A powerful winter storm that blasted Northern California with strong winds and heavy rain, knocking out power, toppling trees, including one that killed a toddler, and flooding homes and businesses along the coast in Santa Cruz will continue its march through the region Thursday.

While the brunt of the storm has passed, scattered showers and possible thunderstorms will linger through the northern swath of the state as the atmospheric river — fed by a plume of subtropical water vapor at the lower and middle levels of the atmosphere — moves east.

Forecasters are keeping watch over flooding triggered by massive waves along the coast and in inland areas where water continues to rise along creeks, streams and rivers. Another series of storms is expected to hit the region over the weekend bringing the potential for more strong winds and heavy rain.

The strong weather system triggered high tides and giant waves along the coast of Santa Cruz County early Thursday, destroying sections of the pier in the seaside town of Capitola and another in Seacliff. The Santa Cruz Wharf was evacuated Thursday morning as waves reaching up to 20 feet pummeled the structure and officials warned spectators to seek shelter.

When Emma Simpkins, 23, an employee at the Picnic Basket near the Santa Cruz Wharf, arrived at the restaurant with her co-worker around 6:30 am, waves were breaking all the way up to the sidewalk.

In her five years in Santa Cruz, Simpkins said she’s never seen waves as big as the ones that pummeled the shore Thursday.

“I was here for the tsunami a few months ago and even then it wasn’t this bad,” she said.

The roof over gas pumps at a gas station is blown over.

A damaged Valero gas station in South San Francisco.

(JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

By noon, the tide was receding along Santa Cruz’s coast line. The waves were still big, however — pounding into the cliffs along West Cliff Drive, which was closed due to high surf and erosion concerns.

Onlookers stood along the fence and in the park surrounding the city’s iconic surfer statue of the city. Down at the Boardwalk, logs and debris were pushed up to the fence line, just below the amusement park platform — making the beach seem more Olympic Peninsula in Washington state than California surf haven.

At the base of the San Lorenzo River, huge swells carried surfers upriver, below the railroad trestle and toward downtown.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Andrea Prost, who lives in Scotts Valley but had driven to the coast with her dog, Shelby, to check out the scene. A transplant from Southern California, she’s lived in the area for 16 years.

“The tide has gone down a bit, but the waves are still pretty incredible,” she said.

In Capitola, high tides and massive waves flooded businesses with water, prompting officials to evacuate thousands of residents. Police Chief Andy Dally said during a press conference that the flooding was triggered by a 5.6-foot high tide combined with a swell and rain runoff from the storm.

“Businesses sustained significant damage down in the village,” he said.

Videos of the scene show torrents of water surging into seaside homes and businesses that had been boarded up in advance of the storm.

Onlookers along Cliff Drive gasped and pointed at the wreckage below. The pier, broken in two, and the small, now damaged restaurants along the beach — including Zelda’s — with windows boarded with wood.

Kevin Bonn, 21, and Austen Solve, 19, know the area well. They live in the mountains nearby — and visit the town frequently.

“None of this looked like this” two days ago, said Bonn.

“That?” said Solve, pointing to the broken pier. “Yeah, that’s new.”

The weather service issued a high surf advisory for the section of coast north of Monterey Bay through early Friday, warning of waves up to 22 feet and hazardous ocean conditions.

Intense downpours — coming after an earlier deluge days ago — that lashed Northern California on Wednesday pushed some rivers towards flood stage, prompting a string of evacuations from towns along the Russian River to communities in Santa Cruz County and beyond.

The storm has already dumped 2 to 3 inches of rain across the San Francisco Bay Area, and isolated showers are expected to add to that total through Thursday evening. Downtown San Francisco had the wettest 10-day period since 1871. Between Dec. 26 and Wednesday, back-to-back storms dumped 10.33 inches of rain in the downtown area, according to the National Weather Service.

An empty vehicle is surrounded by floodwaters on a road.

An empty vehicle is surrounded by floodwaters on a road in Oakland.

(Godofredo A. Vasquez/Associated Press)

Roughly an inch of rain fell over a 24-hour period across much of the Sacramento area as of early Thursday, less than forecasters initially expected. The rainfall mostly led to flooding in urban areas, although forecasters will continue to monitor river levels, said Scott Rowe, a lead meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

“It’s going to remain wet and unsettled for the coming days,” he said. “Through the weekend and next week we’re expecting at least two, three, possibly even more storms to be impacting Northern California, so it’s something we’re keeping a close eye on.”

