Blasting out of the Pacific, the third and most powerful "Pineapple Express" storm of the week swept over the Bay Area Sunday morning, dumping heavy rain on a region already soaked to the roots and reeling from power outages and flooding.
"It's a mess," said CHP Officer James Evans. "We've got flooding everywhere."
The triple whammy toppled trees and power lines, snarled traffic, caused accidents on slippery roadways and cut electrical power to about 297,000 customers in the region, including BART riders who were stranded on subway cars during a harrowing, one-hour outage early Sunday morning.
Measured by rainfall and wind, this was one of the most powerful storm events since October 2009, said Jan Null,a meteorologist with the Golden Gate Weather Services. Pineapple Express is a term for warm weather fronts that start in the southwest Pacific and head toward California. This one started north of Hawaii, Null said.
"It was a pretty significant series of storms," he said. The storms actually swept through over a five-day period from Wednesday to Sunday, allowing some time for drowning areas to drain out. "If we had no breaks, it could have been worse."
After the first two storms saturated Bay Area flatlands and hillsides late last week, the National Weather Service issued flash-flood warnings over the weekend for Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties, including Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, after as much as one inch of rain per
And some of those predictions came true: On Sunday morning, authorities in Santa Cruz reported trees into power lines at several spots throughout the county. There were also two rock slides on Highway 17 -- the narrow, winding connecting road between San Jose and Santa Cruz.
The first slide was near Sugar Loaf Road and the second was reported at Glenwood Cutoff. Both required work but no major problems resulted.
Although the Santa Cruz Mountains saw the most heavy rainfall, no part of the Bay Area was spared from the storms and the treacherous driving conditions they created.
BART trains stopped running around 9:18 a.m. after a power outage at its main control center, said Bart police Lt. Randy Gregson. At that point, the transit agency could not communicate with or track its trains. Service resumed about an hour later but it was not clear what knocked out the power or why the backup system did not kick in. Service was knocked out again about 2 p.m. but restored within about 15 minutes, BART officials said.
At about the same time as the BART outage, three firefighters and a motorist they were helping on Highway 24 in Orinda were seriously injured when another driver lost control in the rain, slammed into a parked fire engine and rolled into the victims.
Paramedics took the firefighters to John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek, where they were in serious but stable condition, according to the Moraga-Orinda Fire District. Two of the firefighters will require surgery. The motorist they were helping suffered critical injuries.
In Palo Alto, Oregon Expressway was closed because of flooding at the Alma Street underpass. But the deluge spared areas of the city that flooded in February 1998, the last big El Niño year. While water levels in the four creeks passing through the city rose steadily Sunday morning, none -- including the narrow channel of San Francisquito Creek under the Chaucer Street bridge -- reached flood stage. However, residents in South Palo Alto braved cascading rain to rake mountains of leaves clogging storm drains. Ponds of water partly covered several streets and parking lots.
The third storm blew a big rig off its wheels in the eastbound lanes of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Winds may also have contributed to a fatal crash involving three cars on northbound Interstate 280 in Daly City. Authorities have identified the woman killed as 27-year-old Lauren Delos Reyes of Daly City.
In San Francisco, water reportedly flooded the tracks at Muni's Church Street station about 8:40 a.m. Sunday, and riders were shuttled from West Portal to Embarcadero until about 1 p.m. while water was pumped from the station.
Some good news
PG&E, the main supplier of electricity in the area, reported that power had been restored to 96 percent of those affected since Wednesday. By Sunday night, about 20,900 customers, including 4,220 in the Bay Area, still had no power. The utility said it had 2,000 emergency workers in the field, but their work was slowed by rain blowing sideways into their faces and equipment. All power is expected to be restored Monday, according to PG&E.
The good news for a region officially still in a drought is that rainfall nudged slightly above average for the season that started July 1. For example, San Jose has had 3.91 inches of rain, which is above its average of 2.93 inches, said National Weather Service forecaster Diana Henderson. San Francisco has had a whopping 7.92 inches compared to an average of 4.68 inches.
For Monday, the National Weather Service station in Monterey forecast partly cloudy skies for most of the Bay Area, with light winds and daytime temperatures in the lower 60s.
The rest of the week should bring mostly cloudy skies and a chance of rain, but nothing like the triple-storm that just passed. The skies should clear up next weekend but high temperatures should remain in the mid-60s and drop into the upper 40s at night.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767. Follow him at Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.