Storm knocks out power, downs trees across Bay Area

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KTVU) - As promised, the first day of the first storm of the year delivered heavy rain, gusty winds and the inevitable problems that come with both.

The National Weather Service issued a high wind advisory in effect until early Saturday morning, predicting winds from 25-40 mph would roar through the Bay Area. Gusts could top 60 mph, forecasters said.

The weather service reported wind gusts of 46 mph in Half Moon Bay, 42 mph at Point Reyes National Seashore and 39 mph at the Golden Gate Bridge at 9 a.m.

Almost 75,000 Bay Area customers lost power during Friday's storm. As of 7 p.m., around 9,140 remained without power in the area.

At United Market in San Rafael, shoppers were browsing the aisles in near darkness as a power outage hit several downtown blocks east of the 101 freeway.

"It's okay, I'm from Humboldt County," shopper Jennifer Beals told KTVU, as she checked out. "We have real storms there, so I'm used to this."

The cash registers were running on an emergency generator, which was also keeping cold cases at a constant temperature.

Employees hurried to pull screens down over bread and other perishables to help keep them cool and fresh. The store manager said he was counting on dry ice and a good attitude to get through it.

"We have mood lighting, it's romantic Friday," smiled Brian Madera, "come down for the storm and shop at United!"

More than a dozen trees toppled in the high winds, at least two of them in San Rafael, prompting calls to tree services.

"Looks like we're getting 50, 60 mile an hour gusts" Treemaster's Mike Queirolo told KTVU, as he surveyed a Douglas fir that fell on a Lucas Valley roof. "If the wind keeps up, we'll get more," he added.

For the homeowner, there was a thud and then a crash.

"I'm sitting there with a cup of tea, looking out the window, thinking those are some strong gusts of wind, " Sarah Westcott described to KTVU, "I dashed outside to the street and saw it was all just leaning."

With every drop a little dent against the drought, it's hard to be grumpy about getting wet.

KTVU even found tourists taking a positive attitude, shivering in the headlands.

"Oh it's beautiful, weather is weather," exclaimed Brigette Gage, visiting from Houston. "You just wear a jacket and endure it. We're here in town, we're not going to miss it."

San Rafael's outage, which lasted a few hours, was eventually traced to runoff flooding an underground electrical vault.

At its peak, about 3,000 customers were without power, including the Montecito Shopping Center, which closed, along with a CVS store, Whole Foods and several gas stations.

But at United, the one market that remained open, shoppers were all smiles about the storm. "I like it, I'm happy" said Sandy Clancy of San Rafael, "it's exciting, happy camper."

Meanwhile, the storm's strong winds snapped massive trees and closed ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. A 134 mph gust recorded early Friday near the Mount Rose Ski Resort southeast of Reno led the facility and two others to close.

A storm predicted to arrive on Sunday will be accompanied by colder air and snow level would drop to 6,500 feet.

Transportation officials wanted travelers to the Sierra to be prepared for chain requirements on the high passes of Highway 80 and 50.