The winter storm pummeling the Sacramento and San Joaquin regions over New Year’s weekend meant many entered 2023 without power, and the following weekend saw even more power outages — with over 350,000 SMUD customers losing power at one point — along with downed trees and flooding.
The storms this past weekend also resulted in two Sacramento County casualties, with both people unhoused at their time of death: Rebekah Rohde, 40, and Steven Sorensen, 61. Both were found with trees atop their tents.
That follows the other three deaths reported from the New Year’s weekend storms, with two people found near Dillard Road in south Sacramento and one person found in Galt, sites of Cosumnes River flooding.
Sacramento County declared a local state of emergency on Dec. 31, and San Joaquin County followed suit on Jan. 1. On Monday morning, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in California to authorize disaster relief efforts coordinated by FEMA in response to the storms, following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s declaration of emergency on Jan. 4.
But the inclement weather isn’t finished: Wednesday is seeing the tail end of an atmospheric river, and another storm system will move through the region this weekend.
The National Weather Service still has a flood watch in place for much of northern California through Thursday morning.
The weather service is also forecasting moderate snow for the Sierras until 4 a.m. on Thursday.
Here’s what to know about preparing for the storm, including how to prepare for power outages and potential flooding, along with where to stay updated on weather and road conditions.
What should I do to prepare for a power outage?
Before an outage: Take inventory of the items you have that rely on electricity and keep all electronic devices fully charged while you still have power. It’s a good idea to get the following when anticipating an outage:
- Extra batteries
- Alternative power sources (like portable chargers and power banks — don’t forget to charge them now!)
- Flashlights for each member of the household
- Non-perishable food
- Bottled water
While candles can be helpful, they can also cause house fires, so be mindful if planning to use them.
Create a power outage plan with your medical provider, if possible, for any assistive devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines.
During an outage:
Report the outage to your power provider. SMUD’s outage reporting hotline is 1-888-456-7683, though you can also report an outage through logging in and selecting “Report an outage” or going to smud.org/outages and selecting “Report an outage.”
PG&E’s outage reporting hotline is 1-888-743-4743, though you can also report an outage online.
SMUD has FAQs addressing questions ranging from “My power’s out, what do I do?” to “Do you fix outages in the order they were received?”
PG&E has a similar FAQ, with more information about its outage compensation program — if your power is out for 48 hours or longer, you may be eligible to get between an automatic reimbursement of $25-100 sixty to 120 days after the outage.
If you’re planning to use a generator, make sure to use one outdoors and at least 20 feet away from windows, and don’t use a gas stove to heat your home.
Unplug devices from outlets or make sure they’re turned off to prevent any damage from sudden electronic surges if power comes back on unexpectedly.
Keep your fridge closed — an unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for 4 hours if power is lost, and an unopened, full freezer will keep its temperature for 48 hours in case of a power outage.
After an outage: If refrigerated and frozen food has been exposed to 40 degree temperatures for more than 2 hours, or smells or looks unusual, toss it. Discard any medication that should be refrigerated if power is out for more than a day, unless someone’s life depends on it — in that case, use medicine only until a new supply is available and consult a health professional.
For more information about preparing for a power outage, visit ready.gov/power-outages.
How can I prepare for a flood?
Before a flood: Assess flood risk to your home.
Homeowners insurance typically doesn’t cover flooding, and flood insurance must be purchased separately through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. If you decide to get it, keep in mind the insurance kicks in 30 days after purchase — so before an imminent storm is already too late.
While the FEMA has an interactive flood map that shows the risk of flooding in your area, some maps are not recent, so your local government may have more up-to-date information.
The city of Sacramento has a flood information hotline, 916-808-5061, and an email address, [email protected], where residents can ask for more information about the possibility of a flood.
San Joaquin County has an interactive map showing zones that are at higher risk of flooding.
If your home has elevated flood risk, look for evacuation maps that detail potential routes and plan ahead to relocate to higher ground.
“Generally, you will not need to drive for hours to be safe if a levee falls,” the city of Sacramento’s evacuation information page reads. “You only need to get to high ground.”
In case you’re ordered to evacuate, make an emergency kit for your home and car; store items in airtight plastic bags and put them in one or two easy-to-carry containers. Otherwise, gather important documents in a waterproof container and move them to higher ground.
