Editorial Editor, Opinion Editor, and Local Editor
Over the past month, storm after storm battered California in what the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services is calling “one of the deadliest disasters in our state.” The state has received an average of 8.6 inches of precipitation since Dec. 26, 2022 compared to just five inches from July 2021 to June 2022. At first, California citizens welcomed the wet weather as a badly needed remedy for drought conditions. However, as the torrent continued, rain ravaged neighborhoods built for temperate California weather. The much wished for rain brought flooding, infrastructure damage, and death. As our community recovers, it is crucial to help those most affected and educate ourselves on the underlying causes of the tempest.
Various atmospheric rivers caused the floods in Southern California, the central coast, and Northern California. Pacific tropics funneled these rivers, filled with dense moisture, into the state. Along with this series of atmospheric rivers, a so-called bomb cyclone helped move the moisture towards the West Coast and caused disastrous storms along its path inland. Burned areas coupled with urban areas with inadequate drainage systems rapidly flooded.
As the population in these flood-prone areas grows, government funding for flood prevention does not. In order to update dams, levees, and other flood management technology, the state government must spend 34 billion dollars. Most of California’s flood infrastructure is designed for weather conditions from the past century, but climate change brings more rain than snow and exponentially higher tides. Therefore, the state’s outdated infrastructure failed to adequately mitigate the catastrophic flooding, exacerbating the stress on local communities.
Atmospheric rivers typically counter California’s paleoclimate. However, extreme droughts made this less protective against flooding in the last five years, allowing the storms to inflict 27 billion dollars in damages and 19 deaths statewide.
On Jan. 4, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a state of emergency to acknowledge the storms that began on Dec. 27; this declaration prompted shelters to open statewide and allowed for the closing of certain highways. Because of Newsom’s announcement, President Biden flew to Santa Cruz to survey damage, where he announced the federal government would be opening a disaster recovery center and issuing low cost loans to those affected by the damage.
In Santa Cruz and Capitola, flash floods took out countless homes and local businesses on the coast. Santa Cruz County accumulated more than 27 million dollars in damage, the destruction of at least 60 homes, the cut off of water supplies, and damage to roads. The downpour and excessive winds combined to create landslides, flooding, and dangerous road conditions across Highway 1 and Highway 17.
Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley native Brynna Ruf, a senior at Archbishop Mitty High School, works at Zelda’s on the Beach, and is a member of the Los Gatos Rowing Club. When interviewed about the floods and how they have affected her commute over Highway 17 to reach both school and after-school athletics, she commented on the severity of the issue: “There were many days where I was not able to go to school or rowing because of the floods, which led to a lot of uncertainty…it was a waiting game of if I would be able to make it out of the house or not.”
The destruction affecting neighbors over the hill is a fresh wound, so while Los Gatos and surrounding counties’ emerge with power and limited damage, it is imperative that we step up to help those affected in Santa Cruz and Capitola. Those over 18 can volunteer with Santa Cruz County to assist with debris cleanup on scvolunteercenter.org. Moreover, individuals can support Capitola by donating water bottles and gift cards at the Jade Street Community Center.
Furthermore, the Santa Cruz County Disaster Fund, which supports both Santa Cruz and Capitola, accepts direct donations. Wallace Bain, a writer for Lookout Santa Cruz, underscores these resources’ importance: “the best way to support Capitola…is to support Capitola’s businesses now. The village is not a crime scene or a restricted zone. Local businesses are eager to welcome visitors.” LGHS staff member Kristen Austin noted a Santa Cruz staple, stating “Cafe Brazil on Mission is one of my favorite breakfast and lunch places. I also love the West End Tap Room for good hamburgers and salads, and Coffeetopia is a great local coffee shop.” There is no better time for a beach trip than this coming February during which we can support these local hangouts..
The bomb cyclone and California’s obsolete flood infrastructure subjected California counties to severe weather damage. While power outages and school closings affected many, Los Gatos thankfully faced minimal damage in comparison to towns like Santa Cruz and Capitola, making it essential for our community members to step up and volunteer.
(Sources: CA Department of Water Sources, KQED, LA Times, PPIC, The Guardian, KSBW, LA Almanac, USA Today, CNN, Santa Cruz County, Capitola County, NY Times, Lookout Santa Cruz, CA.gov)