Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
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Relentless rain pounded Northern California, slicked highways and contributed to two fatal traffic accidents that killed four people in the Sierra foothills and the Wine Country.
Mudslides, hail, high winds, toppled trees, snow and downed power lines were all part of the biggest storm of the new year as an atmospheric river and cold front grabbed hold of the Bay Area and is not expected to let go until Thursday.
Too much water was everywhere. There were 30-foot waves off the coast, small stream flood advisories in the North Bay and a leak that forced the closure of the Civic Center BART station on Wednesday afternoon.
Flights were delayed up to three hours at Bay Area airports. Ferry boats were delayed up to 15 minutes on San Francisco Bay.
“When you get that much rain in that short amount of time it will start to overwhelm, especially a lot of the street drainages,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Walbrun. “A lot of the streams and creeks in Marin County and Santa Cruz and Sonoma, they will have rapid rises.”
BART’s Civic Center Station in San Francisco was shut down by flooding Wednesday afternoon. A leak from the Muni platform one level above sent water onto the BART platform. Standing water near United Nations Plaza forced BART to close the station entrance there.
Heavy rain played a factor in a Tuesday evening collision on Highway 50 in Camino (El Dorado County), said Highway Patrol officer David Rodgers. A family of three, including a 1-year-old child, was killed when their vehicle spun out on the freeway and struck another car, whose driver was seriously injured. They were not immediately identified but authorities said the driver was a 51-year-old man from Fremont.
Another fatal accident occurred shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday on Highway 121 at Napa Road in Napa County. Firefighters were called to extract a victim from one of three vehicles involved. Details of the accident and the identity of the victim were not immediately known.
A high surf warning will last through Friday. A small stream flood advisory was in effect in the North Bay. The storm also closed perpetually weather-challenged Great Highway in San Francisco, from Golden Gate Park to the San Francisco Zoo.
For most of Wednesday, the Highway Patrol was reporting a new hazard, collision, toppled tree, flooded area or non-working traffic light about every five minutes.
“The combination of saturated soils and strong winds, that’s the type of setup where trees can come down,” Walbrun said.
All around the Bay Area, the storm sent rain gauges rising. Five inches of rain fell in Venado, in Sonoma County, in the 24 hours ending at 5 p.m. on Wednesday . Novoto got 2.09 inches, San Francisco got 1.0 inch and Oakland received .9 inches. Mount Umunhum in the Santa Cruz Mountains got 3.31 inches.
The heavy rain still left the Bay Area drier than usual for this time of year. San Francisco has received 9.25 inches of rain so far this season, or 83 percent of normal. San Jose has received 5.19 inches, or 78 percent of normal. Santa Rosa has received 16.20 inches, or 89 percent of normal.
Weather service forecaster Steve Anderson said the heavy rain will turn to showers on Thursday and skies will clear on Friday and Saturday. A light rain could fall on Sunday.
“It looks to be dry all next week,” Anderson said. “This storm could have been way worse. Instead of heavy rain for a few hours, it could have been a lot longer.”
In the Sierra, officials posted an avalanche warning through 7 a.m. Friday. A blizzard warning was already in effect with possible whiteout conditions.
Nearly 2 feet of snow had already fallen at Northstar and Sugar Bowl as of Wednesday. Driving to the ski areas was only for the strong-willed. Chains were required to cross the Sierra on highways 80, 50 and 88. The Highway Patrol was holding back trucks in both directions on Interstate 80. An avalanche warning closed part of highway 88 near the Kirkwood ski area.
In the Lake Tahoe area, up to 5 feet is expected in the higher elevations and close to 2 feet at the lake level, forecasters said.
And scenic Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast was closed at two locations due to storm conditions, Caltrans said.
Lightning strikes were spotted Wednesday off the coast and in parts of Point Reyes and San Mateo, according to the National Weather Service.
Thursday, “when there’s a more cold, unstable air mass around, we could see lots of reports of small hail,” Walbrun said.
Sarah Ravani, Gwendolyn Wu and Steve Rubenstein are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com Twitter: @SarRavani, @gwendolyawu, @SteveRubeSF
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Huge-storm-descends-on-Bay-Area-to-bring-rain-13538068.php.