An atmospheric river in the skies above means flooding for actual rivers down below

Sandbag Station Sign
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Days of heavy rain–the result of what meteorologists are calling an atmospheric river—are causing flooding all over California. The northern part of the state is particularly hard hit, with many rivers at or near flood stage. On Thursday, February 14, this included both the Napa and Russian Rivers, in the wine country north of San Francisco. The Russian River is a particular concern, as it is forecasted to keep rising through Friday the 15th, eventually cresting 6 feet above flood stage.

The rain is expected to continue through February 16, though trouble may persist longer than that due to the fact that the current storm is a relatively warm one, causing heavy Sierra snow that fell earlier in the month to melt. And all that water doesn’t have much other place to go—the northern part of the state has received more than twice the normal amount of rain for the first half of February (nearly 5.5 inches in San Francisco, for example, where average is just under 2 inches), and the ground is too saturated to absorb more.

If you’re traveling to any part of Northern California this week, you’ll definitely want to pack with any eye toward the weather—it will be wet. In addition, check for flight delays and cancellations, which are occurring all over the state. SFO alone reported that about 100 flights were cancelled Thursday.

Once you’ve arrived, use extreme caution while driving. In addition to rain and flooding, much of California is experiencing high winds. That means possible downed trees and powerlines on top of possible flash floods, making for epically bad motoring this week. Road closures are a major concern—track them here.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that winter rains and high water are a fact of life in Napa and Sonoma Counties, and life usually goes on with minimal disruption. Schools may be closed, but wine tasting abides. Calls to three Russian River-area wineries, for example—Porter-Bass, in Guerneville; Rochioli, in Healdsburg; and Merry Edwards, in Sebastopol–revealed that all are open for tastings and none expects any serious damage to vines.

As for tourist attractions, call ahead to be sure they’re open, but rain doesn’t stop much in Northern California. You may not get the best view ever from the Golden Gate Bridge or Alcatraz this week, for example, but both are open for business as usual—just a little wetter.


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