North Bay braces as winter storm approaches

Rain, so rare in the Bay Area the past month, is making a return. 

Tracking from north to south, the first system started sprinkling Santa Rosa just past 5 p.m. Wednesday. 

Steady showers followed, turning to harder rain about 9 p.m.

It probably wouldn't be notable, except that rain has been so rare in the region lately.    

"I love the rain, and I'm so happy, because we need it, so I'm happy for it to be on its way," said Elaine Strehl of Santa Rosa.

Strehl and friend Jen Woods were enjoying a walk at Spring Lake, before the skies opened up.

"I work from home so I'm snuggly in my house with the wood stove when it's cold," said Woods.
Bay Area creeks are starved for rain, after a February that was unusually warm and dry the first half, then unusually cold and dry the second. 

Hardware stores reported an uptick in business, selling tarps and rain ponchos.

But ski stores saw a real surge Wednesday. 

After a lackluster holiday season, and measly amounts of snow, merchants are excited about a few storms stacking up, and customers too. 

"We were getting a little nervous, waiting and waiting," said John Farrell, owner of Santa Rosa Ski & Sport.

"Everyone's fingers were crossed hoping for that miracle March and at the end of February here it comes."

Now, fingers crossed that road conditions to the Sierra stay passable, so people can get there. 

"The mountain is calling, for sure," said Sonoma State student Jessica Mitz, who was getting equipped for a snowboard trip with friend Nicole Groat. 

"We've been waiting all season for this and happy that it's come a little bit later. Perfect timing," said Mitz.  

The long dry spell has also allowed more homes in the fire zone to be cleared and secured, so they are less vulnerable to erosion.    

"From what I hear on my job, it's going to be a strong storm," said construction worker David Perez of Calistoga. 

Perez is working on home re-builds in Napa and Sonoma counties, but will be idled a few days by the weather.  

"It stops us from building for awhile, but we need the rain, it's worth it."

Thursday morning's commute is expected to be messy, with heavy rain across the Bay Area.

CHP, as always, recommends drivers slow down, and keep a safe distance from other cars, to avoid accidents on slick highways.