It's here: Atmospheric river, strong winds create treacherous conditions in the Bay Area

A fire hydrant is almost fully submerged on a flooded street on October 24, 2021 in San Rafael, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

From rock slides to flooding, from high winds to downed trees, the atmospheric river made its mark across the Bay Area, pounding the Earth and roadways with a steady drum of much-needed, albeit sometimes damaging, rain. 

The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office warned that this atmospheric river - a long and wide plume of moisture pulled in from the Pacific – would produce a "potentially historic rain."

Flooding on Sunday was reported across the San Francisco Bay Area, closing streets in Berkeley and Santa Rosa, evacuating residents in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties, and inundating the Bay Bridge toll plaza in Oakland. By sunrise, Mount Tamalpais just north of San Francisco had recorded over 6 inches of rainfall during the previous 12 hours, following at least 9 inches two days prior. 

About 150 miles to the north, the California Highway Patrol closed State Route 70 in Butte County because of multiple mudslides and debris flows within the massive Caldor Fire burn scar.

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Burn areas remain a concern, as land devoid of vegetation can’t soak up heavy rainfall as quickly, increasing the likelihood of mudslides and flash flooding that could trap people.

Here's a look at the havoc the storm wreaked throughout the region: 

Power Outages

Strong winds and fallen trees are to blame for taking out electricity for roughly 150,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers around the Bay Area by early evening. The North Bay and Peninsula had it worst with more than 40,000 customers without power in those areas, respectively. 

Hospitals went on generators and residents were left to turn on flashlights and light candles.

In Sebastopol, police said much of the city went dark and traffic signals were not working well. 

PG&E spokeswoman Megan McFarland said the utility was prepared for the intense rains and that crews at least 3,000-strong were out in cities and rural areas trying to restore power as quickly as they could. 

North Bay hit the hardest

All Golden Gate Ferry services were suspended due to high winds that are expected to last through the end of Sunday. Golden Gate Bus provided alternate service for Larkspur to San Francisco passengers.

A flash flood warning was issued just before 1 p.m. for areas in Napa County. Similar flood warnings were issued for the Napa River, Calistoga and parts of Marin County. 

In Fairfax, Ross and San Anselmo, officials sounded the flood siren Sunday afternoon as they said the creeks were cresting and would continue to rise with the continuing heavy rains. 

On Sunday afternoon, San Rafael police said there was extreme flooding in the downtown corridor. Many of the roadways are under two feet of water and were impassable. The flooding is expected to intensify with high tides, police said. 

Sebastopol police issued a similar flooded street warning for Petaluma Avenue just south of Abbott Avenue.

Schools in Guerneville and the Bennett Valley Union district were among those in Sonoma County that announced they would cancel classes Monday. More information about schools closures in Sonoma County is here.

In Santa Rosa, all the rain triggered a rock slide onto Mark West Springs Road. The slide happened around 5 a.m., temporarily making part of the road impassable. The sharp rocks even popped a tire on an arriving CHP cruiser.

Unstable ground is exactly what emergency crews are keeping an eye on, particularly near wildfire burn scars, including the one left by the Glass Fire.

"The soil is essentially almost crusted over based on the intensity of the burning," said Santa Rosa Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshall Paul Lowenthal. "Water isn’t able to penetrate it as easily and it does tend to run across the surface. And then when you get large amounts of water running across the surface, at some point it can only tolerate so much and it breaks loose." 

Also in Santa Rosa, valley floors are expected to see 4  to 6 inches of additional rain over the next 12 hours. The area has already received over 3 inches, as of 7 a.m. Sunday. In high elevations, rainfall totals could be even greater.

Santa Rosa police warned that many creeks and streets were flooded throughout the city. Video showed residential flooding at Tachevah Drive and Neotomas Avenue. 

Peninsula and San Francisco hit hard

In San Francisco, an elevated store sign crashed to the ground on Clement Street. The sign nearly struck a tent at the farmers market, eventually landing on the sidewalk.

And trees fell all over the city. 

The San Francisco Park and Recreation Department posted photos of downed trees at Stow Lake and the Lower Great Highway.

Elsewhere, the San Francisco Fire Department issued an evacuation order for residents in the 2000 block of 9th Avenue due to a leaning 100-foot tree threatening those buildings.

And in San Francisco's SoMa District, scaffolding at a construction site collapsed and blocked the roadway at Natoma and 9th Streets. 

The Moscone Center is open to serve as a temporary shelter for the unhoused city residents. City officials said the center can accommodate up to 100 people Sunday and Monday night. Beds are limited and are available on a first-come first-serve basis.

