Storm pummels city, causing outages and downed trees | January 6, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 6, 2023

Storm pummels city, causing outages and downed trees

Sparking wires led to evacuations, but predicted creek flooding didn't happen

by Palo Alto Weekly staff

The bomb cyclone that hit the Bay Area on Wednesday drenched Palo Alto with heavy rain that forced road closures due to flooding. But the real havoc-wreaker proved to be the wind, which felled trees and power lines, knocking out power to thousands of residents.

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.

Email the Weekly staff at [email protected]


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2023 at 6:16 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Thanks for doing this, it is good to have it well listed.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2023 at 7:52 am

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Went out last night to take my empty sandbags to the Newell Street sandbox. It was wind-whipped already. It reminded me of Texas during a not-quite tornado. Enough wind to beat up the trees, but not enough to lift a house and carry it to Oz. So on my way back I did a little sight seeing. Which was idiotic. Road debris everywhere, branches chunking at my windshield. I do know better than this but it is pretty rare here. I would have taken some pics but heard a THUNK noise coming from the left rear end. I was sure whatever it was, was impaled because it scraaaaaaaaped all the way to the nearest parking lot, and i was going about 5 MPH.

Luckily I did find my plastic pants and had them on, but was still grateful to have dry surface and lit surroundings to assess the damage. Apparently I grew a new kickstand, and it was permanently down. A tree branch had wedged itself between the coils on the strut and the pavement. Because I am so smart (not), I left all my go bag stuff at home, not anticipating needing any tools like a saw. I think I will write a short story about this. "A Storm, A Tree, and a Swiss Army Knife." I guess this is why they said don't go out unless necessary.

It's nice to have all of the storm related relief and information on one page like this article. Though none of them fit my particular calamity, I'm sure it worked for many. Staying home is the best plan.

Posted by Neva
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2023 at 9:26 am

Neva is a registered user.

Thank you so much for the above information on flooding, wires down, road closures, power outages, etc.

Another idea would be, a few days before an emergency, or even one day before, tell people to get gas, extra food and batteries in case we are stuck in our houses for a few days. Thank you.

Posted by Jerry
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 5, 2023 at 1:28 pm

Jerry is a registered user.

Kudos to the Weekly for all the useful pointers. I noticed that The Dirpy Post didn't have nearly as much actionable information.

If Palo Alto is going to mandate electricity only in new construction, are they also going to subsidize the purchase of backup generators for homeowners? Jes sayin...

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2023 at 5:34 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

FYI 2pm today: Went to BofA w my low wage under $1000.00 work check to deposit & get $100.00 cash back 4 needed food & water 4 me & my underage kids.

Again. BofA at ECR at Palo Alto Square not serving customers at windows & was directed 2 downtown branch on Lytton & had 2 detour because of Northbound University at ECR closed (now apparently open). Long line with many elderly, disabled, other language speakers, account holders waiting .

1 teller working. When finally got up a teller, was informed my check would be held for up to three biz days.

I informed them I needed cash back 2 pay rent or would get a 3 day eviction notice 2day , had to fill my car w gas & get supplies for next ten day rain As Governor has declared a State Weather Emergency.

Instead of helping me or being kind (I have had an account at this branch for 10 years) the teller manager abused his position & made it painfully aware 2 myself & others in line he making a massive exception to help. Yet made me wait 30 minutes then informed me he had to hold the check.

I begged him that I needed the small cash 2 prepare & safeguard my kids . He, after many more excruciating minutes demanded my SS# (he had my check and DL in their possession & behind the glass window) & reiterating verbally to me, 3 times he was making an huge exception & 4 me to never ask the bank again.

Even informing me I would have to go Wells Fargo next , the bank issuer if I wanted to get my hard earned money.

He got the transaction wrong and gave me the total of the check instead of the little cash I needed.

From the time I walked into Palo Alto Square branch and Lytton street branch it took an entire 70 minutes to get cash in hand.

This was egregious, and an absolute disgrace 2 human kind.

I was also informed by another teller that Pacifica satellite branch yesterday forced farm working account holders 2 walk HWY1 because the smaller branch was closed to window service.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2023 at 5:46 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

[Post removed; successive comments by same poster are not permitted.]

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2023 at 11:43 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Thank you for more details of the evacuation, that must have been quite an ordeal. How many homes were involved and how many hours were they out of their homes?

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