Here are some key items ready.gov suggests to include in said kit:
- Water (one gallon per person, for drinking and sanitation)
- Food (a several day supply of non-perishable food)
- Battery-powered radio
- First aid kit
- Extra batteries
- A whistle
- Masks (for dust and COVID-19 protection)
- Local maps
- Personal hygiene items
- Portable charger and cables
- Any necessary medication (prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins)
- Warm blankets
- Copies of any important documents in a waterproof container
- Birth certificate
- Insurance policies
- Bank account records
- Pet vaccination and veterinary records
- Pet food and water
- A leash and collar for each dog evacuating with you
- A carrier for each other animal evacuating
Make sure any debris is cleared from gutters and downspouts to prevent water from accumulating. You can also surround your property with sandbags, which can act as a barrier to divert water around a building. This video has instructions on how to fill a sandbag at a self-serve location.
Sacramento County currently has five sandbag locations, with a 20-bag limit; they’re all self-serve and require residents to bring their own shovel:
- Sacramento: County Branch Center, 3847 Branch Center Rd.
- Orangevale: Orangevale Community Center, 6826 Hazel Ave.
- Elk Grove: Point Pleasant United Methodist Church, 3329 Point Pleasant Rd.
- Rio Linda: Westside Park, 6555 West 2nd St.
- Wilton: Wilton Fire Station, 10661 Alta Mesa Rd.
You can check the status of the county’s sandbag locations here.
San Joaquin County’s sandbag locations:
- Tracy: Boyd Service Center, 520 Tracy Blvd., Gate #1 (self-serve area, limit of 10 bags)
- Manteca: 210 E. Wetmore St., Southeast parking lot (self-serve area)
- Lathrop: Manuel Valverde Park parking lot, 15557 5th St. (self-serve area)
- Thorton: 12449 W. Walnut Grove Rd.
- Stockton (both locations are self-serve andrequire residents to bring their own shovels):
- Oak Park Little League parking lot, 3545 Alvarado Ave.
- (Former) Van Buskirk Golf Course, 1740 Houston Ave.
Sandbags are also available at the following fire districts throughout the county: Farmington, Waterloo-Morada, Mokolumne, French Camp, Lathrop-Manteca, Linden Peters, Woodbridge, Clements, Acampo, Mountain House, Ripon, South County Fire-New Jerusalem Station 93.
During a flood: Stay updated with emergency broadcasts via radio or alerts via official social media accounts; depending on the type of flooding, you will have to evacuate, stay where you are or move to higher ground.
If evacuating, do not walk, swim or drive through standing water — turn around and take an alternate route.
After a flood: Avoid driving except in emergencies and if evacuated, only return to your home when safe to do so. Steer clear of standing water, which may be contaminated, contain debris and/or carry electrical charge. During clean-up, wear heavy work gloves, protective clothing and boots, along with masks, if cleaning mold or heavy debris.
If I’m worried about damage to my home or car, what should I do?
Insurance company representatives recommend taking a home inventory before any natural disaster, storms included, that could impact your property.
“That’s simply walking around your home with a smartphone, and documenting with either pictures or videos all of your belongings,” State Farm representative Amy Harris explained. “Anything from your garage, to your bedrooms, to your backyard, making sure it's documented — what you have, what the value is.”
In the case you have to file an insurance claim, that inventory will help speed up the claim and make it clear how damage affected your home or car.
What should I do if I need to travel for work in this weather?
With heavy winds accompanying the incoming storm, there’s an increased possibility of downed trees and downed power lines, noted Matt Robinson, a spokesperson for Sacramento County.
“We can’t predict where the water is going to go,” he said. “The public needs to be aware that this storm isn’t going to be like the last one. It’s going to be a little more tricky.”
The National Weather Service urges travelers to turn around if they encounter standing water to avoid drowning, to plan alternate travel routes if some cross bodies of water and to be especially cautious when driving at night.
Six inches of moving water can knock you down, and 1 foot of moving water can sweep a vehicle away; stay in your vehicle if water is rising, and if water begins to fill the vehicle, get onto the vehicle’s roof.
“We want to make sure that the public takes the precautions necessary because we've had a lot of water rescues in the area from the previous storms,” Robinson said.
If traveling through an area experiencing a winter storm warning, the weather service cautions that there may be near white-out conditions and widespread blowing snow during the drive.
During a press conference Jan. 4, Sean Duryee, acting commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, urged people who are traveling through said weather to check their tires and windshield wipers before heading out into stormy weather.
“Make sure you have significant tread and that you can travel safely and your tires are inflated properly,” he said. “Either carry chains with you or have studded tires.
“Your ability to safely stop and avoid hazards or collision is drastically reduced on wet or icy roadways, so please slow down,” Duryee added.
What is the government doing to prepare?
State and local governments are bracing for more powerful storms and are working to keep communities safe.
In Sacramento County, officials are assessing damage, evaluating flood levels and monitoring people who are still flooded.
