley was on the scene to talk to Capitola Police Chief Andy Dally, who expressed optimism that Capitola might have skirted a more severe blow thanks to a favorable confluence of swell and tide. Read his full dispatch here.

Rio Del Mar flooding on Jan. 5.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Massive flooding strikes Rio Del Mar

Thursday, Jan. 5, at 8:30 a.m. — Flooding struck the Rio Del Mar area as early as 8 a.m. Thursday, as storm-driven waves caused water to go over the ocean wall, according to residents in the area.

Patricia, a Rio Del Mar resident who asked for only her first name to be used, was walking her dog, Loli, around 9:30 a.m. on Marine Avenue as heavy rain came down over the area.

Wednesday, Patricia was one of several Rio Del Mar residents who were relocated to the Sea Cliff Inn by sheriff deputies in anticipation of the storm.

“This is a mandatory evacuated area,” Patricia said. “It’s the flats and it’s famous for flooding.”

Rio Del Mar resident Patricia and her dog, Loli, on Jan. 5.
(Fernando Haro Garcia / Long Beach Post)

After Wednesday night’s storm, Patricia said she decided to go back home to check if there was any damage.

She said everything seemed fine at around 7 a.m. But within the hour, the streets around her home began to flood.

At one point, a large blue dumpster floated down one of the flooded streets before coming to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road.

While her home hasn’t suffered any damage at this time, Patricia said she plans to return to the Sea Cliff Inn for at least another night.

“I’m not going to sleep here not knowing,” she said.

Rio Del Mar resident Cynthia Coahran said that in her 20 years living in the area, she’s never seen it flood like this.

“It floods here often when it rains because the drains down here get full of leaves and debris,” according to Coahran, who said her house is just above the flood zone. “But that’s usually just water coming down the hill, it’s not usually water coming down from the ocean.”

Coahran was out Thursday morning looking at the flooding on Venetian Road where sand and foam covered much of the street. Large waves crashed over the sea wall.

“I’ve seen waves reach the wall but never breach it,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

— Fernando Haro Garcia

FROM WEDNESDAY, JAN. 4


Road closures beginning to pile up in North County as winds, rain expected to continue into the night

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 8:35 p.m. —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 Thursday.

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.

Santa Cruz County's emergency operations center
Staff of Santa Cruz County’s emergency operations center prepare for flooding amid this week’s winter storms.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“The weather service is saying maybe not as much rain as initially expected, but higher winds,” said Melodye Serino, deputy county chief administrative officer. “So we may not have as much flooding, but we’ll have road problems because trees will come down, debris will get into the waterways.”

The San Lorenzo River, which reached 22 feet during the New Year’s Eve storm, is forecast to reach only 17.5 feet around 1 a.m. Thursday morning. The Pajaro River, which reacts more slowly to rainfall, is expected to peak around 22 feet Wednesday at 9 p.m., lower than the 26.5-foot high following the New Year’s Eve storm.

However, these waterways will remain under close watch. Matthew Machado, the county’s public works director, said the models used by the National Weather Service to predict river flooding are built for more major bodies of water and are not as accurate for the smaller rivers of Santa Cruz County.

The National Weather Service forecasts that the rain will continue through the night, before thunderstorms roll in around 10 p.m. Showers, and possibly thunderstorms, are set to continue into Thursday afternoon.

As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, 16 roads were closed across the county, with 12 of them contained within the Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek and Lompico areas in North County.

Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., seven new road closures were reported.

“During the New Year’s Eve storm, the road closures were evenly split across the county,” said county public works director Matthew Machado, speaking over a seemingly endless stream of dispatchers calling into his walkie talkie. “This storm, the road closures look contained. But we’ll see.”

Many of the road closures are due to downed trees, power poles and mudslides. Wind gusts Wednesday evening reached up to 50 mph in parts of the Santa Cruz mountains and along the coasts.

“Definitely by the morning, we’ll have a lot more people out,” Machado said. “That’s when you can really assess the damage.”

Melodye Serino, deputy county administrative officer, said the forecast shows that the worst of the storm is expected to come overnight. Showers are expected to continue into Thursday but will clear out by mid-to-late afternoon. Wind remains the biggest concern heading into the evening, and its impact on downed trees and power poles.

