Bay Area businesses, schools and residents are preparing for the worst as a potent storm bears down on the Bay Area for an expected wet and windy impact late Wednesday and into Thursday.
The National Weather Service is forecasting significant rain, thunderstorms, high surf, wind and associated hazards to the Bay Area as winds reach speeds of 50 miles per hour along the coast through Thursday evening.
UPDATE 5:26 p.m. San Francisco State University has announced classes will be canceled Thursday and offices closed. Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma counties have canceled school for Thursday. In Alameda County, public school districts in the cities of Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward have announced closures. The West Contra Costa and New Haven school districts have also announced closures. Most schools in Marin County are closed.
A flash flood watch is in effect from this evening through late Thursday night. National Weather Service forecaster Diana Henderson said the last comparable storm hit the Bay Area in 2008.
During that storm, Henderson said rainfall ranged from 5 to 11 inches throughout the Bay Area and winds reached 88 miles per hour along the coast:
“It was a lot of water and wind in a very short amount of time.”
PG&E officials said today that crews are standing by to repair downed power lines and restore electricity wherever outages occur.
PG&E spokeswoman Brittany McKannay said the utility company prepares for major weather events “all year round”:
“Over the past week, we’ve been putting together a strategic plan to address any potential issues that could occur with an outage ahead of time.”
Crews have been surveying power lines to see if there are areas where excess vegetation or tree limbs could interfere and cause outages, McKannay said:
“We’ve been pruning trees to eliminate outages before they start.”
PG&E has also has also set up a mobile command station with satellite crews stationed in areas expected to be hit the hardest, McKannay said:
“We have a storm modeling tool that we use to help us determine the timing and location of potential outages. … Basically, we look at how heavily an area would be hit by the storm and then we are able to staff appropriately.”
With smart meter technology, McKannay said PG&E is able to see quickly where outages are occurring and can send crews in to respond.
In situations with high winds, McKannay said no county is more immune than another, but areas with more vegetation are likely to see more of an impact:
“It’s all hands on deck. … We’re bringing in all of our staff to prepare for this storm, and then we’re prepared to bring in staff from other areas where we know we won’t be hit as hard. In some cases, we also have the ability to use contractors who can provide additional support.”
Oakland Unified School District officials said today they are canceling all classes for Thursday because of a potentially dangerous storm, joining San Francisco and Novato schools that are also closing.
OUSD officials said in a statement:
“This is not a decision we make lightly, but given the severe weather predictions and the safety implications for students and staff, we want to take every precaution in order to safeguard our community.”
District officials said what the National Weather Service refers to as a “powerful Pacific storm” with heavy rain and wind gusts “poses a significant safety risk for our students and staff.”
Oakland school officials said Thursday will still be a workday for central office staff but instead of reporting to the office, they should work from home and be available by phone and email.
School officials said that because the storm is expected to weaken on Thursday evening, schools will be open on Friday and students and all staff will resume normal operations then. Oakland school officials said:
“We recognize this decision will interrupt the normal routine and require some families to seek other child-care alternatives and we apologize in advance for the inconvenience. … We feel it’s our responsibility, given the dire reports from the National Weather Service, that we take this precaution and steps to maximize student and staff safety.”
San Francisco Unified School District officials also decided to close schools in the district Thursday, SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza said in a statement:
“Closing schools is a serious decision. … I did not arrive at this lightly. First and foremost, we don’t want to risk having our students injured or seriously delayed transporting to and from school. In addition to student absences, the storm could result in large numbers of staff absences, which could then lead to inadequate supervision of our students.”
SFUSD officials plan to reopen schools on Friday but will monitor the storm and their campuses before making a determination by 5 p.m. Thursday. Novato Unified School District officials said their schools will remain closed on Thursday and Friday because of the storm.
U.S. Coast Guard officials are urging anyone living on or near the water to take extra precautions in preparation for the storm.
Station Golden Gate Lt. Luciana Ganley said the Coast Guard has been working over the past few days to educate the public and make them aware of the gravity of the expected storm:
“We’re trying to let them know if there’s any possible way to get their boats to higher ground, then they should do that.”
Coast Guard officials said all marinas, vessel owners and operators and the public who live along the water should prepare for the storm by checking the status of moorings and anchoring arrangements.
Vessels that aren’t properly secured during a storm can break free from their moorings and become possible safety hazards to other mariners or pose environmental risks as any fluids or chemicals aboard spill into the water, Coast Guard officials said.
Ganley said Coast Guard “surfmen,” who are specially trained for heavy weather conditions, including high seas and surf, are at Station Golden Gate to conduct training and assess the situation as it develops.
The Coast Guard is preparing to respond to calls for stranded boaters, swimmers or surfers who didn’t heed the warnings to stay inside during the storm, Ganley said.
Coast Guard Sector San Francisco commander Capt. Greg Stump said:
“During big weather events we often receive reports of adrift kayaks, dinghies and other vessels. We treat each as a possible distress case and launch our crews to investigate. … Exercising an ounce of prevention prior to a storm can potentially mitigate loss of property, prevent marine pollution and keep rescue crews focused on people truly in distress and needing assistance.”
The Coast Guard recommends that the public keep advised of the storm system through the National Weather Service online at http://www.weather.gov/sanfrancisco and to monitor channel 16 VHF-FM for the most current safety advisories.