Big Storm Caused Little Damage

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

February 12, 2021

The Jan. 27-29 storm dumped a torrent of rain on the Central Coast but didn’t cause much damage in Morro Bay, unlike Hwy 1 through Big Sur, which saw a 150-foot segment of roadway washed out at Rat Creek.
But while the damage wasn’t bad, Morro Bay fire and public works crews had a busy time keeping an eye on the local creeks and known trouble spots.
Estero Bay News sent a number of questions to Fire Chief Steve Knuckles and Public Works Director Joe Mueller regarding the 3-day storm caused by an “atmospheric river” of air currents that dropped 6.7 inches of rain at the Downtown Harbor Street Fire House. (For this story, we’ll collectively attribute their quotes to “they.”)
The fiercest day of the storm was Wednesday, Jan. 27 when wind gusts reached 60 mph in many areas along the North Coast, and a hard, steady rain fell from around midnight Tuesday, throughout the day and night Wednesday and into Thursday when it finally let up to a light rain.
The rain continued to fall through Thursday and into Friday, finally clearing to blue skies over the weekend.
Among the extensive damage that high winds can do is toppling trees, especially pine and eucalyptus trees that have shallow roots.
“We lost a few trees to the storm,” they said, “but thankfully the wind didn’t do too much damage.”
However, a big tree blew down by Bayshore Bluffs in the 100 block of Main Street. It “tore up part of the public path through there,” they said. “Not aware of any other damage from public trees. No road damage either.”
Historically, Chorro Creek and the bridge on South Bay Boulevard has been the site of many a flood, but with the replacement of Twin Bridges in the early-1990s with the Chorro Creek Bridge, it hasn’t flooded. But January’s storm almost changed that.
“Chorro Creek did rise to 13.3 feet, which is at it limits,” they said. “The County did make some repairs on the Chorro Creek dike but only minor flooding occurred near the 4-H farm,” which is on Chorro Creek Road, well upstream of the Chorro Creek Bridge.
The storm runoff flooded the estuary up to the levee that South Bay Boulevard rides atop. Lower State Park Road flooded at the intersection with South Bay, and State Parks closed the road. But that’s typical for that low-lying spot.
“Yes, we did suffer the typical flooding on Lower State Park Road between South Bay Blvd., and Upper State Park Road,” they said. “SBB also had moderate run off adjacent to the Chorro Creek Bridge, which we did place hazard signs to hopefully reduce the speed of the vehicles on SBB.”
The City put out a map showing that intersection and Quintana Road west of South Bay, as flooded areas. “Quintana south of SBB was flooded for a few hours,” they said, “which is normal during a large rain event.”
In town, concerns turned to Morro Creek. Back in March 1995 the Main Street bridge got plugged with debris and backed up floodwaters from Hwy 46 to the Hwy 1 overpass at Radcliff, in some areas, 6-feet deep.
Floodwaters washed over Hwy 1 closing it and effectively cutting the town in half for several hours.
Eventually the debris cleared the creek bridge and the water quickly flowed out to sea, leaving a large, muddy mess throughout that area. That 1995 storm dropped 13 inches of rain overnight and it continued raining hard all that day. This recent storm wasn’t nearly as bad.
“Morro Creek,” they said, “did rise up to 8.4 feet, which was 3.6 feet from overflowing. We had no events caused by Morro Creek.”
None of the City’s hundreds of storm drains backed up to cause homes to flood, a tribute to the City crews that were out in force keeping an eye on things.
Morro Bay’s storm drain system — including sidewalk gutters — can get overwhelmed by the rainwater’s unstoppable flow down to the sea. There are dozens of drains emptying out along the Embarcadero and the streets can run like river rapids in some places.
The city’s aged sewer collection system, which is subject to massive inflow during rainstorms that greatly increase the flow to the sewer treatment plant.
“We did exceed limits and are discussing that with Regional Water Quality Control Board,” they said. “This can happen during large rain events, and is part of the reason we need the new WRF project.”
The City and water board will negotiate the remedy for the violation, which Mueller did not elaborate on. Chief Knuckles said that there were no public health concerns related to the plant’s violation.
Water quality in the bay and ocean is normally degraded with big rainstorms, especially the first big rain of the year when all the dirt and chemicals deposited on the streets by autos gets washed into the bay and ocean through storm drains.
In Los Osos, Cal Fire Sta. 15 Capt. Danny Ciecek told EBN that they got about a dozen reports of telephone and cable TV lines coming down across the town and had one home on Pine Avenue get flooded.
There were no downed trees or big limbs that came down doing any damage. They were prepared for it too, Capt. Ciecek said, with chainsaws and other gear at the ready. They’d also coordinated with County Roads in case they had to put out detours.
There was one house fire, he said, but that wasn’t due to the storm. The kitchen fire on Wednesday was in a home on Seahorse Lane, he explained. The fire damaged one wall and part of the home’s floor but they were able to save the home, and no one was injured. He said the estimated damage was about $25,000 and the residents were displaced because of the fire.
As for rainfall, Baywood Park received 9.5-inches of rain, according to news sources. Capt. Ciecek said there were no power outages in Los Osos so far as he knew.
As might be expected, utility crews were extremely busy, with Pacific Gas & Electric chasing power outages throughout its territory (roughly from Santa Maria north to the Oregon Border).
From Midnight, Tuesday Jan. 26 through about 4 p.m. Wednesday, PG&E spokesman Mark Mesesan said 575,000 customers had lost power because of the high winds. They restored power to almost everyone by Thursday.
Hardest hit areas included Sacramento and Stockton, and Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.
Closer to home, Mesesan said the wind caused a wire to go down off Hwy 1 near Kansas Avenue at about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, knocking out power to nearly 50 customers including all of the County Jail facilities.
The power wasn’t restored until about 2:45 a.m. Thursday, some 10 hours in the dark.
Also, 1,300 to 1,600 PG&E customers in North County lost power as well. They also had power outages in Cambria.
Mesesan noted that rainstorms with high winds are dangerous for their workers. “The wind was a challenge,” he said, “and there were periods where because of safety, we could not risk putting our personnel at heights using bucket trucks and had to wait for the winds to subside to allow safe repairs.”

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