Christopher Neely

City of Santa Cruz emergency shelter at Civic Auditorium almost full

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 8:15 p.m. — The emergency overnight shelter at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium was almost full at about 8 p.m., several hours after the winter storm started raining down on the county.

City officials said 80 people were at the shelter, where people have access to showers, food, clothes and other items. Blankets, tens, sleeping mats and cots were also made available.

City staff, volunteers and local organizations helped provide items and to operate the shelter — which opened to anyone needing shelter at noon on Wednesday.

— Hillary Ojeda

Officials announce widespread evacuation orders ahead of storm, including Soquel Village, Rio Del Mar, parts of Capitola and Paradise Park

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 8:00 p.m. — The National Weather Service is forecasting that the growing atmospheric river to push through much of the Central Coast and Bay Area this evening and overnight into Thursday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Brayden Murdock said the entire Monterey peninsula will get hit by the storm, Santa Cruz is likely to get more rain.

“Right now it’s looking like Santa Cruz will get around 2.5 inches and Monterey will get around 1.5 inches,” he said. “That said, there’ll be a lot more in the mountains, with some areas seeing 5 to 6 inches.”

Murdock said that the storm’s movement has slowed down a bit as it approached the shore, but that isn’t particularly unusual. However, should that slower movement continue, it could cause some problems.

“It’s more concerning if it continues slowing down as it hits landfall,” he said. “A slower moving system means that more rainfall will hit the area before the storm passes.”

The National Weather Service listed the risk level for Santa Cruz County as “extreme” and warned that the storm could be a danger to life and property. The weather service said to expect the storm to topple trees and bring down power lines.

— Max Chun

Santa Cruz METRO evacuates student group from Boulder Creek, offers free evacuee pickup

Students are evacuated from a science camp in Boulder Creek on Wednesday.
(Via Jennifer Murray)

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 7:30 p.m. — Santa Cruz METRO drivers had to trek into the mountains on Wednesday, to help evacuate more than 200 people from an academic gathering and an assisted living facility.

According to METRO marketing and communications director Danielle Glagola, six buses evacuated 160 to 180 students from a Boulder Creek YMCA facility, and took them to the Scotts Valley Community Center.

The students, all attending a science camp, were from the Albany and San Jose regions. Their families were notified upon evacuation, and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education is organizing pickup for the other students.

paracruz
(Via Jennifer Murray)

METRO also sent one bus and one ParaCruz van up to Willowbrook Residential Care Facility in Ben Lomond to pick up an additional 39 people. They were transported to Santa Cruz Bible Church on Frederick Street, and the care facility is organizing next steps.

Glagola added that the organization is working to provide help to the community.

“We’re trying to get the word out that our ParaCruz vans are available to pick up evacuees free of charge, even if it’s just one person,” she said.

Call 831-425-4664 to request a van.

— Max Chun

Local residents share their storm stories

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 6:35 p.m. — The world of social media has lost a lot of oxygen over the past few years. But despite its ugly side and its damaging effects in many arenas, the social media sphere is still essential in an emergency.

As Santa Cruz County — and most of Northern California — hunkers down for an uncertain night, we’ll share some posts and contributions from people in the storm’s path, which is all of us. Some of it is sharing vital information. Some of it is to show some of the storm’s worst effects. But much of it is just reaching out to others to feel a little less alone. See a selection of their stories here.

— Wallace Baine

Evacuees fill area hotels

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 6:15 p.m. — Hotels in Watsonville are reporting a tide of evacuees looking for overnight accommodations. Rodeway Inn in Watsonville said that it was “almost full” at around 4:30 p.m. and that well over half of the people at the hotel were locals responding to mandatory evacuation orders. Hampton Inn & Suites reported a full house with well over three-quarters of its 112 rooms occupied by local evacuees.

Earlier in the day, the City of Watsonville issued evacuation orders for several neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city adjacent to the Pajaro River and Corralitos Creek.

Sue Kinsella, who lives in the Bay Village neighborhood along Corralitos Creek, was spending the night at the Hampton Inn, and she was furious about it. She said that she and her neighbors had known about the danger of the creek for years, that the stream bed was too shallow and prone to flooding.

