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SF officials warn of flooding, power outages as storm approaches

Executive Director of the Department of Emergency Management Mary Ellen Carroll speaks at a press conference at San Francisco City Hall with other city utility and emergency service leaders, on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, to address the New Years Eve storm, and the upcoming atmospheric river storm, which is predicted to overwhelm the city services, cause flooding, transit delays, and power outages. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

With a potentially historic storm on the way, city officials are scrambling to prepare for flooding and telling San Francisco residents to hunker down.

The latest forecasts predict several inches of rain and wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour Wednesday afternoon, and city leaders asked residents to stay at home if possible and said they’re preparing for the worst.

Flooding over the New Year's holiday weekend overwhelms Folsom and 18th streets. | Courtesy of El Tepa Taqueria.

Mary Ellen Carroll, head of the Department of Emergency Management, said she expects widespread flooding and downed trees that may knock out power in the city. City leaders from the fire and emergency departments are urging residents to call 911 only for life-threatening situations and 311 for all other issues.

“We know that it’s more than our storm systems can handle,” Carroll said.

Breed said the city was not expecting such a severe storm over the holiday weekend because forecasts showed only around half an inch of rain, while the reality was closer to 5.5 inches in a 24-hour period—the second-highest amount of rain recorded in a day, topped only by city records set in 1849, Breed said.

“This water is coming down fast,” said Mayor London Breed at a press conference on Tuesday. “A lot of this may be out of our control.” 

The city will open an emergency operations center beginning Wednesday morning that will stay open as long as needed, Carroll said. Residents who have experienced flooding in the past are encouraged to pick up five sandbags each at 2323 Cesar Chavez St. 

Schools are set to remain open, but Breed said to expect delays on public transportation. BART officials said on Tuesday they don’t expect to close any stations

Despite efforts by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to prepare for major rain events, General Manager Dennis Herrera said the city’s infrastructure is no match for more intense storms brought on by climate change.

City leaders called on residents to stock up on supplies, check in on neighbors and family and to clear storm drains and gutters in preparation for a “new normal” type of extreme storm.

“The planet is changing,” Carroll said. “This is the reality, and it’s not only in San Francisco. […] It’s a whole new world.”