- On Wednesday night, California’s Russian River – which winds its way through Napa Valley – rose to its highest point in 25 years.
- This is the most severe flood in the area since 1995. Thousands of homes and businesses have been damaged by the water.
- The water cut off access to the towns of Monte Rio and Guerneville. The Sonoma County sheriff’s office called Guerneville “an island”, warning that residents could not “get into or out of town without a boat.”
- The National Weather Service has extended flood warnings for Sonoma County until 1:45pm PT on Thursday.
In parts of California wine country, 8 feet of floodwaters have inundated homes and vineyards over the last 24 hours.
While the towns of Sonoma County are no strangers to flooding, record-breaking torrential rainfall this week caused the Russian River and its tributaries to inundate the area with the worst floods since 1995.
“A slow-moving storm is moving into the West Coast from the Pacific, which has been the cause of very heavy rainfall that has occurred over northern and central California,” Accuweather meteorologist Frank Strait reported.
Parts of Sonoma County received more than 20 inches of rain, and the National Weather Service reported that Santa Rosa broke the 100-year rainfall record by more than 3 inches with a whopping 5.66 inches in 24 hours.
The rainfall caused the Russian River to crest to more than 45 feet – 14 feet over the flood mark – on Wednesday evening, causing further damage to local homes and businesses.
Hundreds of roads across the county shut down, and the rains also caused numerous mudslides in the area.
Guerneville and Monte Rio, two towns about 80 miles northwest of Sacramento, were disconnected from surrounding areas by up to 8 feet of water. Local sheriff departments declared Guerneville “an island” and warned that it was accessible only by boat.
Flood warnings are in effect through Thursday afternoon, but the National Weather Service expects waters to recede throughout the day. More rain is expected later this week, though.
Here’s what the Sonoma County flooding looks like on the ground.
Under normal circumstances, Guerneville is a popular getaway destination for Bay Area residents.
But the town is vulnerable to floods given its proximity to the Russian River.
When torrential rains batter the heart of Sonoma County, the Russian River exceeds its normal height, overflowing into nearby Guerneville.
The worst flood ever recorded there happened in 1986, when the river crested to 49.5 feet, roughly 18 feet above the flood mark.
When the river overflows, it can shut down roads and bridges, cutting off access to some areas.
On Tuesday, local authorities ordered evacuations in 25 communities where flooding on the Russian River was expected to be the worst.
The order affected thousands of residents, and officials went door-to-door to alert as many people as they could about the need to leave their homes.
In the cities of Sebastopol and Healdsburg, floodwater spilled into the wastewater treatment facility, prompting the declaration of local emergencies, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Guerneville’s 4,500 residents were among those told to evacuate, but many of them stayed put, since residents are used to flooding.
By Wednesday, only half of Guerneville’s residents had left, the Associated Press reported.
The residents who stayed put watched as rising waters flooded their property. Here’s a before-and-after capture from a Guerneville household off Neeley Road.
That left thousands of people trapped, with boats their only feasible mode of transportation.
In some areas, residents were unable to move their cars to safer elevations in time.
Wine country businesses are taking a big hit because of the disaster.
Some Sonoma County vineyards were swamped by rising waters.
While most winter rainfall and flooding doesn’t harm vineyard grapevines, wineries are concerned about the effects of potential hillside erosion.
According to the Jordan Winery blog, grapevines can have “wet feet” for about 20 days.
Sonoma County officials estimated that 2,022 homes, businesses, and other buildings were flooded, a county spokesman told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Source: Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Some homes were flooded by up to 8 feet of water.
Those people who chose to wait out the flood in their homes could be stuck for days, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Source: LA Times
No deaths have been reported, but local officials are concerned that residents may have gotten trapped in cars in the rising water.
In Monte Rio, firefighters worked to free people trapped in their car on Tuesday night. Rescuers took “17 people out of cars and houses during the night,” Fire Chief Steve Baxman told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
“Too many people are driving into the water,” he said.
This is not the first time Sonoma County residents and officials have dealt with severe flooding.
Guerneville has flooded multiple times in recent decades, though the most recent flood seems to have been particularly bad.
“I have lived here in this area for the last 10 years and this is the highest I have ever seen it,” Forestville resident Zak Wood told San Francisco’s ABC News.
According to the National Weather Service, this is the sixth highest height the Russian river has ever reached.
This shot of flooding dates back to 1997.
But regardless of how accustomed to flooding locals may feel, it’s costly to rebuild every time.
Sonoma County estimated preliminary costs of the storm and subsequent flooding to be about $US25 million, including roughly $US2.5 million in emergency response, Supervisor David Rabbitt told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
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