“Why hasn’t anybody done anything about this in all this time?” she said. She was notified of the order, she said, by text message. Showing the notice on her phone, she pointed angrily to the suggested sites for relocations. Listed last was “Animal Shelter.”

“‘Animal Shelter’?” she said. “Are they going to put us in cages?”

— Wallace Baine

Some Soquel residents choose to stay amid mandatory evacuation orders

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 6:10 p.m. — Some Soquel residents are choosing to stay at home despite authorities issuing a mandatory evacuation order for the area on Wednesday as heavy rain and winds are expected later this afternoon.

When Soquel suffered severe flooding during the storm last weekend, it caught many of its residents and business owners by surprise.

“We didn’t have any sandbags at the time,” said Steve Volk, owner of the Ugly Mug coffee shop on Soquel Drive. “It all came through the trailer park.”

Although Volk’s business didn’t suffer any damage during that storm, his neighbors weren’t so lucky.

Residents described Soquel Drive flooding up to a foot high Saturday, and many of the businesses were filled with mud from the nearby creek.

It took three days for the community to get everything cleaned up, he added.

Volk lives by the creek, but he said he won’t be evacuating because his home lies above the flood zone.

He joked about using his canoe to get around the streets if the water got too high.

Despite the parking lot at Sir Froggy’s Pub flooding on New Year’s Eve, patrons of the bar felt no urgency to evacuate Soquel.

Many of them sensed that if a flood occurred, the water wouldn’t reach the inside of the bar.

One bar patron and Soquel resident, who declined to be named, said he’d be leaving as a precautionary measure and would be staying elsewhere with family.

On Wednesday afternoon, Anton Ganeshalingham was walking along Soquel Drive looking for a place where he could get more sand bags in preparation for the storm.

Ganeshalingham said that although he lives in Soquel Village, he is a little concerned over authorities calling for people to evacuate although he lives above the flood zone.

He said that because many of the main roads are closed, he doesn’t know where he would be evacuating.

Brandon Wright said he also wouldn’t be evacuating his Soquel home unless the water reached the end of his driveway, as it did over the weekend.

“I’m going to keep an eye on the house and have a go-bag ready and my car up the street,” he said.

Wright said he struggled with finding sandbags in preparation for the storm, visiting several different locations before finally getting 20 bags from a resource center.

To further protect his home, he also filled up trash bags with dirt from his backyard.

“This time we are a little bit more prepared,” he said. “We love our businesses here and I’m just more worried about them.”

— Hillary Ojeda and Fernando Haro Garcia

County expects soil to fail soon, downed trees and landslides to follow

Workers prepare sandbags at Ramsay Park in Watsonville.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 5:30 p.m. — Among the chief concerns heading into Wednesday’s bomb cyclone was the integrity of already saturated soil along the county’s sloping topography. As the rain and wind begins to pick up into the late afternoon and evening, county officials expect landslides, downed trees and other dangerous conditions.

“The saturated soil from the prior storm is going to start failing in small and big ways,” David Reid, director of the county’s Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience, said. “With the saturated soils, on top of the wind, on top of the heavy rain, we expect landslides and debris to cause issues.”

Road closures and evacuation orders and warnings are beginning to pile up across the county. Reid says the county will be unable to keep up with the road closure map as the storm intensifies, and that the county likely will not know the full extent of impassable roads until late Thursday.

“We advise folks to consider sheltering in place or getting to a safe location and out of harm’s way before this evening,” Reid said.

Reid said about 30 people are working at the county’s emergency operations center, monitoring river levels, wind speeds and rain intensity. He expects the “most intense flooding” to arrive by early Thursday morning.

Christopher Neely

More than 100 volunteers are filling sandbags in Watsonville

Volunteers fill sandbags in Watsonville on Jan. 4.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 4:20 p.m. — Crews from the Watsonville’s water services and more than 100 community volunteers at Ramsay Park worked Wednesday to fill sandbags to send to residents near the Bridge Street Canal and Joyce-McKenzie Park, which have been deemed critical flood zones due to previous flooding.

“Instead of them having to come here, we’re bagging them up for them,” said Ruben Escobar, a water services crew leader for the city of Watsonville.

Escobar says his crew has been filling sandbags and getting residents prepared for the storm since New Year’s Eve.

