Raging winds from the third winter storm in a week triggered widespread outages Sunday for nearly 350,000 homes and businesses in Sacramento County — roughly half of all SMUD customers.
“Due to the severe weather, we’re experiencing many outages,” the Sacramento Municipal Utility District said in a social media post early Sunday morning. “Our crews are assessing the damage and working to restore power to impacted areas.”
Major outages were also reported in PG&E and Roseville Electric territories as a line of showers and thunderstorms rolled across the capital region, pushing winds beyond 60 mph in some locations. The National Weather Service warned against “venturing outdoors” as meteorologists said winds could reach 70 mph. The storm was expected to rake across Sacramento County through at least 3 a.m. Sunday, they said.
According to SMUD’s outage page, the raft of outages jostled the capital region around midnight and affected 345,086 SMUD customers as of 1:30 a.m., leaving no corner of SMUD’s 900-square-mile service area spared. The utility reported in 2020 that it has roughly 644,000 customers.
Most residents remained in the dark Sunday while SMUD crews worked to restore power. By 10:30 a.m., close to 100,000 homes and businesses were restored but about 260,000 were still offline.
“We understand the difficulty these storms have brought to our area,” SMUD said in a social media post. “Please know our crews are working as safely and quickly as possible to restore power to those that are impacted. Please be safe out there.”
The Sacramento Police Department issued an urgent message to residents waking up to outages and damage to use the appropriate numbers for assistance and not simply dial 911.
“As we continue to experience extreme weather events, we’d like to remind our community of the appropriate contact information for incidents you may experience,” police said in a statement around 9 a.m. “Utilizing the correct phone number will help ensure that we can continue to respond to emergency situations as quickly as possible.”
Police urged residents to call 311 for downed trees or flooding and to call SMUD for outages at 888-456-7683. For emergencies including sparking or downed wires, dial 911, the agency said.
Fallen tree kills homeless woman
At least one person was killed when a tree uprooted and fell on a woman in the River District, Sacramento Fire Department officials said.
The incident occurred around 6:45 p.m. Saturday on an American River levee along the 700 block of North 5th Street. Fire officials say the 40-year-old woman, who was homeless, was taken to a hospital but said later she had died from her injuries.
The death marked the seventh fatality from the series of storms that have lashed the region since New Year’s Eve.
During the first storm, three people — Steven Sampson, 45, of McAlester, Oklahoma; Mei Keng Lam, 57 of San Leandro; and Katherine Martinez, 61, of Orland — were killed after becoming stranded in floodwaters in south Sacramento County, and a 72-year-old man was killed by a falling tree in Santa Cruz. The second storm, which moved across Northern California on Wednesday, killed a 2-year-old boy when a tree landed on his family’s trailer near Occidental while a 19-year-old was killed after driving into standing water, hydroplaning and striking a tree in Fairfield.
Evacuations issued in Wilton
Meanwhile, Sacramento County emergency officials issued an evacuation warning for residents around Wilton, the area of south Sacramento County that saw significant flooding from last weekend’s storm.
“Beginning at 9:00 a.m., on Sunday, January 8, the Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services is warning those in the Wilton area to leave the area, now. Rising water may spill over onto the nearest roadways and cut off access to leave the area. Last weekend, exit routes flooded quickly for residents leaving Wilton, so we are urging residents to get out now while roads are still clear; don’t wait for an evacuation order.”
The advisory sets the evacuation area between Grant Line and Clay Station roads, from Jackson Road (Highway 16) to Arno, Alta Mesa and Twin Cities roads.
Downed trees blocking roads
Trees littered surface streets from midtown Sacramento’s thoroughfares to the boulevards of the eastern suburbs.
At Fair Oaks and Marchita Way, Kent Krumwiede was out early Sunday with a flashlight inspecting a eucalyptus tree that had fallen and blocked both sides of the four-lane road.
Krumwiede, 57, said the tree came down around midnight, just as the storm was smashing through the Carmichael area.
“It was like an explosion,” he said. “It’s been here over 100 years, maybe even longer.”
After hearing the tree fall, Krumwiede and another resident came out to try to warn motorists of the danger at the spot where speeders are notorious. Despite their efforts, at least three cars hit the tree, including a white Honda found later parked nearby with front-end damage and airbags deployed.
Krumwiede said the California Highway Patrol was on scene by then and the driver was taken away after a sobriety field test was administered. The tree was marked off early Sunday by road flares and barriers.
A quarter-mile northeast of that spot, another large tree was blocking a single lane of Fair Oaks at Shelfield Drive. Fallen trees could be seen throughout the area, and there was no sign of electricity to any of the homes or businesses nearby.
Along American River Drive, Derrick Sindayen was in his front yard in shorts and a jacket as the rain continued to fall around 7:30 a.m. He was inspecting the huge oak tree that once was the centerpiece of a neatly manicured lawn but now is dislodged with its roots showing and its trunk and branches resting on a stucco wall and Sindayen’s SUV.
“It was a beautiful tree,” he said, adding that he learned it had fallen when a neighbor texted him. He was still uncertain early Sunday whether his Cadillac Escalade had suffered any damage or was just covered by oak branches. “That’s what insurance is for.”
In Campus Commons, Ron Berkan was inspecting his 2003 Mercedes-Benz sedan, which was parked under a huge piece of redwood tree that apparently had snapped off from across the street, smashing his windshield and hood. Berkan, 84, said he discovered the damage after his wife heard the storm winds and came out to look.
“My wife heard the noise, the winds last night, and she described the damage a little worse than what I’m seeing right here,” he said.
Berkan said he was not overly concerned about the damage as he swept windshield glass off the driver seat, then fired up the engine and backed out from under the debris.
“I tell people, whatever’s happened has happened.”
Areas most affected by outages
The hardest-hit areas of the outage included the county’s northern suburbs: Over 45,000 were out in Arden Arcade, more than 16,000 in the dark in North Highlands and roughly 50,000 customers disconnected in Rio Linda and Elverta. Most of the outages occurred around 11:30 p.m. as winds peaked and several bolts of lightning were observed in the sky. Thousands more people were cut off in parts of Carmichael, Orangevale, Citrus Heights and Antelope.
Downtown, midtown, East Sacramento and the city’s neighborhoods sound of Highway 50 — Land Park, Curtis Park, Oak Park, South Land Park and areas around Executive Airport — were also without electricity.
As of 1 a.m., the largest outages were being reported in the following areas (note that some areas named by SMUD’s outage page cover wider neighborhoods and regions):
- Arden Arcade, 46,495
- Carmichael, 17,909
- Citrus Heights, 45,214
- Courtland, 18,429
- Downtown Sacramento, 13,470
- East Sacramento, 7,791
- Elk Grove, 18,860
- Executive Airport, 36,637
- Fair Oaks, 1,765
- Florin, 38,290
- Folsom, 380
- Galt, 1,392
- Land Park, 1,828
- North Highlands, 16,561
- North Natomas, 5,838
- North Sacramento, 6,669
- Oak Park, 2,877
- Pocket/Greenhaven, 2,376
- Rancho Cordova, 4,889
- Rio Linda, 50,697
In Pacific Gas & Electric Co. territory, a vast service area including Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties, roughly some outages also were being reported.
In Yolo County, more than 25,000 customers were without power at 8 a.m. while another 17,000 were in the dark in El Dorado County. Nearly 5,000 customers in Placer County homes and businesses were offline, the utility reported to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Across its entire territory across Northern and Central California, as many as 137,000 homes and businesses were affected. Outages were most severe for PG&E in San Joaquin County, where about 33,000 ratepayers were offline.
In addition to SMUD and PG&E outages, roughly 1,500 customers in the Roseville Electric service area, a city-operated utility, were severed from the grid. By 8:30 a.m., only 120 customers remained disconnected.
Wind gusts reached 72 mph at SMF
The outage came as winds reached peak gusts of 72 mph at Sacramento International Airport at 12:03 a.m., National Weather Service officials reported. Significant gusts were also tallied at McClellan Airport (68 mph), Sacramento Executive Airport (67 mph), near the former Sleep Train Arena in North Natomas (65 mph) and Mather Airport (64 mph). Most areas of Sacramento had gusts of at least 30 mph between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., according to weather service data.
Yolo County’s highest gusts reached 68 mph Washington Lake, while record gusts were observed in Yuba County at Pike County Lookout (63 mph), San Joaquin County at Stockton Airport (58 mph), Lincoln Airport on Placer County’s west slope (60 mph) and in Cameron Park and Kyburz Pass in El Dorado County (61 mph).
Radio traffic from the California Highway Patrol and the Sacramento Police Department indicated several power poles in the area snapped or had fallen on roadways. Nearly 50 reports of downed power lines or other electrical emergencies were reported to the Sacramento Regional Fire/EMS Communications Center between 11:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. while the CHP’s incident page was awash in more than 70 active incidents at 1 a.m. for emergencies ranging from defective traffic signals to roadway debris and other traffic hazards.
SMUD had warned customers that more outages were possible as the third “atmospheric river” storm to hit the Sacramento region in a week’s time could bring down power lines and force tree branches into wires.
“When storms knock out power, SMUD works around-the-clock to restore electric service as safely and as quickly as possible,” the utility said in a news release ahead of the storms late last month. “Customers are encouraged to report outages at smud.org/Outages where they can quickly and easily monitor the cause of the outage and see when power will be restored.”
The National Weather Service predicted the Valley could get between 4 and 7 inches of rain from through Wednesday afternoon across “multiple” winter storms, the strongest of which are expected to arrive Monday.
Outages were ‘near certain’ despite preparation
In preparation for storms, SMUD said last week that it had partnered with “other local utilities and contract crews” to double the number of crews on standby to repair power lines. The utility said it had also “requested additional mutual aid crews from across the U.S. to help with power restoration.”
Still, SMUD warned customers that “extended outages are near certain” if heavy winds returned.
And the utility’s resources were taxed by the outages — the utility apologized on social media Sunday as its website became slow to load and customers struggled to reach them by phone.
“I’m sorry you’re having a hard time getting through,” SMUD said in a Twitter post at 12:20 a.m. “Please continue trying to reach us via the outage page and/or 1-888-456-SMUD. We have crews assessing reported outages and will begin working to get power restored as soon as possible.”
According to SMUD, more than 180,000 customers lost power during the New Year’s Eve storm, which brought strong winds to the capital region and led to flooding in parts of south Sacramento County.
The utility said the Dec. 31 storm blew down more than 120 poles while power lines were taken down by at least 115 downed trees. Sacramento County officials on Thursday said county workers had received reports of more than 300 downed trees since New Year’s Eve.
The Bee’s Dominique Williams and Maggie Angst contributed to this story.
This story was originally published January 8, 2023 12:21 AM.