Damaging storm brings rain totals to near normal

The storm that swept through San Luis Obispo County this week created a waterspout that tossed small boats in Morro Bay, hail in Los Osos, lightning strikes that continue to affect San Luis Obispo air travel, and extremely high surf that closed the Pismo Beach Pier and endangered at least one daredevil inner tube rider.

But the precipitation was a welcome addition to the county’s rainfall totals, signifying that El Niño could finally be here. The storm that began Tuesday morning and moved out of the area Thursday afternoon brought 1 to 3 inches of rain around the county. The storm raised the average amount of precipitation countywide so far this rain season, which started July 1, to more than 7 inches — still about an inch shy of the historical average season-to-date total.

Wednesday’s strong wind gusts knocked over a mobile home in Paso Robles, and a waterspout formed in Morro Bay that wreaked havoc at the yacht club. Thursday’s weather was highlighted by massive swells that closed the Pismo Beach Pier.

San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport has been forced to limit flights because of lightning strikes Wednesday. The airport expects to receive parts to repair its runway and taxiway lighting system by Friday evening.

The airport was struck by lightning three times Wednesday, forcing the temporary evacuation of its flight control towers. Airport officials have allowed limited daytime service, but no flights may take off or land at night until the runway and taxiway systems can be repaired.

“Passengers should contact their airlines to find out if flights are still happening,” said Craig Piper, the airport’s assistant director.

Crazy weather in Morro Bay

A waterspout that tore through Morro Bay’s Yacht Club area about 7 a.m. Wednesday toppled boats and kayaks, sending items sailing inside the boat of a woman who lives on her vessel in the Morro Bay Harbor.

A waterspout — an intense funnel-shaped column of water that rises off the surface — is like a small tornado.

As it came whipping through Morro Bay, it lifted boats that were up to 18 feet in length and tossed them about. In all, about 25 boats were affected, including kayaks, in the yacht club’s onshore vessel storage area, said Becka Kelly, Morro Bay’s Harbor Patrol supervisor.

The club estimates about $10,000 in damage.

“The waterspout pushed the boats up in the air and toppled them over,” Kelly said. “Kayaks went flying. Some of the trailers were totally moved and went through the fence line. It lasted a total of about 30 seconds.”

Lynn Meissen, who lives on a 43-foot vessel in the harbor, said she was reading the newspaper and drinking her morning latte when the wind started picking up. Meissen said she stood up in her galley, getting ready to look out, when she was knocked back. She held on to a nearby chart table.

“My computer was knocked over and fortunately it landed on an upholstered seat, so it’s OK,” Meissen said. “But some dishes on the stove ended up on the floor. Jars from my pantry were tossed. The boat was a terrible mess.”

Meissen said she suffered a bruise on her shin that she did not intend to seek treatment for, but she was otherwise unscathed.

On Thursday, Morro Bay officials warned people of the dangerous surf conditions, citing perilous rescues of people who braved the surf.

Deputy City Manager Sam Taylor said the rough waters “threw some more adventurous people around like rag dolls and dragged them toward the mouth of the harbor, as well as others who decided to try the waters north of Morro Rock, a place popular for surfing.”

One man tried to film his excursion from an inner tube with a GoPro Camera, leading to a dicey rescue.

“Those waves — and rescuing people from them — can also threaten the lives of first responders and cost taxpayer dollars,” Taylor said. “Rescue itself is also not guaranteed with the current conditions.”

Pismo Pier closed

With massive surf and swells washing onto the walkway of the entrance to the Pismo Beach Pier, the structure was closed as a safety precaution but may reopen Friday morning. The Harford and Cayucos piers remained open. The Avila Beach Pier has been closed indefinitely since the summer because of deteriorated conditions.

Westerly swells reached a heavy 15 to 17 feet off the Central Coast on Thursday, which are expected to be the highest this week, said John Lindsey, PG&E meteorologist.

The surf will remain high but drop to 10- to 12-foot west-northwesterly swells Friday, decreasing to 5 to 7 feet Saturday. An 8- to 10-foot west-northwesterly swell is expected Sunday, dipping to 5 to 7 feet by Monday.

County gets soaked

From early Tuesday to 3 p.m. Thursday, the county airport recorded 2 inches of rain; Paso Robles airport had about 1.5 inches; Nipomo saw about 1.2 inches; and Pismo Beach had about 1.5 inches. Tallies of more than 3 inches were measured at Highway 41 West and Toro Creek Road, west of Atascadero, and in Atascadero, Lindsey said.

Meanwhile, as a result of the downpour, a herd of 75 goats that has been grazing on vegetation at Atascadero Lake will be moved out.

“With sufficient rainfall and runoff, city public works staff will be able to reopen the Lake Fill Pipeline, which redirects a portion of the water running in Atascadero Creek to the lake, supplementing the amount of water flowing into the lake from runoff,” said Nick DeBar, the city’s public works director.

The goats, which have cleared about 10 acres of weeds and vegetation from the lake bed, are expected to be moved by Saturday.