36 inches in Ben Lomond as Santa Cruz County looks to match or set rainfall records

Partly cloudy skies shed light on the flooded streets of Rio Del Mar.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Dry weather is in front of us, as the last few drops fall from the skies the next couple of days. In the San Lorenzo Valley, 51 inches has fallen since the Oct. 1 beginning of “rainy season,” 3 feet in the past three weeks. Meanwhile Monday, 3,796 people remained without power, and though 67 roads were closed within the county, major transportation arteries like Highways 1, 17, 152 and 129 were open.

Spotty rain continued to fall throughout Santa Cruz County on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A thunderstorm before 4 p.m. is still a possibility, with a chance of more rain in the evening. That new rainfall is estimated to amount to less than a tenth of an inch — much lighter than that of the previous couple of weeks.

Similarly, more mild precipitation is expected overnight heading into Tuesday morning, amounting to another tenth of an inch. Then, aside from some possible Wednesday night rainfall, the county appears to be heading into a stretch of sunny and partly cloudy weather.

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

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.

While Murdock said that the Ben Lomond measurement is likely “an extreme” for the county, he said that another RAWS station near Davenport measured 20 inches of rain since Dec. 26. Given that this station is at a similar elevation to Santa Cruz, it is likely that the city saw comparable precipitation totals.

Murdock said it’s hard to put a number on the totals for other parts of the county, as the NWS does not have a consistent site for much of the county aside from the RAWS stations.

Murdock added that as of Monday, there were no signs of imminent flood danger in Santa Cruz County, but that the agency remains attentive.

“Luckily, there are not really long-term storms and showers trying to pass through,” he said. “But today, we’re still keeping an eye on certain areas like the San Joaquin and near the Ben Lomond reservoir as well.”

With that, the Watsonville Police Department lifted all of the city’s evacuation warnings Monday morning. Repopulation is expected to begin in the next few days. In response, Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez announced that most schools would reopen Tuesday, except for Hall District Elementary, Ohlone Elementary and Pajaro Middle School.

The Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office has also lifted many of its evacuation warnings and orders. Only two zones — CTL-E031 and E048 south of Park Avenue along Seacliff State Beach — remain under evacuation warnings. Three other zones — CRZ-E001-C in the northwestern part of Big Basin and PAJ-E029 and E030 north of San Juan Road in Watsonville — remain under evacuation orders.

Crews from Rain for Rent were hired to help drain Rio Del Mar's flooded streets.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Across the county, 3,796 people remained without power as of 1 p.m. Though 67 roads were closed within the county, major transportation arteries like Highways 1, 17, 152 and 129 were open.

A county flood watch is still intact until midnight tonight. Further, NAACP Santa Cruz canceled its MLK Day march due to the ongoing storm emergency.

Now that the majority of the rainfall has passed, the costly road to recovery begins. Early damage tallies estimated more than $36 million in damages across the county, but the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office later said that the damage is likely going to exceed the $140 million from the 2017 storms.

Funding for some of that damage will now be made easier by President Joe Biden’s emergency authorization, announced Saturday as the federal government and the state of California focus attention on the state’s hardest-hit counties, including Santa Cruz. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s visit last Tuesday emphasized the state’s commitment, as his office works with both local officials and legislators.

Lookout has begun to cover the damage totals, and the response to it and will continue to report on its progress.

Rusty Smith surveys the scene in Rio Del Mar.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Rusty Smith of the Lodi-based company Diede Construction was out at Rio Del Mar on Monday morning working to clear sand from the storm drains to allow water to finally drain from the streets.

“Water is pretty freaking invasive,” he said. “And it has nowhere to go until we get the sand out of the system. The storm just took everything from the beach and planted it here.”

Despite all the sand in the streets and in the gutters, he says that the roads should be largely cleared as soon as tomorrow.

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