The unusual weekend thunderstorm and lightning that sparked wildfires and left thousands of residents without power across the Bay Area also caused one Palo Alto casualty: a majestic redwood tree, estimated to be at least 115 years old.
Sometime between 5-5:30 a.m. on Sunday, former Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto was jolted awake by a huge thunderclap, seemingly above her head. Then came the sounds of a long "crack" and branches brushing up against her Professorville home, she said. She got up to investigate.
"When I looked out to the back of the house, I couldn't believe my eyes: Our redwood tree was gone! At least the top half. Apparently the tree exploded, splitting down the middle," Kishimoto wrote in an email.
Not only was the trunk cracked open, but branches along the sides of the tree had been sheared off. Boughs lay strewn on top of a backyard shed and across a fence.
Kishimoto's neighbor on one side texted her to say that his dining room window had been broken but the tree had caused no other damage, she said. Two other neighbors' properties that are close to the redwood were spared.
"The giant tree fell well," said Kishimoto, who is also a member of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District board of directors.
The storm also brought shutterbugs out early Sunday morning to catch the dramatic light show. Palo Alto resident Brian Krippendorf went to a favorite photo spot of his, the Palo Alto Baylands, to see what he could shoot. The experience was a first for him, he said. Among the shots he captured: three lightning bolts striking at once, with their reflection mirrored in the Emily Renzel Ponds.
The storm arrived off the coast of California early Sunday morning and migrated northeast into the Bay Area around 3 a.m., prompting widespread reports over social media of a bright and loud stream of thunder waking up residents.
About 4,500 customers in the Palo Verde/Meadow Park area of Palo Alto lost power Sunday morning when lightning struck a utility pole and caused a small fire. City of Palo Alto Utilities expected most of the customers to get power back by about 10 a.m.
PG&E also reported a power outage for 366 customers in the Palo Alto Hills as of 8:13 a.m., as well as 185 customers in Mountain View's Cuesta Park neighborhood.
The National Weather Service reported a "continued stream" of thunderstorms through the Bay Area Sunday morning, along with gusty winds in excess of 40 mph. The agency issued a "special weather statement," warning of possible power outages, wildfires and downed trees and power lines through 8 a.m. Monday.
The NWS urged people to seek shelter — indoors or in a vehicle — if they have heard thunder within the last 30 minutes, adding that lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from a thunderstorm.
A red flag and dry lightning fire danger warning for the Bay Area was extended through 11 a.m. Monday.
Several Bay Area fires sparked between Saturday night and Sunday morning, including seven vegetation fires across San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. The Santa Clara County Fire Department also reported that downed power lines started a fire off of Highway 17 on Brush Road around 3 a.m. Sunday, prompting the evacuation of 20 residents. The fire was contained at 6 a.m. after it scorched a little more than an acre.
The thunderstorms come in the middle of a prolonged Bay Area heat wave that is expected to continue into Wednesday, which has brought sweltering, record-breaking temperatures between the upper 90s and low 100s. Temperatures are expected to rise with a "peak" on Tuesday.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.