City workers load sandbags into Berkeley residents’ cars Tuesday afternoon at the city’s Corporation Yard at 1326 Allston Way, before the atmospheric river storm. Public works staffer Rigoberto Marquez (left) said there was more demand for sandbags Tuesday than he could remember in his 14-year career. Credit: Zac Farber

An atmospheric river of moisture flowing from the tropics to California is expected to bring 2 inches of rainfall to the Berkeley flats and 2.5 inches to the hills Wednesday and Thursday, accompanied by winds ranging up to 40 mph. The National Weather Service is warning of flooding and landslides. Other expected impacts include:

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  • Downed trees
  • Scattered power outages
  • Property damage to structures and vehicles
  • Impassable roads
  • Heavy surf on the coast

Thanks to a rainy December — especially the New Year’s Eve storm that gave the Oakland Museum weather station its wettest day on record, soils have already been moistened, increasing flooding and landslide concerns across the region.

“We’re not a dry sponge anymore,” NWS meteorologist Brayden Murdock said. “We’re losing that ability to absorb moisture and a lot of our waterways are still elevated from our last system.” 

Tilden and all other East Bay Regional Parks will be closed Wednesday and Thursday, as will the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.

Rain is expected to continue for at least 10 more days, increasing the threat of flooding and landslides.

The heaviest rain is expected to start around 8 p.m. Wednesday night, but you can expect some showers and thunderstorms Thursday, according to Murdock. The rain is expected to pause on Friday but will likely continue during the weekend, albeit less intense than this midweek storm. 

“It’s going to be as much of a wind event as it is a rain event,” Murdock said. We’ll “see our peak winds right before we start seeing our peak rains, so it’ll be an opportunity for a lot of those tree branches to fall and then … right behind it, strong winds while we’re getting soaked that could loosen up the soil with certain trees and have them topple over as well.”

The monitoring station at Berkeley Lab recorded 14 inches of rain between October and Jan. 1 — about 35% more than normal. Credit: Berkeley Lab

Meteorologists and public safety officials are urging people to stay home if possible on Wednesday and Thursday when the storm is at its most intense and to spend Tuesday preparing.

The storm over the weekend did not hit Berkeley as severely as it did other parts of the Bay, but the 5.5 inches of rainfall from Dec. 29-31 still caused the city’s creeks to rise above their banks (Codornices Creek swelled to over four times its normal height), water to pool in intersections, a handful of tree branches to fall (including one that damaged a car) and nearly 1,500 people to briefly lose power.

Wednesday and Thursday’s rain and wind is expected to equal or exceed the New Year’s Eve storm. On Monday, the National Weather Service called it “truly a brutal system” with the potential to cause “loss of human life.”

Storm preparation

Ben Lehman waits in a three-and-a-half-block line to pick up sandbags Tuesday afternoon to protect his mother’s home near the Claremont Hotel. Credit: Zac Farber

The city recommends residents protect their homes and businesses from flooding by clearing storm drains, cleaning gutters and downspouts. 

Volunteers with Berkeley’s adopt-a-drain program have access to the city’s reflective vests and garbage bags; there are currently around 30 storm drain volunteers, with new applications still being screened, albeit slowly due to staff vacancies. 

The city is operating an emergency shelter at the North Berkeley Senior Center (1901 Hearst Ave.).

Residents and businesses can call 311 (or 510-981-2489 after hours) to report storm-related issues “such as a clogged drain, culvert, inlet, or creek; a fallen tree or major limb; a malfunctioning traffic signal; or flooding that enters a travel lane.” If there’s a public works emergency, such as a toxic spill or sewer overflow, you can call 510-981-6620.

Severe storms often cause flooding in intersections and roadways in Berkeley. If you encounter a flooded road while driving, the city wants you to “turn around, don’t drown.” 

Berkeley residents can take sandbags for free from the city’s Corporation Yard at 1326 Allston Way, and people came out in droves on Tuesday afternoon, with a line of cars stretching three-and-a-half blocks east of the yard, nearly to Sacramento Street.

The city started the day with a few truckloads of sandbags on hand but soon ran out and public works staff started driving to Acapulco Rock & Soil in Richmond to refill.

Rigoberto Marquez, a public works staffer, said there was more demand for sand Tuesday than anytime in his 14-year career and that people were angry that the city had to limit the number of bags per household to five, instead of the usual 10.

In line to pick up a few bags was Cole Johnson, a software engineer who had been frustrated that water streamed through the glass doors of his South Berkeley ground-floor office on New Year’s Eve.

He said he hoped five sandbags would be enough to block the doors this time. He planned to spend the next few days holed up at home rewatching Top Gun Maverick and other movies.

Drought impact

The rain is a good sign for the drought in northern and central California, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

“This is really going to help a lot with the short-term drought in Northern California, and perhaps even erase short-term drought conditions,” Swain said during a Tuesday livestream, “but it’s going to take a lot more to completely obviate the longer-term, multi-year drought impacts, and in the broader Colorado River Basin context, this event isn’t going to do very much at all.”

This story was updated after publication.

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Darwin BondGraham

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham worked with The Appeal, where he was an investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence...

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Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...

Zac Farber

Before joining Berkeleyside as managing editor in April 2021, Zac was editor of the Southwest Journal, a 30,000-circulation biweekly community paper in Minneapolis, MN. While there, he led coverage of...