Wednesday's major storm came roaring in late in the afternoon and early evening, with wind-driven rain pelting the Bay Area. The storm dumped 1.1 inches of rain in Palo Alto in 24 hours and more than 2 inches in the Santa Cruz Mountains, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But rain that was predicted to exceed that of the Dec. 31 storm and potentially cause San Francisquito Creek to overflow again on Wednesday night didn't materialize. The water levels in San Francisquito, Matadero and Adobe creeks were at about 50% of capacity during the peak of the storm.
The atmospheric river still created outages, downed trees and flooded roadways.
The evening started with periods of heavy rain. Police closed northbound El Camino Real at the University Avenue underpass due to water ponding at around 5:50 p.m. An 8-foot-tall, 20-inch diameter piece of tree trunk came down and blocked Page Mill Road between Hanover Street and Peter Coutts Road at 5:55 p.m. All lanes were closed in both directions due to the tree and a disabled vehicle.
Flooding during the evening also prompted the closure of West Bayshore Road, between Loma Verde Avenue and Waverley Street, and East Bayshore Road between Elwell Court and San Antonio Road. Northbound El Camino Real also was closed at the University Avenue underpass, though El Camino was open in the southbound direction. Meanwhile, fallen trees prompted the city to close Embarcadero, between Middlefield Road and Waverley Street, and Foothill Expressway, where the city reported a vehicle collision and a tree that was down.
Starting at 6:20 p.m., a series of power outages grew from affecting 70 customers to more than 3,000 in Palo Alto after high winds caused tree branches to land on utility lines, causing electrical arcing. Utilities crews identified and fixed problems quickly, restoring power in many areas within hours.
By 9 a.m. Thursday, about 160 Palo Alto and two East Palo Alto customers were still without power, according to Palo Alto Utilities and PG&E outage maps.
A morning for repairs
After a night of high winds in Palo Alto, Tomm Marshall and Jorge Silva were out on Thursday morning surveying the damage and checking in on repairs to electrical lines.
Marshall, the city of Palo Alto Utilities' assistant director of utilities, and Silva, the city's electric operations manager, had been up all night working to restore power across the city.
In south Palo Alto, eucalyptus limbs in a backyard on Evergreen Drive had fallen on the electrical pole at 10:15 p.m., crashing into the secondary power lines and coming to rest there, Marshall said.
Given the hazard, the city turned off power to the block, and residents were evacuated for their safety.
On Thursday morning, the sounds of a chainsaw filled the air as a crew that included the Davey Tree company was busy figuring out how to remove the limbs without imperiling the electrical lines.
"It's been fun," joked Silva, standing on the sidewalk after a long night of work.
Until the tree was removed from the lines, the utilities crews couldn't repair the damage and restore power.
The Evergreen scene was one of a handful that city staff were working to address Thursday morning. Not far away, in the 3300 block of Middlefield Road, a large tree branch in another backyard had broken off after midnight and severed the electrical lines.
Though the storm's rains were not as torrential as had been predicted by meteorologists, the wind caused all kinds of havoc.
"Wind is our enemy," said Silva, noting that wind speeds peaked around 11 p.m. Wednesday, knocking out power in several neighborhoods in succession.
The heavy rains for the past week have saturated the ground, Marshall added, and when that happens, trees are more easily toppling over in gusty winds.
As the brunt of the storm approached Palo Alto Wednesday, the city opened its emergency operations center at City Hall so that city staff could share information on conditions, coordinate emergency responses, communicate emergency information to the public, and work with regional partners.
The city also opened a community resource center at Rinconada Library for residents who needed a warm and dry location away from their home to relocate and gather. Visitors could also charge devices, use a laptop, find a hotel and determine their next steps. The center was open overnight.
Despite fears of creek flooding, stoked by the New Year's Eve rainstorm, the city's creek monitors Wednesday evening showed water level well below capacity at some of the city's most flood-prone areas. At the Pope-Chaucer Bridge, which has a capacity of 24 feet and which was pushed to the brink on New Year's Eve, the San Francisquito Creek stood at about 7.7 feet as of 11 p.m.
And in the upstream area at Stanford University, which usually serves as a harbinger for future flooding in the more urbanized downstream areas, the water level was gauged at just over 4 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By comparison, the creek height at that location was measured at well over 12 feet on the morning of Dec. 31.
"While rain will continue overnight, the flood risk is low," the city announced in a 10:35 p.m. update. "Staff will continue to monitor creek levels overnight as a precaution."
At 11:45 p.m., the National Weather Service announced that its flood warning has expired for Santa Clara County and other areas in central and northern California.