Bay Area driving experts warn drivers they must slow down to handle the wetter driving conditions. Credit: Amir Aziz

East Bay residents are being urged to stay home over the next few days in order to avoid the “bomb cyclone” storm that could cause tragedies on rain-soaked roads. 

In a public safety statement yesterday, the city of Oakland said residents should avoid “walking, riding or driving across standing water” as this can cause someone to become stranded or drown. “If possible, stay indoors and off the road. If you need to travel anywhere, be extra cautious: slow down, avoid hard braking or turning sharply and allow ample stopping distance between you and the cars and other vehicles in front of you.” 

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly a dozen roads have been closed by Alameda County, which has jurisdiction over unincorporated parts of the East Bay. Closures include Patterson Pass Road in Livermore from Greenville Road to the county line, and Crow Canyon Road in Castro Valley from E. Castro Valley Road to the county line.

Two streets are currently closed in Oakland because of flooding and damage from the New Year’s Eve storm. Golf Link Road is closed between Elysian Fields and Scotia Avenue due to a landslide, and Webster Street is closed between 34th and 36th Street from flooding.

Oakland also said in a statement yesterday that it is reviewing resident submissions from its Oak 311 public information system to improve conditions, including “clearing drains, inlets, and catch basins.” It’s also working with the Alameda County Flood Control District to monitor tide gates at Lake Merritt, which over the weekend was near flooding levels.

Earlier today, the East Bay Regional Park District announced all of its parks—including Redwood Regional, Leona Open Space, Anthony Chabot, and MLK Jr. Shoreline—are closed through Thursday. 

OUSD asked parents to pick up children early from school today and canceled all afternoon and evening sports and other activities to keep people off the roads.

If you have to drive, experts say pay attention

Brian Cole, one of the leading driving instructors at the Sonoma Raceway and an expert for Bridgestone Tires, told The Oaklandside that if people do need to drive during the storm they should make sure their tires are in good shape and are inflated at the correct PSI pressure, as noted in their car’s manual or usually, on a sticker in the side door of their car. 

“The tire pressure for the vehicle comes from the vehicle, not from the tire. A Camry and a Honda Accord could have two different tire pressure recommendations” even if they used the same type of tires, he said. The number on a tire is the maximum pressure, for maximum loads, which are almost never actually reached by drivers. 

Underinflation and poor tread on a tire can lead to hydroplaning, which is when water gets trapped underneath the tires and the car slides out of control.

“Hydroplaning isn’t when someone just kind of slides on a wet or slick surface. It’s actually when the car floats on top of the water because it can’t get the water out from underneath it fast enough,” said Cole.

If you do happen to hydroplane, Cole says to straighten the steering wheel and ease back on the gas and brake pedals. Once the car regains grip, you can step back on the pedals and let the tires grip down on the road. 

The other main thing that Cole recommends when driving in heavy rain is to look further ahead of the road than you’re used to doing. “You need to be at a speed that is appropriate for the visibility of the conditions.

Carter Fartuch, a driving instructor for the Skip Barber Racing School, which is in charge of instruction at the Sears Point Raceway, agrees with Cole that it’s important to look ahead but that it’s also important to look around the vicinity of the car instead of fixating on the car in front of you. 

“They can catch another car losing control. That 0.5 seconds or that second sooner to be able to react is extremely important and it can help save lives,” he said.

A staffer at Germany’s Best auto repair shop in North Oakland told The Oaklandside that the most simple advice is the most important when it comes to driving. 

“Drive safely and stay home if you need to,” he said.

Road maintenance workers are on call 24/7

Local transportation and public works agencies are working around the clock to clean up and prepare roadways. Since the first atmospheric river last weekend, Alameda County Public Works has had maintenance and operations teams on alternating 12-hour shifts. keeping flood control water pumps working and removing dangerous, slippery mud from roads. 

Flood control pump stations are a wide-ranging mechanical system that takes in water flow from different city runoff sources and discharges it into the San Francisco Bay.

Alameda County Public Works Deputy Director John Ira Medlock said blockages in watersheds and mountain valleys can lead to major infrastructure problems. 

“Flood control channels are of concern with high-water flows. Roadway systems that are in canyons, such as on Palomares Road and Crow Canyon, are [especially worrisome],” he told The Oaklandside in an interview. 

The higher a hill in a mountainous region, Medlock said, the more likely that steep slopes will shed more water that can gather on roads and impact travel. It’s also more likely that large rocks will fall and destroy the road, forcing closures.  

“We are prepared to keep our emergency plans into the weekend, as we’ve entered into a wet cycle and ground is saturated,” Medlock said. 

While the City of Oakland has in the past worried about its staffing levels, Medlock said that Alameda County is not worried about staff availability or their level of response to this event. 

“We had a strong staff response early and we continue to respond even now. We are here for the long-run,” he said. “Everyone’s a little anxious because this is a significant weather event. Some of us have seen it before. Some of us haven’t. But people are optimistic that they’re prepared.”

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.