To the south, firefighters contained an electrical pole fire shortly before 9 a.m. along Cañada Road near Redwood City. 

Crews also responded to multiple traffic collisions and spinouts along I-280 in San Mateo County.

Evacuation orders were issued for areas impacted by recent wildfires.

Click here to see if you are located within one of the evacuation areas.

East Bay

An overturned trailer blocked all lanes of the Richmond-San Rafael bridge Sunday morning. Traffic remained at a standstill until Caltrans was able to remove the trailer from the bridge. High winds were likely to blame.

Even before noon, tow truck driver Abdul Hai had the equivalent of a full day.

As he loaded a wrecked red sedan at the Bay Bridge toll plaza, he knew there was plenty more to come.

"I start my work today around eight o’clock, but I’m not sure what time I will be done because it looks today, super busy.  I don’t know," said Hai.  

In Berkeley, police said Ashby Avenue at 7th St was shut down at the underpass due to flooding. 

"Man, it’s really hectic."  We’ve had a few accidents," said Troy Decuir, who works for Caltrans Emergency Tow Service.

Decuir says many drivers have yet to adapt to the conditions.

"Pretty, pretty busy.  A lot of accidents. People are forgetting that the first rain is always the most dangerous. The roads are slick. Slow down, please," said Decuir. 

In Orinda, video shows a steady stream of water flowing down San Pablo Creek. Just a week ago, the creek had very little water flowing. A small mudslide damaged one of the tennis courts at Meadow Swim and Tennis Club. 

At the exit off Highway 24 to Camino Pablo in Orinda, a crew was knee deep in the muck shoveling debris from a drain where flooding threatened to cut off access to the ramp.

"We were on highway 24 for just a couple exits and it’s pretty windy, so we were taking it slow," said Kris Foss of Orinda. 

While the rainfall kept many outdoor workers busy, for others, not so much.

The ovens may have been on fire at Zamboni’s pizza in Orinda, but business was less than lukewarm.

"Usually there’s a line out the door, yeah...Today, no, not with the rain," said Nathan Voorhies, a worker at Zamboni's Pizza.

And that line probably won’t be out the door again until the rain stops.

In the East Bay, that may not happen until Monday night or Tuesday.

Santa Cruz County evacuations

Evacuation orders were in effect in the Santa Cruz Mountains over concerns that several inches of rain could trigger debris flows in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burn scar. 

Emergency operations center officials issued evacuations and asked people to stop driving if it wasn't necessary because there were fallen trees all over. Specific evacuation orders are listed here. 

Evacuees can go to San Lorenzo Valley junior and high Schools. Anyone who needed help with large animals can call the Equine Evacuation center at 831-708-8998

Will the wet weather make a dent in the drought? 

Recent storms have helped contain some of the nation’s largest wildfires this year. But it remains to be seen if the wet weather will make a dent in the drought that’s plaguing California and the western United States. California’s climate is hotter and drier now and that means the rain and snow that does fall is likely to evaporate or absorb into the soil.

California’s 2021 water year, which ended Sept. 30, was the second driest on record and last year’s was the fifth driest on record. Some of the state’s most important reservoirs are at record low levels.

A pedestrian carries an umbrella as he walks on a flooded street on October 24, 2021 in San Rafael, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

 A road closed sign floats on a flooded street on October 24, 2021 in San Rafael, California.(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

 A worker attempts to clear a drain in a flooded street on October 24, 2021 in San Rafael, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Cars drive by a sign on Highway 101on October 24, 2021 in Corte Madera, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

 Workers try to divert water into drains as rain pours down on October 24, 2021 in Marin City, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A fire hydrant is almost fully submerged on a flooded street on October 24, 2021 in San Rafael, California.(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This driver got stuck on Slusser Road north of River Road in Santa Rosa. Photo: CHP Santa Rosa Oct. 24, 2021 

A tree fell down in the rain on Montalvo in San Francisco. Photo: San Francisco Fire Department Oct. 24, 2021 

Wet roads on highway in Santa Rosa. Oct. 24, 2021

Santa Rosa residents pick up sand bags to prevent flooding. Oct. 24, 2021 

Stow Lake Drive in San Francisco was closed after a tree fell. Oct. 24, 2021. Photo: San Francisco Park and Rec. 

Lower Great Highway is temporarily closed in both directions between Moraga and Lawton as crews remove a fallen tree. Photo: San Francisco Park and Rec. Oct. 24, 2021 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.