Major delays, cancellations at SFO as rain, wind pummel Bay Area

The first rain of the year drenched the Bay Area on Saturday, bringing gusty winds that unleashed a travel nightmare at San Francisco International Airport.

Flights at the airport were delayed an average of two hours and 43 minutes in the morning, said Jeff Rocheford, a duty manager at SFO. By Saturday afternoon, 75 flights had been canceled and an additional 407 — both arrivals and departures — were delayed because of the wind, cutting half the airport’s operational capacity because planes cannot take off and land from certain directions.

San Jose International Airport was not impacted, said spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes.

The Coast Guard warned mariners and beachgoers of gale-force winds and a turbulent sea. Officials urged swimmers and surfers to stay out of the water because of rip currents and sneaker waves.

“We encourage boaters to only get underway if necessary,” Capt. Tony Ceraolo, commander of the San Francisco Coast Guard unit, said in a statement. “Mariners who need to get underway should make sure they check all their survival and safety equipment before going out.”

San Francisco firefighters helped rescue passengers aboard a pleasure craft in distress off the Oakland Estuary late Saturday morning. Officials said the boaters initially did not know where they were.

The wet forecast for the weekend and middle of the coming week is good news for California’s snow reserves, which were at 67 percent of normal before the weekend, said Brendon Rubin-Oster, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Three to 4 feet of snow are expected to bury some parts of the Sierra.

“It’ll do lots of good for the snowpack, but it’ll be a hindrance to travelers,” Rubin-Oster said.

The chilly system will bring snowfall down to an elevation of 3,500 feet. A second system will follow right in the first one’s wake, with slightly warmer conditions, meteorologists said.

California Department of Transportation officials warned drivers heading to the mountains to keep a full tank, drive slowly and carry tire chains. Forecasters said whiteout conditions were possible.

Because the rain will fall at a relatively slow pace through the weekend, it’s not expected to have major impacts on the burn scars in Butte County. But Rubin-Oster and other meteorologists were analyzing Saturday whether the charred land left from the Mendocino Complex Fire in 2018 could be an area of concern.

Officials issued a wind advisory for much of Northern California. Gusts were expected to reach up to 60 mph in the highest peaks and ridges, and San Francisco could experience gusts of 35 mph. Forecasters said the wind could sever tree limbs, blow debris and create difficult driving conditions.

Gusts in the Sierra were strong, too. They forced Heavenly Mountain Resort to put many of its upper mountain lifts on wind hold.

“People should be mindful that it’s going to be breezy out there,” said Roger Gass, also a National Weather Service meteorologist. “Overall, it’ll be a messy weekend.”

The coastal mountains of the North Bay are expected to get up to 3 inches of rain, the heaviest in the region, Gass said. San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and other cities could see up to an inch.

It wasn’t clear Saturday afternoon how much rain had fallen. The computer tool meteorologists use to check precipitation totals was inaccessible because of the partial government shutdown.

Storm conditions were exacerbated Saturday morning by high tides that swept waves onto the Embarcadero in San Francisco. City officials temporarily closed the right lane and Pier 14 because of flooding.

Kimberly Veklerov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @kveklerov

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