And the rains came … on Halloween night.
During the storm that came ashore Oct. 31, many North Coast locations received more than an inch of mostly gentle rainfall with breezes, but not stiff winds.
According to various officials: No flooding or downed trees were reported to the Cambria Fire Department; no damage was reported at Hearst Castle or area State Parks units; and the rain didn’t disrupt progress on the Cambria Community Services District water-reclamation project under construction on San Simeon Creek Road.
Late-goers to the farmers market got drenched. Fewer trick-or-treaters than usual knocked on doors along the holiday-decorated Wood Drive area. Some homeowners estimated that they handed out sweets to about 350 hardy, soggy costumed youngsters (and a few parents), or approximately half the usual number.
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Rocky Butte, northeast of Cambria, received 1.54 inches of the wet stuff. The butte, the highest point in the area, is just beyond the edge of the San Simeon Creek watershed, according to area ranchers.
The Walter Ranch, about 1,100 feet above sea level and about 9 miles east of the Main Street/Santa Rosa Creek Road intersection, received 2.04 inches of rain during the storm.
Those figures are significant because the Cambria Community Services District draws the town’s municipal water supply from wells along the two creeks.
The precipitation, the most significant in nearly 190 days, according to PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey, delighted gardeners, water purveyors and drought-conscious conservers who’ve been anxiously watching their water-meter readings.
The early-season rainfall didn’t, however, break the drought — which Lindsey said is “unprecedented” since the beginning of the last century.
Stringent Stage 3 water-use restrictions remain in force in Cambria and San Simeon, as they are expected to be until the area gets a substantial amount of additional rainfall.
Cambria CSD officials have said colloquially for years that, in a normal year, it takes 10 to 12 inches of rain in the area around Rocky Butte to recharge the San Simeon Creek watershed, and a similar amount at the headlands of Santa Rosa Creek to fill up those wells.
Total recharge of the wells is determined by their levels: San Simeon Creek wells are considered full at about 20 feet.
But there are other ways to know whether an aquifer is recharged, according to area ranchers and scientists. Cambria resident Bill Bianchi, a soil and groundwater physicist, says he considers the watershed completely saturated“when you see water flowing out of the squirrel holes in the ground.”
Fire danger was momentarily lessened by the Halloween-night storm, but how long that will last depends on how quickly the next rain arrives, according to Fire Chief Mark Miller and former fire chief Bob Putney.
With so many stressed and dying trees and so many native and invasive species literally drying on the vine or the stem, “We’ll need more than just a normal wet year to get back to where our fuel moistures are back in line,” Miller estimated. “We’ll need an extremely wet winter, followed by a wet or normal one, to get us back in the ballgame.”
“It was nice to get the rain,” Putney said, “but I don’t really think it changes much for our future,” in terms of community safety and fire protection.
Lindsey said late October usually marks the beginning of the Central Coast rains. “On average, January and February are the wettest months. They both average over 5 inches in Cambria,” he said.
“However, December and March can also be extremely wet months. So what will winter bring for the drought-plagued Cambria? The Climate Prediction Center is now indicating that ‘El Niño is favored to begin in the next one to two months and (to) last into the Northern Hemisphere until spring 2015.’ They’ve also increased the likelihood of normal or above-rainfall for San Luis Obispo County this winter.”
Lindsey said the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), another large-scale seawater temperature cycle that can affect area rainfall, “is still in a strong positive or warm phase. This condition is characterized by higher-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in the north and eastern Pacific and tends to enhance El Niño conditions. Of course, these are long-range forecasts and there are no guarantees. Only time will tell the story. Nevertheless, I feel more confident in a prediction of normal to above-normal precipitation this rain season.”