Major flooding in Sonoma County

Heavy flooding from a large winter storm greatly impacted Sonoma County last week, flooding the Russian River area, shutting down businesses, creating mudslides, fallen trees and road closures.

On Wednesday, Feb. 27, the entire town of Guerneville was flooded, where residents were ordered to evacuate.

The water level of the Russian River reached 45 feet, well above the 32-foot flood level. This led to Guerneville becoming virtually an island, as the city was inundated by brown river water. Rescue boats and resident canoes patrolled roads turned rivers.

The flooding prompted California Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency.

Guerneville, pictured above, experienced the worst of the damage from the rising Russian River water level.

Guerneville, pictured above, experienced the worst of the damage from the rising Russian River water level.

“Repetitive atmospheric river storm systems continue to cause widespread impacts throughout California; and these conditions require continual emergency response, including significant flood fight, repair, reconstruction work, and debris removal…I find that conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property exist due to the winter storms,” the proclamation stated. 

County Supervisor David Rabbitt announced the county’s staggering damage assessment of the flood on Facebook on March 2. They estimate a total of $155 million in countywide flood damages. Approximately 1,760 houses and 545 took “major damage,” according to Rabbitt.

Beyond the Russian River area, many cities across the county dealt with the effects of the atmospheric river, even those that weren’t necessarily in flood-prone areas. Seventeen school districts closed 45 campuses, according to the Press Democrat. This means over 12,000 kids stayed home from school. Rancho Cotate High School, adjacent to Sonoma State, was closed after the campus lost power.Traveling was increasingly dangerous and time-consuming with cars stuck trying to cross flooded roads, and major commuter arteries closed by fallen trees. 

After floodwaters receded, a large-scale cleanup of left-behind mud and debris began.

The Press Democrat reported how this latest North Bay disaster underscores the growing need for flood insurance, which home and business owners must buy separately from property insurance. The Press Democrat reported that policy premiums often start at $325 a year and go up to $500 or more. Twenty percent of policyholders live outside of flood prone areas according to The Press Democrat.

Another storm is expected to hit the Bay Area this week, according to the National Weather Service. Although most of the rain is expected to fall south of the area in Central California, the North Bay is still expected to get roughly an inch and a half of rain, depending on the area. This is nothing compared to the five and a half inches Santa Rosa saw on Feb. 26, the day serious flooding began. It was the rainiest day in Santa Rosa’s history.