Cambria and the North Coast were hammered again in mid-January by consecutive days of rainfall — six of them, this time — that flung 5.32 inches of wet stuff on Cambria at the wastewater plant on Park Hill, 7.62 inches on Pineridge Drive just north of Lyle Avenue, and an astounding 11.67 inches at the Walter Ranch (9.5 miles east of Main Street) by Jan. 23.
For the current rain season that began Oct. 1, Rocky Butte, northeast of San Simeon, has received more than 50 inches of rainfall, according to PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey, who said Wednesday, Jan. 25, that average annual rainfall there is 39 inches.
The latter two sites are close to the headwaters of the Santa Rosa and San Simeon creek watersheds, respectively, which fill Cambria’s municipal wells.
During the storms, stiff winds powered heavy rainfall, making it miserable to get from one place to another. Some road damage worsened, and new damage emerged. Huge waves pounded the shore. Scattered power outages and chilly conditions kept some people in the dark for a while (some of them, more than once) and many scurried to pull out flashlights, lanterns, blankets and battery-powered radios.
How cold was it? Early on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 24, a dusting of snow frosted the hills overlooking San Simeon. The snow didn’t reach as far down as Hearst Castle, and followed an evening in which the low temperature had dipped to 38.5 degrees in Cambria.
As expected after a five-year drought weakened many of Cambria’s trademark native Monterey pines, quite a few trees fell during the wind-and-rain storms. In one case, a tall tree fell on a neighbor’s house, which was so badly damaged it had to be condemned.
The North Coast is expected to get a break from rainy weather this week, with mostly clear skies forecast through the end of January.
Governor declares emergency
On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown issued two emergency proclamations that could free up funding to help storm-damaged communities in 50 counties — including San Luis Obispo — “respond to and recover from severe storms that have caused flooding, mudslides, erosion, debris flow and damage to roads and highways.”
The proclamations direct the state’s Office of Emergency Services to provide assistance to local governments, and Caltrans to formally request immediate assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program.
Winds were stiff enough to topple quite a few trees, pulling most out of the thoroughly drenched turf.
Lindsey said Tuesday that the soil is “soaked, completely, totally saturated.” Or, in old-time rancher vernacular, as former county supervisor and longtime area resident Shirley Bianchi described it Monday, “the squirrel holes are flowing,” a sure sign of soggy soil.
A few falling trees hit homes, fences and other structures in Cambria.
While most damage was not serious, one large tree that fell about 3 a.m. Monday did so much damage to the roof, living room and bearing walls of a Stuart Street home in the Top of the World neighborhood of Lodge Hill that firefighters condemned the structure and evacuated the residents. The couple in the home estimate the tree fell within 4 to 5 feet of the bedroom where they were sleeping. They’re now facing at least six months in a rented house while their home is repaired and rebuilt.
In Cambria and San Simeon, other fallen Monterey pines, cypress and oak trees blocked roadways and trails, with the latter being especially evident on Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
Carlos Mendoza, facilities and resources supervisor for the Cambria Community Services District, said in an email Tuesday that trails that were closed were Santa Rosa Creek Trail near the wastewater treatment plant (trail washed out and flooded), Rodeo Grounds Road trail near Highway 1 (flooding and washed-out bridge) and the Ramsey Trail (multiple trees down).
He said a larger tree fell on the Forest Loop Trail, near the oak bench, but that trail has been cleared and reopened.
Many of the other fallen trees in Cambria were in the west Lodge Hill area, according to firefighters.
Two trees fell in two days in the Bradford Circle area, and Gary Boyle had some uncomfortable déjà vu Sunday when a falling tree narrowly missed his Ross Drive cabin, which had been crushed by another downed tree in 2011.
Some residents reported seeing big tree trunks swept along by the muddy, high rushing waters of Santa Rosa Creek, evoking memories of similar scenes during the heavy rain and flood in March 1995.
In an unrelated find, Mendoza said, “We ran into a cross on the ranch near the Dolphin Bench.” The cross is engraved with the name “Mary Colleen. If someone is looking for it, we have it at the yard.”
Highways and roads
As the waves of storms battered the area, conditions deteriorated on some already damaged roads, and others showed the effects of edge erosion, settling pavement and potholes. Mud slid down onto some roadway shoulders, and some gutters overflowed onto sidewalks.
West Village flood-control pumps were turned on briefly, according to Dave Flynn, deputy Public Works director for the county.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Flynn said he expected his Public Works crew to begin work on the following day on the emergency project to realign a damaged part of Santa Rosa Creek Road, between the McCall and Linn ranches, to get the pavement farther away from potential erosion from high creek waters.
As the rain continued to pound the coast, more slides of rocks and mud landed on Highway 1 between Ragged Point and a Big Sur area known as Fuller’s Point, 42 miles from the Monterey County line. According to Caltrans spokeswoman Susana Cruz on Tuesday, “We have numerous slides between the closure points, the largest being at Mud Creek (Post Mile 8.8, Paul’s Slide (PM 21.6), three at Big Creek (PM 28.09) and at Anderson Canyon Bridge (PM 35.4).”
Caltrans crews continued working there and on Highway 41 between Morro Bay and Atascadero. Sections of both highways remained closed at press deadline, affecting residents, travel plans and commerce in those areas.
Other storm effects
Rain-swollen creeks carved out wide new pathways to the ocean. The downpours swamped some rural bridges and flooded the roadways nearby.
Dan Falat, superintendent of State Parks’ San Luis Obispo Coast District, said Friday, his rangers had to relocate some visitors to sites on higher ground at San Simeon State Park Campground. The rangers also closed the Washburn loop camping area near San Simeon Creek Road because of flooding.
Jerry Gruber, CCSD general manager, said Monday that water department personnel had not had to shut down any of the district’s San Simeon Creek wells due to flooding, but that, due to the heavy rainfall, “We are experiencing intrusion and infiltration to the wastewater plant.”
The Pinedorado grounds near the Veterans Memorial Building flooded for the third time this month, and the weary volunteers who had cleaned up after Mother Nature before were preparing to do it again.