Residents, businesses brace for freezing conditions


Jackson and Olan are two Bay Area kids who had never seen snow until Thursday. "It's exciting, really cool," said their mother, Robin Bates of Boulder Creek. "I didn't think we could see it this close to home. We wanted the boys to see the snow for the first time and so we drove up here with our fingers crossed, and we found it. They are having a great time."

You had to go up into the mountains to find it. At 11 a.m., there was still a thin layer on the ground near Highway 9 and Highway 35 in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The snow fell delicately Thursday creating fun conditions, but the damp cold also created hazards on the windy mountain roads like black ice. The CHP warns these are prime conditions for the transparent sheets of ice, especially on the shady side roads where puddles might not have dried up.

Since it's basically invisible, the CHP says to assume it's there somewhere and adjust accordingly, "Number one, as always, is slow down," CHP Officer Jonathon Sloat said. "Anticipate that black ice being out there, you know where you live, where it forms. So, number one, slow down. Number two if you do hit it don't panic don't slam on your brakes. Just remain calm and decrease your speed."

Not everything or everybody who could use the extra warmth tonight will get it. Coyote Creek in San Jose is lined with homeless encampments. Many politely refuse to come indoors even when facing freezing conditions.

But for those who do seek help, the South Bay nonprofit EHC offers comfort to the homeless. They have a year-round shelter in San Jose. And in the winter months they open armories in Sunnyvale and Gilroy. When it is this cold or raining outside, no one is turned away.

"Our mission is to try to make sure nobody dies on the street," EHC Outreach Coordinator Vanessa Beretta said. "We are here to help all who need a warm, safe place. We provide meals and medical attention if needed."

The Sunnyvale armory is budgeted to house 125 people overnight. On Wednesday night, 140 men and women slept there, including Derrick Boyd who said, "To be here in this shelter, the Sunnyvale armory, I'm so glad and so grateful to have this as a place to go as opposed to outside in the woods and the creek and things of that nature."

According to the EHC, 39 people died on the streets in Santa Clara County last year. They encourage anyone out in the cold to find shelter, and note that there willl also be volunteers passing out blankets and jackets to people in known homeless encampments.

In the North Bay, the extra mattresses are coming out at Petaluma's Mary Isaak Center, where the emergency shelter normally has 100 beds available.

Chief Operating Officer Mike Johnson says when the temperatures are life-threatening, police, fire, and others in the community know to send people here who would normally prefer to stay outside, "Hopefully the combination of all of those referring, you know, knowledgeable citizens out there, get people in and help save their lives during the cold spells," Johnson said.

And it's not just people but plants too need protection, especially citrus and tropicals.

Nursery workers at Orchard Supply say watering and breathable fabric can add a layer of protection. There are special products, but even burlap works.

"What they do is provide an insulating cover which allows the plant to breathe and moisture to go through both sides," said Orchard Supply employee Paul Anderson.

Lidia Rivera with Rose Garden Nursery in Petaluma is worried about saving her nursery inventory. She's already lost some impatiens to the cold, and will cover all of her citrus, perennials and other cold sensitive plants tonight. She has advice for anyone covering their own, "No plastic," Rivera said. "Old sheets, old comforters, or that crop cover that most of the nurseries or any of the big hardware stores will have on hand this time of year."

Rivera also says if you do end up with frost damage do not trim it off before the spring. It will actually help protect the new growth and the root system.

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