Santa Cruz County storms: Where we stand Tuesday

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

Gov. Gavin Newsom was set to tour storm-damaged parts of Capitola Village on Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office was responding to an overwhelming number of calls about downed trees, more than 19,000 people were without power, 64 county roads had closures, and the Pajaro River stood at 31 feet and rising.

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Update at 9:00 p.m. Tues. Jan. 10: Seacliff State Beach remains closed after “catastrophic damage” to seawall, pier and campground. And county officials estimate that unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County sustained at least $28 million in damages from the storms that happened between Dec. 30 and Jan. 7. That figure doesn’t include damage to the cities, nor the storms on Monday and Tuesday. Read more details on our Storm Central blog.

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.

While crews cleaned up the damage from downed power lines, felled trees and landslides overnight, Gov. Gavin Newsom was set to tour storm-damaged parts of Capitola Village on Tuesday afternoon. Read more about Newsom’s visit from Wallace Baine.

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

Ashley Keehn, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, said as a result of the overnight storm, first responders had 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.

“We did see some periods of some incredibly intense wind and rain overnight, which caused trees down in a lot of parts of the county,” she said. “But the most reported area that we saw down trees and wires, and the most impact, was the San Lorenzo Valley, being so incredibly wooded up there.”

The majority of the impacts happened between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., and the sheriff’s office was still getting calls as Tuesday evening approached.

Multiple large-diameter trees fell overnight onto garages and structures while people were home, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Eric Bither, who covers an area bounded by Highway 17 to the summit, the Santa Cruz-San Mateo county line and the ocean.

The agency received 70 calls overnight from 9 p.m. Monday to 9 a.m. Tuesday, most of which were for trees crashing into power lines, sending them into roadways. Most of the impact was in Bonny Doon, Felton and Zayante, he said.

Bither didn’t have details on the number of trees that fell onto structures, how many rescues occurred or how many injuries there were overnight, but that it was a challenging night.

“Obviously all the agencies in the [San Lorenzo] Valley were very busy last night,” he said. “Checking on any injuries, trying to evacuate the folks that we could, and/or [have them] shelter in place.”

Santa Cruz County and law enforcement officials estimated Tuesday that unincorporated areas of the region have sustained $28 million in damages from storms between Dec. 30 and Jan. 7. Those figures don’t include the most recent storms this week, nor damage to cities.

“To think that we had evacuations on New Year’s Eve, we had evacuations again, January 3 and again, January 5 for the storm surge, and then evacuations again as recently as yesterday,” said Santa Cruz County Undersheriff Chris Clark. “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?”

Power outages

Power outages and road closures have multiplied since Monday night’s storm.

The sheriff’s office reported that more than 19,000 people were without power on Tuesday morning. 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.

Keehn said it was difficult to estimate when the power would be restored. “I think that’s going to vary depending on where people are and how fast crews can get out there,” she said. “But I know they’re working incredibly hard to get power back.”

Highway 9 was closed just past the Tannery on Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

UCSC resumes in-person instruction

UC Santa Cruz is set to resume in-person instruction Wednesday and power has been restored, after the 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 who are scheduled to meet on 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,” reads a message to the campus on Tuesday. “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 continues to have power.

Road Closures

There were 64 county roads experiencing closures on Tuesday, 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 on Monday morning from Redwood Drive to Summit Road in Los Gatos because of a landslide. The highway is set to reopen by midnight Tuesday night.

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 had been made on when the roads will be cleared.

A dad helps his daughter through the flooded streets in Watsonville on Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Pajaro River Continues to Rise

County officials and residents remained focused Tuesday afternoon 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.

In Watsonville, Manuel Rodriguez stood astride his bicycle on the Pajaro River levee, gazing at the opaque brown water rushing by. He didn’t like what he saw.

“It’s at 31 now,” he said, gesturing to a river level marker under the bridge. “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, 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 said “was like Jello.”

Holding his hands about 2 feet apart, he said: “And we had worms, like this. It was incredible. But, man, we had some good fertilizer. Our gardens looked great that summer.”

A ‘Parade of Storms’ is on the way

Even with cleanup underway, a “parade of storms” continues to march onward, and will continue to rain on any hopes for an extended reprieve into next week, National Weather Service Bay Area meteorologist Jeff Lorber said.

Crews face a landslide in the Santa Cruz Mountains
A landslide in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

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 remained in effect for Tuesday.

“While we might get a little bit of a break, we’re not out of the woods yet,” warned sheriff’s spokesperson Keehn. She said these storms have proved to be incredibly serious and people should have a bag of essential items ready to go at any moment.

Read more from Tuesday:


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