27 Feb 19
The Mercury News
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GUERNEVILLE — Locals who live and work in this little resort town are no strangers to the flooding of the Russian River, but this time, there’s an urgency and awe — and a warning from the Sonoma County Sheriff of an “extreme threat to life and property.”
The river that feeds Guerneville — and curses it — is expected to crest Wednesday night 14 feet above flood stage, unleashing the worst flooding in a quarter century.
As an atmospheric river continues pounding the North Bay with a torrent of rain, the biggest store in town, Safeway, is bracing for flooding. So is the post office and Monte Rio elementary school, along with motels and restaurants lining River Road.
By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office had issued an evacuation order to 25 communities along the Russian River, and began opening shelters in Sebastopol and at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, where fire victims took refuge after the deadly Tubbs Fire in 2017.
“If it was me, I would get out now,” said Barry Dugan, a spokesman for the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “Not only will the roads be difficult in terms of traffic, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of mudslides that could block roads.”
GUERNEVILLE, CALIF. – FEB. 26: Brian Peddingaus removes items from his Fife Creek Antique shop in preparation for flooding in Guerneville, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
At Fife Creek Antiques and Collectibles on Tuesday afternoon — a shop across the street from the Russian River — owner Brian Peddinghaus and his crew of a dozen friends and volunteers were in full battle mode, armed with bubble wrap and a U-Haul, just ahead of the evacuation calls.
“It’s been raining hard for two days straight,” said Penninghaus, as the storm dumped nearly 4 inches of rain in the area in 24 hours. “We’re definitely getting water on this one.”
Over the past three decades, this one-story cinder block building on the edge of River Road has been packed up at least a dozen times — first, as an auto parts store, now antiques — when flood waters threatened. In fact, Peddinghaus had just finished unpacking Monday from the last atmospheric river deluge that hit on Valentine’s Day almost two weeks ago when he had to start packing again on Tuesday. They stayed dry earlier this month, but are expecting the worst this time.
“The floods are like giving birth,” said Dayne Cassidy, a friend of Peddinghaus’s who was quickly wrapping up the vintage jewelry from the glass case Tuesday. “You say you never want to go through this again — until the next time and then you say, oh, yeah, I remember this.”
GUERNEVILLE, CALIF. – FEB. 26: Residents in Guerneville, Calif., fill sand bags, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, as authorities predict the Russian River will flood parts of town. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Flood stage along the river is 32 feet. By Tuesday afternoon, the river swept along at 30 feet, having surged 20 feet in the previous 24 hours. And with a slow-moving atmospheric river striking a bulls-eye over the region, the 24-hour rainfall totals were just as staggering: As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, more than 10 inches of rain had fallen in the hills above the river in Venado. Santa Rosa broke a record for the date with 5.66, obliterating — the National Weather Service’s verb — the previous record from 100 years ago of 1.82 inches.
Santa Rosa obliterates one day rainfall record for the date with 5.66 inches. The old record was 1.82 inches set 100 years ago in 1919. #castorm
— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) February 27, 2019
Vineyards near La Crema Winery, just upstream of Guerneville, were already submerged by noon Tuesday and water poured over side streets. The worst flooding is expected at 10 p.m. Wednesday night, when the river is predicted to crest at 46.1 feet — about the same level as the 1995 flood. The all-time record for the Russian River was set in 1986, at 49.5 feet.
After that historic flood, most of the homes and businesses along the river were raised a full story — with garages underneath — to allow the flood waters to pass through. Even the Safeway made modifications to try to avoid flooding.
On Tuesday afternoon, residents lined up 15 deep at the check-out lanes at Safeway to stock up on groceries and storm supplies. Those who stayed behind, like Chris Tipton, salvaged potted plants from her elderly neighbor’s flooded mobile home and kept kayaks at the base of the stairs of her two-story home overnight.
“We know the drill,” she said. They got to practice it earlier this month, the last time the
Flooding is so chronic here that predicting flood stages is almost a sport.
Like many locals, Daryl Rodenberg keeps track of weather reports, the levels of the Sonoma Lake upstream and the tides of the ocean just 13 miles downstream to get a sense of when local homes and businesses along the Russian River might flood. But there are other telltale signs only a local steeped in the vagaries of the river and rain would know that have served to either defy or finetune official predictions.
Amid drenching rains from an atmospheric river storm, the National WeatherService on Tuesday Feb. 26, 2019 forecast the Russian River at Guernevillein Sonoma County will reach 45.9 feet by Wednesday night Feb. 27, 2019 —nearly 14 feet above its flood stage — and a level that would rank as theworst flood since 1995. By Tuesday afternoon, waters were already rising inGuerneville. (Photo: Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department)
“I’m not a Houdini, but sometimes, you have a gut feeling,” said Rodenberg, 57, who has lived in Guerneville since 1963. “You want to go with the reports, but being around so long you have to listen to your inner self. But there’s always going to be that one time you listen and it bites you.”
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]He was right two weeks ago when he told Rodenberg that the river wouldn’t rise as high as predicted and his shop would be spared. “This time, I told Brian I do believe it’s going to flood.”
So why, after all these floods, do locals remain to pack up over and over?
“This is a great location in the summertime,” Peddinghaus said. And his cinder block shop is remarkably durable.
But some are scared off.
“People will come here in the summer and buy places and live here a few years and it will flood and they’ll leave,” Rodenberg said. “You see a lot of people come and go. And there’s a lot of people who will never leave. For me, you just keep chugging along.”
Staff photographer Karl Mondon contributed to this report.
TAKING SHELTER FROM THE FLOOD
Sonoma County has opened two shelters:
Sebastopol Center for the Arts at 282 S High St, Sebastopol
Sonoma County Fairgrounds Grace Pavilion at 1350 Bennett Valley Rd, Santa Rosa
There will be a free shuttle running from the Guerneville Veterans War Memorial at 16320 Church St, in Guerneville.
For more information go to www.socoemergency.org or call 707-565-3856.