Just in the past few days, and with the help of volunteers, they’ve made and distributed between 25,000 to 30,000 sandbags to Santa Cruz residents in preparation for the storm, Escobar said.

Although the crews and volunteers have already gone through 600,000 pounds of sand, Escobar says the biggest challenge is still trying to keep up with local demand for more bags.

“We can’t produce them as fast as we’re handing them out,” he said.

At Joyce-McKenzie Park, crews have been working nonstop since Tuesday morning to distribute sandbags to elderly residents around the Bridge Street Canal area.

“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.”

Since Tuesday, hundreds of cars have lined up along Joyce Drive looking for sandbags to protect their homes, Medina said.

Each car has been limited to 10 bags at a time, although they’re allowed to come back around in line for more, Medina said.

Residents are also being informed that they can make their own bags at a self-fill station at the park, he added.

— Fernando Haro Garcia

Santa Cruz emergency services manager concerned most about high winds, downed trees, power outages and road blockages

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 1:45 p.m. — “I’m paid to overreact,” said Paul Horvat, the city of Santa Cruz’s emergency operations manager.

He was standing in front of an in-depth organizational chart for the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which Horvat activated this morning ahead of Wednesday’s storm. “When people go, ‘Oh, he’s making it sound like a big deal,’ I’m OK with that reputation,” he said, “I’m not OK being the guy who goes, ‘Oh, I didn’t think it was going to happen.’”

Set up at the city’s regional 911 dispatch center inside DeLaveaga Golf Course, the EOC hummed with late-morning activity as neon vest-clad representatives from public works, parks and recreation, water, police, fire, finance, and other city departments gather around a conference table to discuss strategy, a live graph of the storm pattern and the San Lorenzo River’s water level broadcasted across six television screens.

“The New Year’s Eve event that we had was probably in the top 5 events I’ve seen since taking on this job in 1992,” Horvat said, adding that Wednesday afternoon and into the evening was when he and his team expect the chaos to pick up.

Read Christopher Neely’s full dispatch from the city’s emergency operations center.

As the ocean stirs, Capitola braces for what’s ahead

Patty Cameron of Capitola's iconic Wharf House restaurant gets ready as storms roll into the area Wednesday morning.
(Mark Conley / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 11:20 a.m. — Patty Cameron wasn’t sure what to expect when she decided to open up the doors of the iconic Wharf House restaurant Wednesday morning.

But having helped manage the popular breakfast spot for 17 years, she had a feeling the hungry and curious would show up at Capitola’s most maritime-exposed location for a cup of coffee or a bloody mary — and some real-time storm updates.

That will be Thursday when one of the biggest northwest swells in recent memory will test the resolve of the 166-year old Capitola Wharf that has undergone retrofits to its pilings in recent years.

There will be no bloodies on the wharf Thursday morning. Read more from Mark Conley here.

40 years ago, Santa Cruz County’s most deadly storm

Damage from the Santa Cruz storm of 1982
(Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce)

Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 11:15 a.m. — Talk of dangerous winter storms in Santa Cruz County usually ends up at some point at the storm of 1982, a disaster of such magnitude that 22 people died. Some of them were never found.

The storm of ’82 cost an estimated $100 million in damage, which could be twice that in today’s dollars.

The dates of that catastrophe storm? Yep, Jan. 3-5, 41 years ago. Read more from Wallace Baine here.

FROM TUESDAY, JAN. 3

Santa Cruz County emergency operations centers now activated

Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 5:00 p.m. — Santa Cruz County and the cities of Watsonville and Santa Cruz have activated their interdepartmental emergency operations centers ahead of the deluge expected across the Central Coast on Wednesday. Rarely employed, emergency operations centers are stood up during events where all government departments need to be working in concert. The EOCs serve as a sort of an all-hands-on-deck disaster HQ where county and city staff will receive reports from the field, send resources to emergencies and disseminate critical information to residents.

In Watsonville, where swollen waterways sent floodwaters into homes on New Year’s Eve, the emergency operations center was activated on Monday. Watsonville spokesperson Michelle Pulido said the city expects the emergency center to be staffed around the clock until the storm has passed.

“We have folks on standby and expect employees to be working day and night,” Pulido said. The city will be receiving information from staff out in the field and pushing out regular storm updates through its social media page, as well as using reverse 911 calls and door knocking to inform residents not on social media.

