One day after Mayor London Breed accused the National Weather Service (NWS) of misleading city officials into a false sense of security ahead of a New Year’s Eve storm, the agency has shot back, claiming it gave San Francisco considerable warning—well over a week in advance, in fact.
“We were under the impression [by the National Weather Service] that we could anticipate not even an inch of rain [that weekend],” Breed said at an emergency press conference Tuesday afternoon. “The information we had was not sufficient in helping us prepare in the capacity we needed to respond to this issue.”
But according to communications shared with The Standard, the NWS had alerted local officials and broadcast media as far back as Dec. 21 of “a significant rain event that would bring high impacts and hazardous conditions.”
Susan Buchanan, a spokesperson for the National Weather Service, said that forecasters even emailed daily briefings to the Mayor’s Office and attended the virtual citywide planning meeting for New Year’s Eve on Dec. 28.
By Dec. 29, NWS raised the threat level for heavy rain on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco to high—forecasting for 2 to 3 inches of rain, with the potential for up to 6 inches in surrounding areas.
Then, a day before the massive storm arrived, it warned: “This will be a dynamic and potent system … Expect rain rates to intensify, with periods of heavy rain to develop overnight tonight and through midday on New Year’s Eve.”
Reached for comment Wednesday evening, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (SFDEM) told The Standard that "The National Weather Service is an important and valued partner, and we want to thank their dedicated staff for all that they do. It’s a difficult job, and they do it well and with incredible professionalism. As emergency managers, we are often joined at the hip as we work together to prepare for, respond to and recover from weather-related incidents."
"We realize that previous statements were seen as critical of our partners," the SFDEM's statement added. "This was not the intent of the comments made, but rather to simply state that the level of rainfall we received on New Year’s Eve was beyond what was predicted and that many public servants came together quickly to respond to historic storm conditions."
Since Tuesday’s press conference, the city has deployed storm barriers at Folsom and 17th streets, where some of the heaviest flooding occurred.
City officials are asking residents to contact the non-emergency hotline 311 to report flooding and only call 911 in the event of a life-and-death emergency.
The National Weather Service issued a flood watch in San Francisco on Wednesday morning at 4 a.m. that will continue through 4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 5.
Follow The Standard’s live storm blog here.
Update, Jan. 4, 8:12 p.m: This story has been updated with a response from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.