Steady rain fell in Northern California and fresh snow blanketed the Sierra Nevada as the first of several powerful storms expected to slam Western states this weekend made its way inland Saturday, ending a dry spell and raising hopes the drought-stricken state can get much needed precipitation.
Droves of snowboarders, skiers and sledders packed Sierra slopes while tourists braved wet weather and visited San Francisco landmarks before the arrival of a blustery storm forecast for later in the day.
Forecasters warned the rain and snow will be accompanied by gusty winds, possibly up to 60 mph. The weather service said a seven-day total could approach 20 inches of rain in Northern California and up to three inches in the southern end of the state, where rain is expected to arrive Sunday.
Bob Benjamin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service said the agency has issued a wind advisory beginning at noon on Saturday with winds expected to be around 15 to 20 mph and gusts up to 50 mph.
Saturday's wet weather delayed 320 flights arriving at San Francisco International Airport and led to 68 cancellations. Meanwhile, 13 flights were delayed out of Mineta San José International Airport and 15 at Oakland International Airport.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, travelers should check with their airlines before heading to airports.
The strong winds brought down trees and power lines leading to scattered power outages, officials said, urging people to stay away from downed power lines.
PG&E officials said an estimated 8,444 customers had lost electricity at some point by Saturday afternoon. By Saturday night, that number had soared to the tens of thousands.
Downed trees were reported in Lafayette, Marin, Novato, Hillsborough, Campbell, Pacifica, Redwood City, and San Ramon — where it fell on police property — and other Bay Area cities. Downed lines were found in San Jose and Valley Ford.
Meanwhile, Los Gatos, Oakland and Yuba County officials reported flooding.
The Great Highway, on the west side of San Francisco, was also closed due to flooding, public works officials said. The closure was reported at 7:33 p.m. via Twitter.
Trafffic lanes on both sides of Highway 101, north of Tiburon Boulevard, in Mill Valley were also closed Saturday night due to low-hanging telephone lines over the road, Marin County sheriff's officials said.
On the Peninsula, Pacifica has declared a state of emergency because of El Niño-fueled high surf and coastal erosion.
However, some people like longtime Pacifica resident Rod Hall came out to enjoy the rain any way.
"It's looking like it's going to be pretty exciting this evening," he said.
Hall also acknowledged that the wet weather hasn’t been all too friendly to the city’s residents. And judging by the sandbags in front of nearby homes, his neighbors agree.
"This is just hammering the coast line," he said. "You're losing the apartments up north here. You got the hole in the wall there."
Officials said Saturday that two red-tagged oceanfront apartment complexes on the 300 block of Esplanade Avenue, empty since 2010 and now threatened by crumbling cliffs, will be demolished Tuesday.
"There's concern [about] what the city and the state and the feds are going to do to put serious sea walls into place," Hall said.
Heavy rain also pelted Palo Alto and Menlo Park, renewing concerns about the San Francisquito creek overflowing.
The creek bed was recently cleaned, but residents, including Katharina Glaser of Menlo Park, remember when it flooded in 1998, sending water rushing into nearly 400 homes.
"I think it is a lot more," the Menlo Park resident said. "Last I checked, it was just a trickle of water a bottom of the creek."
Water moved swiftly through the creek Sunday, but neighbors complained that some people dumped their Christmas trees into the creek bed, which they are afraid might clog it. Others were worried about the stretch of the creek that goes under the narrow Pope-Chaucer Street Bridge given that the Bay Area is expecting more rain Sunday and localized flooding poses a threat overnight.
In San Francisco, the city's Public Utilities Commission said 400 feet of plastic, water-filled flood barriers have been placed on the sidewalks alongs two blocks near 17th and Folsom streets. The temporary barrier, which was used to "minimize the impact of intense storms," cost $165,000, according to a news statement.
"We recognize the tremendous disruption localized flooding can have on our customers during extreme rain events," SFPUC's General Manager Harlan Kelly said.
The commission is also exploring a $250 million project with long-term solutions to flooding at 17th and Folsom streets in the Mission District, Cayuga Avenue and Alemany Boulevard in the Outer Mission, and 15th Avenue and Wawona Street in the West Portal neighborhood.
San Francisco officials also set up two pop-up shelters for homeless people Saturday. One is located inside the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and the other in the County Fair Building by Golden Gate Park. Together, they can accommodate about 225 people.
Existing shelters are at capacity, officials said, and the temporary locations allow people to get out of the rain and stay warm and dry. Medical teams are on hand to assess homeless people who stop by the sites.
Back in the Sierras, the Sugar Bowl ski resort near Donner Summit reported 7 inches of new snow at the summit overnight and slopes full of people Saturday.
"When it snows people are anxious to get up here and get to those fresh tracks,'' said Lloyd Garden, Sugar Bowl's marketing coordinator. "Die-hards love to ski when it's snowing. It's very peaceful, it's quiet and the turns are fresh and great.''
Flash flood watches were to go into effect in the state's far northwestern and central areas as well as the Sierra Nevada, where snow totals could range from 2 feet to 4 feet at elevations above 8,000 feet. Sierra snow levels will lower to near 4,000 feet by Sunday, forecasters said.
The Sierra snowpack, which normally stores about 30 percent of California's water supply, was only 83 percent of the March 1 average when it was measured earlier this week. That's much better than a year earlier, but after years of drought nearly all the state's major reservoirs hold far less water than average by this time of year, the Department of Water Resources said.