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Rain, cold weather begin moving through Bay Area – Santa Cruz Sentinel

A man fends off rain drops as he hustles up Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz as rain begins to fall Tuesday afternoon. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

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Wet weather promised to play havoc with Bay Area residents’ holiday travel plans as a cold storm moved into the region, and forecasters said another round of rain may arrive this weekend.

The rain began soaking the North and East Bay Tuesday afternoon and soon spread to most parts of the Bay Area, including San Jose and San Francisco.

Going into Wednesday morning, accumulated rainfall was expected to reach at least three-quarters of an inch on average across the region, according to Scott Rowe of the National Weather Service.

The rain had airports, police, highway patrol officers and fire officials bracing for another significant weather event as millions traveled ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

San Francisco Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said travelers should prepare for delays and cancellations.

Some 55 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more this holiday week. Millions are expected to use California’s roads to travel for the long weekend.

As of about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday, preliminary 24-hour rainfall totals included 1.02 inches at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, 1 inch at Richmond City Hall, .71 inches at Interstate 880 and Decoto Road in Fremont and .51 inches at Valley Christian High School in San Jose. Venado in Sonoma County, typically one of the wetter sports in the Bay Area, recorded 1.72 inches.

Some areas could see scattered showers through Thanksgiving bringing accumulated rainfall up to 1.5 inches, Rowe said.

The rain will help reduce fire danger but won’t necessarily eliminate it altogether unless this storm kicks off a series, according to the Contra Costa Fire spokesman Steve Hill.

“A few minutes ago, I saw rain coming down outside my window, and that is a good thing,” Hill said. “It’ll be better after we get a sustained rain for two or three days straight. One day isn’t going to do it.”

The California Highway Patrol urged commuters to be extra cautious to take it easy on the gas pedal.

“The most important thing is that this is going to be the first (wet) weather that we’ve seen in six or seven months,” CHP spokesman Officer Brandon Correia said. “So you want to plan ahead, wear a seat belt and definitely don’t even think you can drive impaired. It’s gonna be noticeably more slick, because all the oils are coming up from the surface.

“Be patient. You trying to rush is going to save you, what, 30 seconds?”

Tuesday night brought numerous reports of weather-related collisions, roadway flooding and power outages throughout the Bay Area. Travelers at Oakland International Airport were plunged into darkness for about an hour.

The rain accompanies a cold front that will last at least through Thanksgiving. On Thursday, the expected high for San Jose and Oakland will be 51 degrees, while parts of the North Bay, like Marin, will dip down to the high 40s.

Between Monday and Tuesday, pressure within the front’s core off the coast of southern Oregon had dropped by about 20 millibars, the NWS said — just four millibars away from being deemed a “bomb cyclone,” when pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours.

As the wintry front continues sinking down into the Bay Area, residents on the coastlines from Sonoma County to Half Moon Bay could see sustained south-southwest winds up to 30 mph, with gusts of up to 50 mph.

Meanwhile, the peaks of the Santa Cruz mountains and Mount Diablo range will see an accumulation of snow. The NWS issued a winter weather advisory for the Santa Lucia Mountains above 2,500 ft in Monterey County starting Tuesday through Thanksgiving morning.

The various weather events prompted several agencies to warn of traffic and travel delays during the week; California Highway Patrol told those planning to drive to Southern California that a portion of Interstate 5 could be closed because of snow.

On Tuesday, the CHP closed Interstate 80 between Truckee and Alta following multiple weather-related collisions.

But Northern Californians who hate the cold — and traffic — should take heart: This week’s weather represents a turning point for fire season, Rowe said. Officials look for at least one-tenth of an inch of accumulation, or a “wetting rain,” to ease fire danger. Forecast showers will handily deliver that.

The Bureau of Land Management lifted its fire restrictions on Tuesday for the approximately 300,000 acres of public land it manages across Northern California, including Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Restrictions were implemented for the season on June 10.

And the cool, squally weather is expected to last — at least for a while. This weekend, another cold front could bring a second round of rain to the region.

The rain is expected to begin falling around midday Saturday and continue throughout the weekend, potentially complicating travel plans for people returning to and leaving the Bay Area, according to NWS meteorologist Duane Dykema. The system could deliver half an inch to an inch at lower elevations.

“We do expect to see fire season come to a close,” Rowe said.

Staff writer Jason Green contributed to this report.

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