Santa Cruz County has had its emergency operations center active since New Year’s Eve, and will be working with the sheriff’s office, public works, PG&E and other first responders to monitor the unincorporated areas of the county for emergency updates. Matt Machado, the county’s public works director, said emergency operations “is all about coordination — a coordinated effort is how you get through these storms.”

Matt Huffaker, city manager for the city of Santa Cruz, said preparing for the Wednesday storm is the first time the city’s emergency operations center has been activated since the combo of the pandemic and CZU fires. Huffaker said it’s the first time in “many years’ the emergency hub has been active for a flood-related event. As with the other emergency operations centers, Santa Cruz’s will be gathering information from staff in the field monitoring for flooding, landslides, power outages and other urgent storm-related situations.

City officials in Capitola will meet on Wednesday to determine whether or not to activate its own emergency operations center.

Christopher Neely

Sandbags, batteries — and wattles — all selling quickly

Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 4:00 p.m. — Unlike earthquakes, big weather events like Wednesday’s storms often give people plenty of time to prepare. Local hardware stores are reporting that people have been coming in on Tuesday hoping for supplies to mitigate the damage to their homes and properties.

San Lorenzo Lumber in Santa Cruz reported that people are buying up everything from batteries to wattles, construction devices designed for erosion control. San Lorenzo Lumber has sold out of several items, including rain suits and boots. The store experienced a run on sandbags last week and now has only empty sandbags (provide your own sand) available.

Andrew Gaul of 4701 Soquel Center Offices unloads sandbags on Monday, January 2, 2023 ahead of a coming storm.
Andrew Gaul, owner of 4701 Soquel Center Offices, unloads sandbags in preparation for the upcoming storm expecting to hit Santa Cruz County on Wednesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Sump pumps and generators are still available at San Lorenzo Lumber, as of Tuesday afternoon.

Home Depot in Soquel also reported brisk business on Tuesday for people prepping for the storm. It is expecting emergency shipments to arrive within 24 hours. It also had generators on hand.

Both Home Depot — which has two locations in Santa Cruz County — and San Lorenzo Lumber said that they will maintain regular business hours on Wednesday and Thursday, which is at Home Depot, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and at San Lorenzo, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

— Wallace Baine

4

Power outages

Monday, Jan. 16, at 5:00 p.m. — Pacific Gas & Electric said 2,800 people remained without power across the county.

Click here for PG&E’s outage map and for more information on outages in your area.

5

Evacuation orders

Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 1:40 p.m. — The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office lifted the remaining evacuation orders in two spots in the county. “The risk has subsided at this time for certain zones that were previously under evacuation warning,” the agency wrote of a pair of areas along the Pajaro River east of downtown Watsonville, while also giving the all-clear for a zone in the far northwest part of the county where culvert failure had threatened roadways including Whitehouse Canyon Drive.

An evacuation warning for roads between New Brighton and Seacliff state beaches was also lifted.

For more information and to find your zone, click here.

Debris litters paths between cottages at the iconic Capitola Venetian Hotel.
Debris litters paths between cottages at the iconic Capitola Venetian Hotel.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

6

Evacuation shelters

Emergency shelters running at county fairgrounds, elsewhere

As of 1 p.m. Saturday Emergency shelters are open at Cabrillo College and at the County Fairgrounds, near Watsonville.

For more information from the county, click here. For more info on Santa Cruz’s temporary shelter, click here.

7

Road closures

Highway 9 landslide between Bear Creek Road and Riverdale Boulevard
Highway 9 was closed between Bear Creek Road and Riverdale Boulevard because of a landslide Dec. 31.
(Via California Highway Patrol)

Thursday, Jan. 12, at 7 a.m. — Across the county, road workers were still cleaning up from earlier storms that toppled trees, flooded streets and ripped down power lines.

There were 64 emergency closures along roads in the county as of Wednesday afternoon.

In Santa Cruz, East Cliff Drive was closed between 30th and 32nd avenues because of power lines on the road.

In La Selva Beach, San Andreas Road was closed at Marea Avenue because of a slide.

