Flooding at Russian River now expected to begin Sunday, but evacuation warning still in effect
Residents of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley received good news Thursday morning as flood forecasts changed to a less dire forecast.
The Russian River area is expected to reach flood stage by Sunday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service, after previous forecasts said the area could be flooded by Thursday afternoon. It is the result of the “bomb cyclone”-driven storm that hit the area Wednesday afternoon, killing a baby in the Sonoma County town of Occidental and causing many power outages and roadblocks across the county.
The river floods when water levels rise above 32 feet, according to a model released by the Weather Service’s California Nevada River Forecast Center — a situation that could cause minor flooding in Guerneville, Monte Rio and other areas. According to the model, the water level of the Guerneville river is expected to reach 32 feet by 8 p.m. Sunday and peak at 36 feet by early Tuesday morning.
As of Thursday afternoon, the river had reached 20 feet, just short of the high it had reached on New Year’s Day after the previous storm. Despite the delayed risk, an evacuation warning the county issued Wednesday to communities in the Russian River floodplain will not be lifted, said Sergeant Juan Valencia, public information officer for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s going to stay because the problem is if we raise it we just have to rearrange it because on Monday it’s going to reach 36 feet,” said Valencia, adding that the evacuation alert affects over 13,000 people.
The California Nevada River Forecast Center said that at 35 feet, “numerous businesses and homes in the lowest parts of towns begin to flood.” Valencia said some of the areas that have flooded at this level in the past include Mirabel Park Resort and Mirabel RV Park & Campground in Forestville.
“While some homes and businesses will be affected by a river elevation of 36.1 feet, this is a relatively minor flood when it comes to flooding,” Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said in a Facebook post Thursday morning.
Hopkins added that all eyes are on the third storm event that could hit Monday/Tuesday – as well as a potential fourth storm event that could hit next Thursday or Friday – “to see how much precipitation they can add to an already flooded phase.” could bring flow.”
The county was under a flood warning as of 11:45 a.m. Thursday, according to an update from the Bay Area National Weather Service as flooding of small streams and low-lying areas caused by excessive rainfall continued.
The Russian River has a history of flooding. The largest recorded flood was 48.8 feet in February 1986, according to the Russian River Historical Society. The river rose to 41.8 feet in January 2006. In 2019, according to the California Department of Water Resources, the river rose to 45.38 feet and trapped many residents (though the Historical Society has not recorded this).
The rain intensified around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Guerneville, where residents were preparing for impending flooding the next day.
Carrie Armstrong had brought valuables from the first floor of her home on Neeley Road – near the confluence of Wilbur Creek and the Russian River. Next she had to save her two pot-bellied pigs. At around 200 pounds each, pigs Wilbur and HoneyBooBoo didn’t want to leave their pen, not knowing that the rushing waters of the creek were threatening to sink their fenced-in home under the redwoods.
Armstrong enlisted friends and family to procure as many strong arms as possible to imprison the reluctant pigs. First, they circled Wilbur, who was bucking with creepy squeals and horrific growls — unaware that the people who were beating him intended to take him to an emergency shelter set up at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, where he was warmed and would be fed.
“Now I know why they use the sound of pot-bellied pigs in movies for the T-Rex,” said Charles Cheney, who came to help.
The group jostled and sloshed in the mud as it rained. Wilbur almost escaped his harness but was lured into a box with food. His pig lady was more willing, and they were soon tucked into a bed of hay on a trailer and driven to Santa Rosa.
Also on Wednesday, Laurelin Lewis, 44, waited in a line of cars at a food bank at the Monte Rio Community Center, preparing to shop for groceries for herself, her husband and their three children. Five years ago, flooding river water forced her to canoe to safety when she was eight months pregnant. Then a major storm in 2019 caused significant damage throughout the home, which is about 9 feet off the ground.
But they braced themselves for anything that might come: the generator was hooked up, and there were fresh batteries in the flashlights and piles of puzzles and books.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Lewis said.
This is an ongoing story. Check for updates again.
Jordan Parker (he/him) is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @jparkerwrites.