Communities along the coast and adjacent to swelling rivers continue to face the highest risk.

Sonoma County issued an evacuation warning for residents living near the Russian River, including those in Guerneville, Monte Rio, Rio Nido and downstream of Healdsburg.

Officials project the river in Guerneville could crest at 30 feet early Friday and may flood on Sunday as another storm moves into the area and runoff continues to pour into rivers, creeks and streams.

“We were anticipating a peak this morning, but the fact of the matter is we got a little less rainfall than we thought we were going to get out of this storm,” said Cindy Palmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Bay Area.

The Los Angeles River flows after heavy Thursday rains in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles River flows after heavy Thursday rains in Los Angeles.

(David McNew/Getty Images)

The Hopland area of ​​the Russian River had exceeded flood stage as of Thursday morning, according to Brett Whitin, a hydrologist at the California Nevada River Forecast Center.

“It’s not as high as it was in the New Year’s Eve flood,” Whitin said. “It’s a lower-level type of flooding going on there.”

He said the forecast center is anticipating more severe flooding during the upcoming storms through the weekend and next week.

“The Sacramento River will definitely see some flood stages exceeded,” he said. “The Cosumnes River that had the levee breaks, that could see flood stage again next week. There’s that threat of exceeding flood stages at quite a few locations across the northern coast and the Sacramento valley system.”

In San Jose, authorities are closely watching possible flooding that could affect populated areas, including along Ross Creek at Cherry Avenue, Upper Penitencia Creek at Mabury and King roads, and Guadalupe River at West Alma Avenue. Elsewhere in Santa Clara County, officials issued evacuation warnings around the Pacheco Pass River Basin and Uvas Reservoir.

Strong winds were responsible for much of the damage reported overnight. A 101-mph gust was reported along Pablo Point in the Marin County mountains and winds in other areas reached up to 90 mph, meteorologists said.

The force of the wind left tens of thousands without power and knocked over a gas station canopy in South San Francisco. Pacific Gas & Electric CEO Patti Poppe said in a statement that more than 170,000 lost power across Northern and Central California in what she called “one of the most powerful storms in recent memory.”

Thomas Heins is hit by a wave while standing at the seawall holding a board.

Thomas Heins was hit by a wave while standing at the seawall in Pacifica, Calif., on Thursday.

(Godofredo A. Vasquez/Associated Press)

Roughly 1,800 PG&E workers were working to restore power Thursday, but repairs could take more than 24 hours.

All around Sonoma County, roads were blocked by downed trees, and de-energized power lines knocked loose by tumbling branches swung above darkened homes and businesses.

“Jiminy Christmas, I’ve never seen the winds so strong,” said Richard Cappell, 68, who lives on a ridge above the town of Occidental. He stood on his front porch Thursday, the hum of a generator almost drowning out the sound of the rain.

Down the hill in Occidental, the Altamont General Store was filled with people who had come in to get warm and use the electricity to charge phones and other electronics.

Resident Susan Gray said she heard some people are expected to be out for up to two weeks.

“I expect to lose power every year,” she said. “It’s been a while since we’ve [lost it] for this long.”

At least two people, including a toddlerhave been killed in the storm, according to law enforcement.

In Solano County, a 19-year-old woman died when she lost control of her car and hit a utility pole in heavy rain Wednesday morning. That evening, a 2-year-old boy was killed when a tree fell on his home in Occidental, a community in Sonoma County.

The brunt of the storm moved through Southern California early Thursday, but showers will continue throughout the day.

The cold front and heaviest rainfall moved through the Los Angeles area around midnightdropping about 1 to 2 inches of rain at lower elevations and 2 to 5 inches of rain at higher elevations, meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Oxnard said.

Summer Lin is reporting from Sacramento, Rust is reporting from Santa Cruz, Rong-Gong Lin II is reporting from San Francisco and Fry is reporting from Los Angeles. Staff writers Terry Castleman, Grace Toohey and Alexandra E. Petri contributed to this report.

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