Recent Storms

I’ve been thinking about recent storms that battered the Central Coast with high winds, twenty-five-foot swells, six-foot tides, and copious amounts of rain. I’ve lived in the Monterey Bay region all my life and witnessed many big storms and the damage they have caused to buildings, roads, and infrastructure, but I must admit this latest occurrence was the most dramatic I’ve ever seen. While the rainfall was well below record totals, the storm surge and high tides looked unreal as they coalesced into tsunami-like waves and hurricane conditions.

The old Capitola Wharf, a Central Coast icon, had breaking waves cresting over its decking, loosening pilings, and ripping out heavy, wooded guardrails, which became battering rams that slammed into village businesses and homes. An entire section of wharf was washed away when a carom of water from an adjacent bluff joined with a massive wave, blowing the structure apart in seconds. The natural forces created were profound.

In Seacliff, waves further demolished the Cement Ship, causing the relic to sink deeper into the shifting sands, disappearing altogether at the tide’s high-water mark. Streets were flooded in the Rio Del Mar Flats, and the scoured beaches were left with truckloads of logs and debris, flushed from the mountain watersheds and carried down by muddy creeks and swollen streams.

Damages were in the millions, prompting a trip from the President to declare a Federal Disaster area. Of course, it cost the taxpayers a few of those millions to pay for helicopters, planes, motorcades, Secret Service, and extra security. Perhaps Mr. Biden could have stayed in DC and sent the cost of his cross-country sojourn directly to some of the storm sufferers.

Politics aside, what struck me about the storms was that the damage they caused was almost entirely done to human undertakings. Mother Nature absorbed the tempest just fine. In fact, the storms helped the various ecological niches that rely on heavy rains and high winds. Downed trees become habitats. Swollen rivers turn into clear-water conduits for salmon. Large waves churn up the tide pools. Sediments washed from the land give rise to food-chain bacteria in the kelp forests and beyond.

The native Ohlone witnessed many storms like the ones we experienced last month. When they slammed into the coast, the natives would simply move away from the shore and seek higher ground1. If a village was swept away, they could quickly erect new huts and continue their hunter-gatherer activities as soon as the sun dried things out. Big storms were always a harbinger of a bountiful spring.

Let us all hope that precept holds true this coming year.

Photo credits: Buzz Anderson

1 Five Hundred Moons, Chapter 10

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  1. Sandra

    Nice work covering the devestating storms.

    • Buzz Anderson

      Thanks for reading!

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