Highway 9 reopened at Bear Creek Road, but remained closed between Glen Arbor Road and Holiday Lane because of a large landslide. Highway 236 also remained closed Wednesday at Little Basin Road.

The swollen Soquel Creek on Jan. 2.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

8

Local, statewide emergencies

Continued battering triggers emergency declaration from Biden

Another in a series of powerful winter storms is bearing down on Northern California on Monday, Jan. 9, prompting concerns over flooding and hazardous winds that triggered President Joe Biden to declare an emergency in the state.

A series of atmospheric rivers that pummeled coastal communities last week and left more than 400,000 without power in California on Sunday will be followed by two major episodes of heavy rain and mountain snow in the next several days. Rivers are expected to reach flood level, debris flows could be possible in burn areas and powerful winds could wreak havoc from the “energetic and moisture-laden parade of cyclones that are aiming directly for California,” according to the National Weather Service.

Read more here from our partners at the Los Angeles Times.

Newsom proclaims statewide emergency; Watsonville declares local state of emergency

Shortly after an evacuation order was declared for residential areas in Watsonville, the city declared a local state of emergency Tuesday.

City Manager Rene Mendez made the declaration in light of the “significant damages left behind from last week’s heavy flooding and the upcoming winter storm.”

By declaring a local emergency, the city can request additional help such as equipment and supplies from county and state governments.

Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks are expected to rise quickly due to the second winter storm’s heavy rain Wednesday. Areas that experienced flooding this past weekend near Corralitos Creek will likely be impacted once again.

To improve drainage from the creek, crews from the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency, Santa Cruz County and the city are working to remove sediment buildup from last weekend’s storm and to direct flows to the Bridge Street flood control channel.

Gov. Gavin Newsom also proclaimed a state of emergency throughout California to support efforts to recover from the weekend storm and prepare for this week’s weather.

Proclaiming an emergency allows the state government to mobilize the California National Guard to assist with disaster response and enables Caltrans to request assistance from the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program to repair highways and aid local response and recovery efforts.

The governor has also activated the State Operations Center to its highest level, and the state and federal government have stood up the Flood Operations Center, which covers forecasting, reservoir operations coordination, and provides technical support as well as flood fighting materials like sandbags for local agencies.

The County of Santa Cruz declared an emergency on Tuesday, estimating that damages following the first storm totaled $10 million and are expected to increase with Wednesday’s storm.

— Hillary Ojeda

Santa Cruz County declares local emergency

Santa Cruz County declared a local emergency Tuesday night because of widespread flooding and damage from the weekend storm.

The declaration allows the county to request funding under the California Disaster Assistance Act to help pay for repairs, which is estimated to be at least $10 million, though officials expect that amount will rise after new storms arrive this week. The destruction includes damage to Glenwood Drive, Granite Creek Road, and Highland Way, flooding in Soquel Village and flooding along Corralitos Creek and Salispuedes Creek.

The board of supervisors is set to vote to ratify the declaration at the Jan. 10 meeting.

Tamsin McMahon

Santa Cruz beaches were busy with people parsing through the debris
Santa Cruz beaches were busy with people parsing through the debris left behind after heavy storms wreaked havoc across Santa Cruz this past weekend.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

9

Schools

Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 7 a.m. — While the majority of schools across the county are now open, several schools in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District continue to be impacted by evacuation warnings and accessibility issues.

Hall District Elementary, Ohlone Elementary and Pajaro Middle will remain closed Tuesday, Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez wrote in a letter to families Monday afternoon.

The district is offering the following learning and wellness resources to families and students impacted by the storms:

In a joint effort, PVUSD’s Expanded Learning Opportunities program and the YMCA are providing academic and enrichment programming for students who attend closed schools. The program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on days schools are closed.

Registration is done in-person at YMCA, located at 27 Sudden St. in Watsonville. For more information, reach out to extendedlearning@pvusd.net.

As for wellness resources, the district’s Family Engagement and Wellness Center, located at 530 Palm Avenue in Watsonville, provides a wide range of services including food from Second Harvest Food Bank Food Co-op. Students from closed schools can also receive cold and ready-to-heat school meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) from the wellness center during school closure days from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The meals are provided by the district’s nutrition services department.

