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Rain, wind and potential floods come to the Central Coast this week

A GIF of the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 storm system moving from the Pacific Ocean inland toward California.
Secure loose items, prepare sandbags and make sure windshield wipers are in working condition: After a few summery days, winter is back with a vengeance.

Secure loose items, prepare sandbags and make sure windshield wipers are in working condition: After a few summery days, winter is back with a vengeance. An epic storm will blast through our region from early Wednesday morning through Thursday, bringing with it torrential rain, potential flooding and landslides, and high winds.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch and wind advisory impacting the Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties.

The flood watch is in effect from 4 a.m. Wednesday morning through 4 a.m. Friday. There’s also a wind advisory through Thursday morning, with gusts expected to reach 45 mph.

Dave Reid, the director of the Santa Cruz County Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience, said the forecasts indicate “this is going to be the most significant rainfall event that we've had this winter [so far].”

Expect to see moderate to heavy rainfall, with anywhere between 2 to 4 inches of rain dropped in most areas. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, Reid said as much as 2 inches of rain could fall per hour, with the weather service expecting winds to reach up to 55 to 60 miles per hour.

“Our soils are saturated, our gopher holes are saturated,” he said. “Everything is ready to receive and directly dump right into our creeks, rivers and streams. So we'll see them rise very quickly through this rain event.”

The risk of flooding is higher in places like the Santa Cruz Mountains, Reid added, because the ground is already soaked. Officials are also monitoring areas along the Pajaro River watershed for potential floods. And the strong winds could cause power outages and impact driving conditions.

To stay in the know, KAZU has a page with handy storm preparedness links.

Possible flooding in Santa Cruz County

Among the areas officials are monitoring are the San Lorenzo River watershed and the Soquel Creek watershed.

But the storm also has authorities along the Pajaro River watershed on high alert. It’s the same area where parts of a 75-year-old levee system failed last year, leaving thousands homeless, though the biggest concern for this storm is along Corralitos Creek, which runs from north to south and feeds the Pajaro River.

Mark Strudley is the executive director of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency.

Mark Strudley is Executive Director of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency.
Scott Cohn
Mark Strudley is Executive Director of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency.

“Right now, the forecast from the weather service on the Pajaro River does not put the river rising anywhere close to the levees, which is great news,” Strudley said. “But Corralitos Creek is a really quick-responding creek that comes out of the Santa Cruz Mountains. And the Santa Cruz Mountains are going to get a lot of rain from the storm."

He said Watsonville residents and businesses near the water should be prepared to respond to any potential flooding.

Ahead of the storm, crews are clearing debris near the channel and will be patrolling the levees for weak spots as the rain and winds move through.

Santa Cruz County employees clear debris from Corralitos Creek in Watsonville ahead of an approaching winter storm on January 30, 2024.
Scott Cohn
Santa Cruz County employees clear debris from Corralitos Creek in Watsonville ahead of an approaching winter storm on January 30, 2024.

Monterey County communications director Nicholas Pasculli said the county is, as usual for storm events, watching “all the waterways.”

“We'll be watching and monitoring those things very actively throughout the next several days,” he said. “It's the usual trouble areas in the county that, you know, folks should be more aware of.”

A Monterey County press release sent out Tuesday afternoon said the Big Sur, Carmel, Pajaro and Salinas Rivers are not forecasted to reach flood stage during the storm.

“This amount of rain certainly will cause landslides or slope failures or potential road failures, and what's hard is we don't know where those will happen, so we have to be more reactive, in those circumstances,” Reid with Santa Cruz County said. “But we want to be proactive in communication and preparedness messaging [for] sandbag locations. Get sandbags if you're subject to flooding and then obviously avoid the roads if you can.”

In case of flooding, there are sandbags available for pickup on a first-come, first-serve basis. Shovels aren’t provided at most sites, so bring your own:

Potential for power outages, blocked roads

Pasculli with Monterey County emphasized that it’s not just rain that could do damage — the high winds could cause power outages and impact driving conditions.

“Winds create their own set of challenges, and people need to be aware of that as well,” he said.

Winds are expected to be between 25 to 35 miles per hour across most of Monterey County? with gusts up to 45 miles per hour in the mountains. The wind could fell tree limbs and cause some power outages, the National Weather Service predicted in its wind advisory encompassing coastlines in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

That advisory lasts from 4 a.m. Wednesday through 4 a.m. Thursday.

Given the potential of power outages due to the strong winds and heavy rain, Stephanie Magallon, the PG&E communications representative for the South Bay and Central Coast, said the utilities company has already begun deploying extra crews and assessing the areas it expects to be hit hardest.

“That includes the North Bay, the [San Francisco] Peninsula and the Central Coast, and in the Central Coast, we’re talking about, specifically, the Santa Cruz Mountains,” she said.

Magallon also had tips for what people should do in case of an outage:

  • If you do see a downed power line, assume it’s energized and extremely dangerous. “Don’t touch it, don’t let kids get near it and don’t let your animals get near it either,” she said.
  • Use battery-powered flashlights, not candles, if possible to avoid the risk of fire.
  • Stockpile anything, such as water and medications, that you’ll need to use generators safely. 

PG&E has an outage center homepage where you can check the status of power at your address, see the cause of the outage and learn an expected restoration time.

For road safety in the upcoming inclement weather, Pasculli echoed a common Caltrans adage: “Turn around, don’t drown.”

“When it rains, even if the storm doesn't last long, there could be localized flooding on roads,” he said. “Don’t go through the high water. We really want people to respect signage on the roads. If it says ‘Road closed’, there’s a real reason why the road is closed – it’s a safety hazard, and we don’t want to see people hurt.”

Reid suggested people work from home if possible on Wednesday, citing the “commute hours” that evening as “the most impactful.”

If not, he recommended people “stay connected in terms of communication so we [county officials] can let you know if things start to get dangerous.”

Pasculli also encouraged Monterey County residents to check on their neighbors, particularly since “in our community, we have a number of folks that may be elderly or may … have mobility issues.”

“It’s one of the great things about the [Monterey] county — we’re not that big where it’s impersonal,” he said. “We kind of know who our neighbors are, so check in, see how they’re doing, if they need help … have medications on hand in the event of power outages or any type of other thing that could prevent people from getting to and from stores.”

Reid and Pasculli both urged Central Coast residents to sign up for their counties’ emergency alert systems in order to stay the most up-to-date on the forecast.

Resources for emergency alerts, road closure updates

KAZU has a landing page with links to sign up to emergency alerts in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties, each county’s storm preparedness pages for winter storm season and relevant social media accounts posting breaking information.

You can also sign up for emergency alerts for each respective county below:

For updates on weather conditions:

Ways to stay updated on road conditions:

Janelle Salanga is a reporter for KAZU. Prior to joining the station, they covered Sacramento communities and helped start the SacramenKnow newsletter at CapRadio.
Scott Cohn is a nationally recognized journalist who has been based on the Central Coast since 2014. His work for KAZU is a return to his reporting roots. Scott began his career as a reporter and host for Wisconsin Public Radio. Contact him at
Jerimiah Oetting is KAZU’s news director. Prior to his career in public media, he was a field biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.
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