Sacramento wakes up to downed trees, flash flood warnings after unexpectedly strong New Year’s Eve storm

As 2023 began, people throughout the Sacramento region awoke to survey the damage from a powerful New Year’s Eve storm that brought flooding, closed highways, downed trees and power outages to hundreds of thousands of residents.

Mary Spencer-Gode stood on her porch New Year’s Day morning, looking out onto her Land Park street, where a gigantic elm tree had fallen the night before.

It is a city of downed trees in Sacramento right now, after nearly 60 miles an hour winds pummeled residents on New Year’s Eve.

Here is a massive Dutch elm that fell in Land Park — and broke a gas line — last night at around 8:15 PM.

No one was hurt.

— Nick Miller (@NickMiller510) January 1, 2023

“The wind was just going crazy,” she recalled of New Year’s Eve evening around 7 pm “We turned our TV off so we could hear it, and I was sitting in the kitchen, I heard a big ‘woosh’ and kind of the house moved.”

Out front, the towering elm tree — the last one standing on the block — ripped from the ground, taking with it a neighbor’s driveway before crashing into the street and brushing up against another home.

“We could smell gas,” she said. “It was really strong.”

A PG&E crew spent their New Year’s Eve midnight working on Fourth Avenue, and the next morning curious neighbors snapped pictures and chatted in front of the giant elm.

It was a familiar scene across the region, after more than 60 mph winds wreaked havoc and shut down power for tens of thousands of Sacramento residents, many of whom spent their New Year’s Eves by candlelight.

The Slough House Kitchen off Jackson Road surrounded by floodwaters on New Year’s Day, 2023.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio

The threat of flash floods and levee breaches remains. Highway 99 has been shut down at Dillard Road between Elk Grove and Galt due to the flooding on the Cosumnes River. The California Highway Patrol reported a number of cars submerged in the water and is advising drivers to stay away from”the surrounding areas of Wilton, Herald and outlying region of Galt.”

Sacramento County declared a state of emergency on Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning extended a flash flood warning along the Cosumnes River at Cosumnes Road and Wilton Road to Highway 99 between Twin Cities Road and Dillard Road following a levee breach.

The county advised some residents in the area of ​​Wilton near Cosumnes Road and Wilton Road to seek higher ground just after 9:30 pm. Saturday due to an imminent levee failure in that area on the Cosumnes River after the NWS issued a flash flood warning in the area.

Sunday afternoon, the county issued an evacuation warning to residents living in the areas of Point Pleasant, Glanville Tract, and Franklin Pond.

The Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services has issued an evacuation warning to residents living in the areas of Point Pleasant, Glanville Tract, and Franklin Pond to prepare to leave the area now before roadways are cut off to evacuate the area.

— SacramentoOES (@SacramentoOES) January 1, 2023

Throughout the region, topped trees fell into homes, cars and powerlines. Wind gusts up to 64 mph were recorded at the Sacramento International Airport and up to 56 mph in Davis Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

Around 40,000 SMUD customers remain without power by 11 am Sunday, down from more than 150,000 Saturday night. Another 25,000 PG&E customers in Yolo County were also without power, with 4,000 in El Dorado County.

Inez Pina lives at Oak Park. Sunday morning her neighborhood was still without power and her home was blocked in by a tree that feel Saturday evening.

“​​I can’t get to work. I can’t drive. We’re pretty much blocked in,” she said. “But what can we do?”

Piña said she may need to use a ride-hailing service to get to work now, as most of her neighbors are also blocked in. Despite her troubles, she said it was good for a region still mired in drought to see so much rain.

“We need the rain, but just crazy what happened,” she said. “Never experienced this before. It’s 20 years that I’ve been here. So it was pretty interesting.”

A traffic light taken under a fallen tree on the corner of 10th Street and L Street in Sacramento, Calif. on New Year’s Day Morning, 2023.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio

“They moved it from the other side to over here,” Sampe said. “I’ve been coming here every year; this is small compared to the other years. Usually there’d be 300 cars here. I think it’s because of the weather, and other people thinking it wouldn’t go down.”

Hannah Chandler-Cooley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento, said that while the amount of rain was near what was forecast, the flooding impacts were beyond what was expected.

“There was a significant amount of rain that fell in the foothills and in the mountains,” Chandler-Cooley said. “Between yesterday and the day before, anywhere from 6-8 inches fell over those foothill and mountain locations, and that caused significant runoff into the rivers.”

According to the Associated Press, dozens of drivers were rescued along Interstate 80 near Lake Tahoe after cars spun out in the snow. Both I-80 and Highway 50 were open Sunday morning according to Caltrans, with chain controls in effect.

Rain, snow to return Monday

While Sunday is expected to be clear with sunny skies and breezy winds gusting around 25 mph, another set of storm systems are forecast to arrive starting Monday.

The weather service expects Sacramento to get up to an inch of rain Monday and Tuesday with the heaviest precipitation Monday night. Snow levels in the Sierra could get down to 2,000 feet, with 6-8 inches of snow forecast at Donner Pass, and 4-6 inches at Echo Pass.

Heavy rain could return Wednesday through Friday, with the strongest storm coming on Wednesday night. Sacramento, Chico and Stockton could all see another 2-3 inches of rain, with a return of flooding risks, including ponding on roads and mug and rock slides. Strong winds will also return, with gusts up to 45 mph possible in Sacramento and Stockton.

A rain-swollen creek crosses under a bridge on Wilton Road on New Year’s Day morning in Sacramento County.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio

Chandler-Cooley with the weather service in Sacramento said to expect more urban and highway flooding, but less river flooding with Wednesday’s storm, though specific impacts remain unclear.

“There will definitely be rises along the rivers but the specific flooding impacts, we’re not expecting widespread river flooding impacts at this time,” Chandler-Cooley said. “That situation, especially along the Cosumnes River, is evolving hour-by-hour at this point.”

In the Sierra Nevada mountains, many areas could see 2-3 feet of snow between Wednesday and Friday, with up to 5 feet possible at Lassen Park. Mountain travel could be dangerous, with low visibility as high winds blow snow across roadways and chain controls expected in many places.

“With the bigger storm on Wednesday, that will bring more travel impacts, with multiple feet of snow over the mountain passes,” Chandler-Cooley said.

She said residents should take the next few days to prepare, especially for Wednesday’s storm.

“Try to take this time between now and Wednesday to be prepared for any flooding. Learn what to do if a flood might happen near you,” she said. “And never drive through flooded roadways — ever. In the mountains, we’re really discouraging travel in the mountains, especially Wednesday and Thursday,” she said.

Sandbags are available at several locations in Sacramento, San Joaquin and El Dorado counties.

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