— Hillary Ojeda

A fallen tree in the middle of Park Avenue past McGregor Avenue in Capitola on Jan. 2.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

10

Travel advisories

Officials urged caution while traveling during the storm

As crews continue clearing roads of debris across Santa Cruz County from the weekend storm, officials say Wednesday’s incoming downpour could also cause travel challenges.

The New Year’s Eve storm caused dozens of roads to close — with several still closed — because of flooding, landslides and downed trees and power lines.

Caltrans announced Tuesday that northbound lanes on Highway 1 as they cross the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz will continue to be impacted.

“Travelers tonight on northbound #Hwy1 in #Santa Cruz will encounter a closure of the #2 (right) lane as it crosses the San Lorenzo River,” Caltrans District 5 posted on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. “This lane closure is scheduled to begin at 5 pm and end prior to tomorrow morning’s commute.”

The right lane will be closed to allow crews to set up lights on the bridge to light the water below so they can continue the removal of large debris from the river.

To stay up to date on road closures within the county visit https://sccroadclosure.org to get information on roads in unincorporated areas including San Lorenzo Valley, North Coast, Aptos, Corralitos, La Selva Beach, etc.).

For information on state highways including Highway 9, Highway 1 or Highway 17, visit Cruz511.org.

Hillary Ojeda

Planning on air travel?

Oakland International Airport spokesperson Kaley Skantz said the operations team is prepared for the potential impacts of the storm. She said she wasn’t able to provide any information on cancellations or delays at the request of the airlines but recommended travelers seek the most up-to-date information directly from the airline they’re traveling with.

Skantz said travelers should download the mobile application of the airline and sign up to receive notifications to learn about cancellations and delays.

Hillary Ojeda

By the numbers

30-50: That’s the number of additional crew that PG&E Incident Commander Sid Silva said PG&E could add to the area, with repairs taking anywhere from three days to two weeks, depending on the extent of the damage from Wednesday’s rainfall.

22 feet: The San Lorenzo River peaked at nearly 22 feet on Dec. 31 — up from less than 4 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.

11

Storm trackers

Which online mapping best tracks the Santa Cruz storm?

Looking to track the incoming storm in real time? Be thankful you live in 2023 and not some era when you had to rely solely on the local TV weatherperson. Here are a few places online where you can monitor the storm as it approaches the California coast:

AccuWeather.com is a popular go-to site for weather, and provides radar imagery on a map on a brief timeline so you can catch the storm’s progress. It also has weather-related headlines and location functionality, much like similar sites such as WeatherBug.com and weather.com, which comes from The Weather Channel.

But if you’re looking for a deeper dive, try the Ventusky experience. Ventusky is a highly graphical resource that superimposes a number of factors onto local maps, including precipitation, wind speeds, cloud cover and even air quality, all in dazzling color and detail. Clicking on a city’s name gives you a more traditional forecasting panel, plus you can check out various webcams at different locations. A slider at the bottom of the screen works as a forecasting tool that predicts how the map might look in the coming hours and days. Spoiler alert: Hitting “Play” in the bottom left corner is likely to ratchet up your anxiety about this storm.

Windy.com does much of the same stuff that Ventusky does, using the same technologies. The satellite tool may be a bit more like what you expect satellite imagery to look like than Ventusky. But both Ventusky and windy.com are about as sophisticated as weather forecast information gets for laymen.

The National Weather Service site is authoritative, and it will give you the latest on official and specific storm warnings, but its graphical interface is more 2003 than 2023.

— Wallace Baine

A woman walks past the Cement Ship at Seacliff State Beach on Monday January 2, 2023.
A woman walks past the Cement Ship at Seacliff State Beach on Jan. 2. After a brief break from the rain, another powerful storm is set to roll into region late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

12

State parks closures

Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 1:45 p.m. —Some California State Parks that closed amid the storms last week have reopened. Henry Cowell Redwoods and Castle Rock state park reopened last week, as were Natural Bridges State Beach, the front country at Wilder Ranch State Park and the day-use area at Sunset State Beach. Seacliff State Beach, which officials earlier last week said sustained “catastrophic” damage in last week’s high surf, remained closed.

Cal Fire tweeted Tuesday that the Soquel Demonstration State Forest remained to the public because of dangerous conditions storms, including downed trees, mudslides, blocked roads and hazardous hiking trails.