At the state level, Brian Ferguson, who is deputy director of crisis communications for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said teams have been working to rescue, prepare and support.
“We have a plan not just for what's happening this week, but what may come,” he said.
The state is “making sure we're talking closely with our colleagues at the Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Water Resources, in terms of what our reservoirs look like, so that there's ample room, and if we need to make releases, we're able to do that in a way that doesn't cause downstream impacts or exacerbate the existing flood conditions.”
Ferguson compared these storms to the 2017 crisis at the Oroville Dam, where damage prompted nearly 200,000 residents to evacuate.
While its teams “don’t have control of Mother Nature,” he said the state aims to have “every asset” at its disposal to respond to any crisis scenario.
“This sort of cycle's not unique in California, but it doesn't make it any less challenging,” he said. “And so, trying to learn from those past experiences and be a little bit better and hopefully keep people safe when the weather changes.”
What about debris, leaves, fallen trees?
It’s also that time of the year when residents clear yard waste, get rid of those last fallen leaves — and recycle Christmas trees.
In the city of Sacramento, a front-loaded tractor that residents affectionately refer to as “The Claw” is helping with the work, rain or shine. It picks up leaves and yard waste this time of year at many, but not all, residences.
The Claw currently is running a bit behind, though, which a city spokesperson says is normal this time of year, due to the winter storms and the wet weather making leaf piles heavier. (You can find the latest estimates when The Claw will serve your neighborhood here.)
The Claw does at least seven leaf pickups each fall and winter season, but can extend that number up to nine, as needed. It is now going about its sixth round of collections. Crews work on a rotating basis, visiting more than 90 city “zones,” and only beginning a new round or rotation after The Claw has gone to every neighborhood.
Leaf pickup season starts in November and extends into the fourth week of January. During this period, if residents have too much yard waste for their weekly bin, then can pile leaves and branches on the street in front of their homes. You can input your home address in the city’s collection calendar to determine if The Claw will pick up leaves and yard waste at your home.
The piles should be no larger than 4-by-4-by-9 feet, and need to be 6 feet from vehicles. It’s important to not put your leaves in the gutter or near the curb; this can block water flow to storm drains and, during heavy rain, could cause flooding.
The leaf pile is for leaves, branches and yard waste. It is not for food or food waste, or your dog’s poop bags.
Residents who are eligible for leaf pickup (again, you can find out here) also can add their Christmas tree to their next leaf pile. The trees must be in their natural state — no ornaments, tinsel or flocking — and should be cut into 3-foot-long segments. That said, it may be wise to not put Christmas trees out during this week’s major storms, due to extreme winds. If you miss your home’s pickup, you can still recycle your tree by either cutting it into pieces and putting it in your yard waste bin, or by dropping it at one of several locations.
Who should I call if I see a downed tree? A downed power line?
There are separate numbers to call for different incidents — for example, flooded roads and downed trees can be reported via the same number, while downed power lines, which may still be live, need to be reported elsewhere. You can check your county website for more information.
CapRadio also put together a guide for what to do (and what not to) in case a tree damages your car, your business or where you live.
Here are the numbers for Sacramento, San Joaquin and Yolo counties:
- To report a downed tree or road flooding, call 311.
- To report a downed power line, call 911.
San Joaquin County:
- To report a downed tree or road flooding:
- Tracy: Call 209-831-6300 or, if after hours, 209-831-6550. Reports can also be made via the GoRequest app or by emailing [email protected]
- Stockton: Call 209-937-8341.
- Lathrop: Call Public Works at 209-941-7430 or Maintenance Services (streets, roads and parks) at 209-941-7372 or, if after hours, 209-992-0028. Reports can also be made via the website and the Lathrop Cares app (iPhone | Android)
- Lathrop Irrigation District: Residents in the River Islands Master Planned Community can call 209-888-4799 or, if after hours, 209-561-1428.
- Lodi: Call 209-368-5735 (option 2).
- Manteca: Call 209-456-8101. Reports can also be made via the City of Manteca GoGov app (iPhone | Android)
- Unincorporated County: Call 209-468-3074.
- To report a downed power line, call 911.
- To report a downed tree, call 211.
- To report a hazardous road condition, call 530-666-8811 or, if after hours, call 530-666-8920.
- To report a downed power line, call 911 and PG&E at 1-800-743-5002.
Resources for emergency alerts, area weather updates
While Sacramento and San Joaquin counties have declared states of emergency in response to the storm, there have also been power outages in Yolo County, from Woodland to Davis and Knights Landing. You can sign up for alerts in each county here:
For updates on highway conditions:
For updates on weather conditions:
Power outage maps:
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