Atmospheric rivers wreak havoc in Bay Area

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday January 12, 2023
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A swollen Russian River, seen Monday, January 9, from Highway 116 toward the walking bridge and Johnson's beach in Guerneville. Photo: George Pedroni
A swollen Russian River, seen Monday, January 9, from Highway 116 toward the walking bridge and Johnson's beach in Guerneville. Photo: George Pedroni

There probably isn't a single aspect of the Bay Area's life that hasn't been affected by the series of atmospheric rivers the state has been experiencing, which have shuttered businesses, closed freeways, led to power outages and, most tragically, at least 17 deaths in the past two weeks.

While officials were concerned about the Russian River overflowing its banks, that has not happened so far. Those living in low-lying areas in the LGBTQ vacation destination of Guerneville and neighboring towns are advised to be on alert as the storms continue this week.

San Francisco saw 12.88 inches of rain over the prior two weeks (half a year's total), KGO-TV reported Tuesday. December 31 was the second-rainiest day in San Francisco history since record keeping began in 1849, seeing 5.46 inches (for the record the rainiest day was November 5, 1994, which saw 5.54 inches of rain).

Dave Karraker, a gay man who co-owns MX3 Fitness in the Castro, was hit harder than most. Karraker announced late Monday he resigned from his position as co-president of the Castro Merchants Association after his business was flooded on New Year's Eve. (See related story.)

"I showed up to check on the gym and when I was there the wall basically exploded in water," Karraker said. "We took 700 gallons of water out of the gym. It was just gushing water that was stuck between us and Beaux."

Flooding the same day shuttered Rainbow Grocery, a worker-owned co-op in the Mission adjacent to the Central Freeway, though it had reopened by January 6, according to an emailed announcement.

"We cannot foresee what will happen in the weeks to come with heavier rain on its way, but we promise to keep you updated with our current status and any pertinent news," the grocery stated. "Please consider telling your friends, family and neighbors that there are great independent and local businesses that suffered damage this past week and need support, like us — Shop local!"

Rainbow Grocery warned that "there may be limited or out-of-stock products for a short time" and that "parking will also be slightly impacted."

Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, the LGBTQ reform synagogue near Mission Dolores Park, has moved its Shabbat services to virtual-only for the time being due to the flooding damage.

"The flooding over the last few days has hit 290 Dolores hard," the synagogue announced in an email to members. "A heroic crew of volunteers bucketed about 4' of water from our boiler room. We are keeping an eye on upcoming storms and staying ahead of any new issues. However, for the next week, the building is without heat and elevator. Please keep an eye out for updates on upcoming events."

Water flooded the area outside the New Conservatory Theatre Center's stage management booth on December 31. Photo: Courtesy NCTC  

The LGBTQ New Conservatory Theatre Center, located in the basement at 25 Van Ness Avenue, also reported flooding. Its website states that it is open and its next show, "Getting There," is listed as opening January 20. Representatives of NCTC did not return a request for comment by press time.

Sonoma County
Concern over flooding is most acute in the communities around the Russian River, such as Guerneville, home to many LGBTQ residents. An evacuation order was issued January 4 and lifted January 10 "for residents of low-lying areas along the lower Russian River, urging people to prepare to leave in anticipation of the river reaching flood levels of 33 feet on Thursday (January 5) night and 40 feet early Sunday morning."

Sonoma County's department of emergency readiness, response and recovery is urging all residents to "avoid unnecessary travel and prepare for high winds, flash flooding, downed trees and the potential for power outages throughout the region, as well as the potential for landslides or debris flows in burn scar areas."

The evacuation order for all residents living near the Russian River floodway and its tributaries just south of Healdsburg to Jenner was lifted Tuesday afternoon. There are community support centers, featuring "charging stations for electronics and comfort kits with blankets, snacks and water," open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily at the Fort Ross State Historic Park, the Bodega Harbor Yacht Club, the former Bank of America at 16390 Main Street in Guerneville, and the Sonoma Veterans Community Center.

Ben Tacla of the Rainbow Cattle Company, a gay bar in Guerneville, told the Bay Area Reporter that all they can do is gather when they have the chance — and wait.

"The wind affected us — the power was out for about a day," Tacla said January 6. "It came back yesterday afternoon and since then people have come back when there are breaks in the storm, we come together as a community."

President Joe Biden approved California Governor Gavin Newsom's request for a federal emergency declaration Monday. Newsom said the same day that "there are still several days of severe winter weather ahead and we need all Californians to be alert and heed the advice of emergency officials." Californians are advised to dial 211 or 311 instead of 911, unless they have a critical emergency.

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