Monday, December 15, 2014

Surviving the Storm!

One of the things we have joked about in California is how tame the weather is. People worry when the forecast is predicting 1-2" of rain. That's it. Rain. No wind, thunder, hail, or lightning. Just a bunch of rain. Laughable. 

There had been talk of a storm that was due to arrive in Santa Barbara on Thursday night and 2-4" of rain was expected. Fine. Just some rain. Bring it. On Thursday, things were sort of damp and overcast so we spent the day doing things indoors. We checked out a cool sea life center on the pier and ate dinner in town. The Palm trees were blowing and the waves were pretty huge. It looked like the storm was on the way in. 
Gray day and crashing sea

We arrived back at the camper, put the kids to bed, and Jessica popped in a Christmas movie while I just kicked back in my bed. All was well and we were ready for this wussy-ass California storm. 

At 10:30 the power went out. This is something we can totally work around since we live in a camper. The fridge and appliances can run on propane and our dome lights can run off the battery. But, it definitely makes a late-night storm more frightening. Jessica had finished watching her movie and laid down to sleep. Within a few minutes she was out. 

The winds started to really pick up. You could hear them as they came howling down the side of the valley wall and then hit the side of the camper like a sail. I started wishing I had chosen a site that was wedged between two huge diesel pushers. These motor homes, no doubt, could receive a surge of wind a lot easier than my ultra-light travel trailer. I kept telling myself, "these are only 50-60 MPH wind gusts. You tow this thing down the highway at high speeds. It can handle this." My chant of reassurance was repeatedly disrupted by another blast of wind, as if Mother Nature was arguing with me. 

I started to get used to the not-so-gentle rocking and began to doze off. I was awoken by the alert of my weather radio. It's the last thing you want to hear when riding out a storm and it basically means that things are about to get WORSE. It sounds like an ambulance and it's just an alert, you still have to turn the radio on to hear the bad news. I turned on the radio to get the special alert and it was warning of flash flooding in southern San Luis Obispo county. The creepy robot man inside of my weather radio started naming specific cities. I remembered that Pismo Beach, the place we had just left last week, was in southern SLO county. Just as this thought passed my mind the words "Pismo Beach" came out of the radio. I was still feeling uneasy but I felt grateful that we were no longer there. All this talk of flooding seemed rather foreign to me anyhow. I was dealing with massive wind gusts and hoping my camper wouldn't tip over. I would have gladly traded the wind for heavy rain...or so I thought. 

At 11:30 the wind started to calm down and the rain started to arrive. It was coming in sideways and was occasionally disrupted by another strong wind gust. It sounded like one of those sprinklers that sways back and forth was grazing my camper as it passed by, then it would get interrupted by wind, then sway back over the camper. It was a peculiar rain pattern, the stuff only an unpredictable cold front can produce. Unusual as it was, I felt the storm had stabilized and started to nod off again. 

Within minutes the weather radio was alerting again. This time I had started to hear it in my sleep as I was beginning to dream. I don't remember the dream but I remember waking in a fit of terror wondering what the sound was. After a few seconds I realized it was the radio again which didn't make me feel any less terrified, transitioning from a bad dream to an equally bad reality and all. 

This time the flash flood warning was extended to northern Santa Barbara county. Shit. The radio named cities. Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Solvang...

The ranch where we were staying was in a canyon, halfway between Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez. We were on high ground BUT we could have been higher. Plus, we were nestled next to a mountain that had recently burned in a wild fire. So, there were no guarantees and the risk of a mudslide was high. I looked out the window and the rain was still just light to moderate. I laid down and tried to relax. 

After a few minutes the rain showed up in FULL FORCE. I have experienced heavy rain before. In Michigan the torrential downpours can get pretty bad. The raindrops are big and they come down sideways and decrease visibility to practically zero. This was different. It was worse. The rain was falling like sheets of water. Like someone had parked our camper under a giant waterfall and left us there. You could feel it through the camper walls and the corners near the floor and ceiling were all getting damp. I felt worried and the sound of the rainfall wasn't doing anything for my anxiety. I grabbed my phone and decided to play some games and try to forget the storm. 

There is no cell phone reception in this park and I was playing games offline on my phone. I was deep in thought, trying to find the perfect word to play in scrabble when my phone started to make emergency sounds. 

My anxiety shot to a new level when I saw this warning but I was also a little bit amused. Here I have been feeling disconnected with no cell phone reception and the National Weather Service has a direct line to my cell phone at all times. Those sneaky bastards. Just then, the weather radio started going off again. No matter how many times it goes off, you are never any less worried. They extended the flood warning till 2:15am. Not a huge deal but I knew it meant that I was gonna be up for a while. 

I decided that, to be safe, I would have to shine my flashlight around outside the camper every so often to make sure the water wasn't rising around me. If things got hairy, I would wake up the family, put them in the car, and drive to higher ground until things calmed down. This is easier said than done because, as I mentioned, visibility was nil. I did what I could though and, after about 45 minutes of complete washout, the rain slowed to a normal pour. All was well. 

The weather radio went off 3-4 more times after that. A couple times to issue a special marine warning. Waterspouts and huge swells were imminent and they were urging boaters to seek harbor. This sort of made me feel better. At least I wasn't on a boat amidst waterspouts and gigantic waves. The other warnings were for counties to the south and east of us. Ventura county and the springs burn area. They were being quite specific with the directions for folks in that burn area. 

"Take precautions to preserve life and property but only if it is safe to do so. Otherwise, seek shelter on a second floor, out of the reach of rushing waters."

That is verbatim. Man, I felt glad that the high winds and heavy rains were gone. Still, it was very much pouring outside but it seemed trivial compared to what had just happened and what was happening to the south and east of me. 

I was exhausted from all the worry and wanted to sleep but my mind was racing. I wondered when the power would be back. We could go a day or two without it but, after that, we would need a generator or a way to keep the battery charged. I managed to fall asleep and when I woke up, it was sunny and pleasant.

The power came back on at noon and everything was starting to dry off. It was weird to see the calm and sunshine after the night we had. In Michigan, when it rains like that, it's usually dark and gray for a few days. Here, in California, sunshine is the default weather setting. Storms come and go and they get on with the awesome weather. It's pretty crazy...and I don't trust it anymore.
Our campsite. Nestled at the foothills of a recent burn area. 

On our last day in the Santa Ynez Valley we hung out in Solvang for a day. We ate danish food and did tourist type stuff. We have all been reading a LOT of books since we moved into the RV so we picked up some new reads at the bookshop as well. The town reminds me of Frankenmuth or Holland, a Scandinavian themed tourist town that is bursting at the seams with cuteness.

Horse Drawn Trolleys in Solvang
We headed south again the next morning and landed in Valencia, CA, right next to Six Flags Magic Mountain. We haven't decided if we are going to go there or not but we have family in the area so we have some fun stuff planned.

Hangin' W/ Uncle Rob in California.


1 comment: