Blown Away: Fallen Trees, and Fallen Leaves

Posted by on Dec 8, 2011 in Farm Blog | 39 comments

The forces of Nature in the Santa Cruz Mountains occasionally test our emergency preparedness.  This is earthquake country, so preparedness is simply part of life.  In this region of the Central Coast though, emergency preparedness also extends to summer wildfires, and winter weather.  Severe weather is not uncommon in this region, and for those of us living in the mountains this often results in closed roads, and extended outages.

These fallen leaves may be pretty, but they don't quite tell the whole story

All along the west coast, December started with a bang, as a powerful windstorm ripped through California from one end of the State to the other.  Fortunately, there was no rain associated with this storm, and had there been, the damage likely would have been much worse.

Although the winds in the Los Angeles area stole the news headlines, the storm passed through the San Francisco, and Monterey Bay Areas first, and as you can see here, the Central Coast bore the brunt at the start of the storm.

The winds were so strong that at least four area homes were heavily damaged or destroyed by falling trees.  Sadly there was also loss of life, when a wildlife biologist was killed by a falling tree, and almost 30,000 households in the county, including the farm, were left without power.

This picture lies. Beautiful blazing blue skies. What you can't see is the 70 mph wind gusts!

What seemed surreal was that looking out the window throughout the duration of the storm there was nothing but beautiful, crystal clear, blue skies, and sunshine.  This belied the storm’s true intensity, with sustained winds of 25-30 mph, and damaging 70 mph gusts, for two days straight.

During the most powerful wind gusts acorns blasted down from the oaks near the house, sounding like a hail of bullets as they ricocheted off of the roof, and hit the cars.

The audible, and occasionally alarming, sounds of trees and branches snapping, and crashing down through woodland surrounding the house, occasionally sent the poultry on the farm into a complete state of panic, but fortunately the pens and coops held up great, and they were safe and secure.

Our coops are built tough, so the chickens and turkeys were safe during the storm

By Thursday morning the main county road that leads to the farm was closed in BOTH directions due to downed trees, and utility poles. For a short time we were trapped here on the farm with no way out, except on foot.

Wind gusts, Wednesday and Thursday, at times were unlike anything we’ve seen here, even during the remains of Typhoon Melor as that blew through a couple of years ago.

Our weather station in front of the bee hives almost never records wind speeds greater than 4 mph, as it’s in a very protected area down-slope, but routinely throughout the storm, our anemometer clocked wind speeds at 20 mph at hive level.

We're in a shelter valley, and NEVER see windspeeds like this so low to the ground

Fortunately, no significant branches hit the hives.

We were relieved to see no damage to the hives

Up along the ridge line though, winds gusted to 70 mph, and enormous firs and redwoods were blowing around, and bending sideways like drinking straws.  Just below the hives, the greenhouse was also unscathed, although a few branches fell close to the door.

The greenhouse survived, despite being assaulted with fir branches

It wasn’t just the wind that was a concern.  We’ve had some good rain this season already, but during the storm the winds caused the humidity to fall astonishingly low for this time of year.

In December, average morning humidity is 98%...NOT 21%!!!

We typically wake up to 98-100% humidity in the winter months, as nothing really dries out here between November and February as the sun is low to the tree line.  During this storm humidity plunged to a mere 21%!  Everything dried out, even the gardens, and this in turn increased fire danger.  Although wildfire season is officially over, a number of small wildland fires were reported during the storm…highly unusual for this time of year.

After 48 hours the storm passed, leaving branches, fallen trees, and fallen utility poles in the storm’s wake.

Here at the Farm we lost power just a few hours after the first winds sent power lines crashing down on the main road.

We lost power just a couple of hours after the winds picked up, but we were prepared

Wednesday night, we dragged out the generator to keep the freezers cold so we didn’t lose some of the harvest we had stored, but to conserve fuel, as the roads were closed, we used candles, headlamps, and flashlights throughout the house.  A cozy way to spend some cold December evenings.

Friday morning after the worst of the wind had subsided, we walked around the property to survey for damage.

Friday morning, a beautiful sunrise, and the return of some high thin clouds

Except for a mammoth cleanup of forest debris across the farm roads, we were otherwise relatively unscathed.  A few downed trees in the surrounding woods, but unlike last year, no trees fell across the road.  This standing dead Tan Oak fell in the front yard, but compared to previous storms, that was minor.

This Tan Oak died over the summer. The trunk snapped 10 feet above the ground during the storm

Every deciduous leaf, and a number of Douglas Fir branches, were ripped from the trees though, and scattered from one end of the property to the other, in some areas completely smothering the road, but there was no major damage.

Just a few Big Leaf Maple leaves across the road at the base of the orchard slope

Parts of the roads on the property were covered in various layers of Redwood litter.

The road to the bridge was almost completely covered with redwood debris

There was so much, we bagged some up, and have discovered it makes an excellent substrate for the turkey pen floor!

The redwood debris was everywhere

The roof of the house, which was clear before the storm in preparation for winter, did get buried under a couple of inches of Redwood litter.

Somewhere under all that redwood, there should be roof shingles!

In the orchard our poor ‘Chocolate’ Persimmon almost met its doom when a large branch snapped from a towering Douglas Fir up slope, and crashed through its branches.

This Douglas Fir branch is significantly larger than our young Persimmon tree...really, there's a persimmon under there

The fact this is still a very young, and very pliable tree, saved it. The developing fruit was knocked off, but the tree is otherwise unharmed, and will stand to produce another year.

With the fallen branch removed, we could see there was no permanent damage done

The bigger concern on Friday was water.  We’re on a well, shared with a neighbor, for water on the farm, and the well doesn’t run without electricity.  This was a good wake-up call, as neither the previous owners, nor the neighbor, ever set up the well to run from a generator.  There’s no socket, no transfer switch.  There is a water storage tank, but had this been a major earthquake we could be stuck up here for some time, and potentially run out of stored water.  We’ve now remedied that situation, and can now connect the generator to the well, to refill the storage tank, if only to ensure the  animals on the farm have a constant supply of fresh water during future extended outages.

With water restored, we turned our attention to clean up around the farm.  This turned out to be excellent exercise after being cooped up in the house for two days!

The upper farm road was littered with fallen Fir branches

Fortunately, with the tractor, the chipper-shredder, and the chainsaws, we’re well prepared for events such as this.

Chainsaws, and generators, are required equipment for living out here

It took an entire day to clear our roads of downed branches, leaves and debris, but overall we were remarkably unscathed.  Had this storm been accompanied by rain, I’m sure the carnage would have been much, much worse.

This is the first year we could have gathered our holiday greens directly off the road!

The good news is that when next rains arrive, all the dead leaves, and needles, have now been cleared from the trees, and our road, drains and gutters are clear once again, so the rain during the next storms should be able to flow unimpeded.

In addition to losing power, a 100+ foot Douglas Fir, and a nearby Redwood, did take out utility poles and wires down on the main county road.  For a number of us up here, this severed phone/internet service for a week.  Yesterday afternoon, 8 days after the storm started, we finally had phone service RESTORED to the farm, and are once again able to communicate with the outside world.  So if it’s seemed a little quiet here this last week, that’s why.

We’d like to thank those that sent, or attempted to send, messages of concern, and tried to contact us to see if we were alright.  We’re still catching up on email, but overall things are quickly returning to normal here.

The calm after the storm

All in all we’re so very grateful that the damage was minimal here on the farm, as a number of others in the county clearly weren’t so fortunate.

39 Comments

  1. If I had been you, I would have been very nervous about the bees, fowl and especially the new greenhouse! You must have had it worse than us here, Clare, although we are set on the side of a valley where the wind blows through like a speeding train. Our house is on a 15 degree slope and just above us are three 100+ high, 2 1/2 fett in diameter Ponderosa pines.

    Just below the house, I can watch through sliding glass windows as the 50 foot oaks whip and twist in the wind. THAT is what makes me a bit nervous.

    We have a ton of acorns down after these last few windstorms, and heard as they hit the house and windows. Quite something,…the power of nature, but fortunately we have little concrete to sweep if we had th inclination and every thing seems lightly ‘mulched’.

    Most of our old rotten oak trees in the Mountain Community here were downed in a very bad storm last March. Sad about the biologist.
    Sue Langley´s last post…December gardening in the Sierra foothills

    • I was very nervous about the bees. We can’t see the hives from the house. Although we had confidence in the hive stand strength, if a Fir dropped one of those massive branches on the hives, it could certainly do some damage. We were so glad to see the hives intact! I love living in the woods, but it’s the one thing I’m not fond of here…strong wind. Mature trees whipping about in wind storms make me quite jumpy. That first photo of the tree line, those trees are all on the ridge above the house! 8O

  2. Clare, I am so glad that Curbstone Valley residents are fine. Listening to the news and seeing the winds coverage had me worried for my blogging friends out west. Love your final photo~ the calm after the storm must have been a great feeling. xogail

    • Santa Cruz was reportedly the hardest hit in the Bay Area, although from what I’ve seen of reports, even we didn’t get it as bad as some areas around Los Angeles. Regardless, this was a monster wind storm. Definitely not typical of the area. I’m just glad it’s gone! ;)

  3. Clare I am so glad you are safe and relatively unscathed. What an ordeal of a storm. Makes me not mind our snow events here so much…
    Donna@Gardens Eye View´s last post…Gardens Eye Verse-December

    • I think I would have rather had snow…at least it’s pretty. On the upside, we don’t have as much tree pruning to do now :P

  4. Glad to hear you all survived the storm mostly unscathed! Though I know from firsthand experience that any storm cleanup is no picnic. It’s always good to test and tweak that disaster recovery plan too, though in this case the test was ‘live’!

    • The live test was good. We’ve lost power for longer periods before, but there was nobody at the neighbor’s house during that outage. There were many more people drawing on the water this time around, so it was good to get the well situation addressed now. We also have more animals than then too, and it’s important that they’re part of our disaster plan too. I agree, storm cleanup isn’t much fun, although I did smell remarkably pine fresh once we were done :D

  5. It was crazy wasn’t it? When I lived in Santa Monica I was used to wind storms because I lived right by the beach. But this is the first one I experienced in West Hollywood. There are two huge stands of bamboo on the properties just south of me and I sat on my living room couch and watched them whip around like crazed snakes. I’m glad I wasn’t out in it. The next day I walked to the bank and it looked like someone had waged war on the trees.

    Pasadena to the east was hit much harder and there were lots of downed trees and damaged buildings. The LA Arboretum is closed until further noticed because hundreds of trees have been damaged or killed. They have started a fund raiser to replace them.
    Kaveh´s last post…Good Stuff

    • It was really a wild storm. I’ve lived in California now for almost 30 years, and this was definitely one of the biggest wind storms I’ve experienced here.

      ‘Crazed snakes’ is about right. Although I’d rather watch bamboo behaving like that, than a 100 ft tree! :P

      That’s so sad about the Arboretum, I hadn’t heard, but after being cut off from the outside world for a week, I’m still catching up. It’s so sad to lose large trees, especially those that would be difficult to replace to the same stature within our lifetimes.

  6. So glad you guys made it through without any serious damage. The wind got up to about 45-50 here in Sacramento and there were some downed trees but, like you said, not having any rain in that storm kept it from being a real disaster.
    Chad B´s last post…Rant Diffused

    • I remember how windy it would get in the Central Valley when we lived out there. Those west winds blowing in from Napa could be brutal. Fortunately there though, no massive trees, not like here! ;)

  7. Clare,

    Pretty amazing storm “clear blue skies” never would have dreamed. Glad you made it ok and did not have much damage. We got 20 inches of snow one year here it took 9 days before I could get out our up hill driveway. The hurricanes here leaves messes like yours but it is very wet during the storm.

    • That was the most strange thing about this wind storm, the weather was otherwise gorgeous! Definitely not your typical coastal storm.

  8. I’m glad you and your animals are all fine. What a story! Amazing how clear the skies were. And the humidity! I didn’t think about the winds drying things out so quickly! I wonder what the bees and birds thought!
    Holleygarden´s last post…Gaga

    • The humidity, or lack thereof, was crazy. I’ve never seen it get that low here. It was amazing to watch how quickly the soils dried out.

  9. I was wondering about you. Good news that after the scare, all was relatively well! Storms come in all shapes and sizes… So strange to imagine yours – blue but violent.
    Zoe´s last post…Today we made a heffalump trap

    • I’m relieved it wasn’t raining as well, I can’t imagine how bad it would have been. At a minimum, with all the debris being blown out of the trees, the drains would have been clogging like crazy! ;)

  10. Wow…you have had quite the weather to deal with. I’m glad all is okay and like you said it could have been a lot more damaging. Good thing you all have built well made structures that will hold up to such a strong storm. A week without internet….ugh.:)
    Amy´s last post…Freezing Temperatures and My Changing Garden

    • I was happy to see the coops and pens come through with flying colors. There were a few small branches dropped on their roofs, but nothing too large, and they definitely kept the animals safe and contained.

  11. 70 mph winds would’ve freaked me out. 4 years ago we had a windstorm that had gusts in the 60’s and we actually lost shingles on our roof.
    You’re right that LA stole the weather headlines, I had no idea how bad it was where you are. So glad there was no major damage and that the people and animals on your farm are all safe.

    • I was definitely nervous, especially during some of the larger gusts. We some not-so-healthy trees still near the house, and I always wonder if the next gust will be the one to take them out! 8O

  12. You sound so calm and well organised and businesslike. At the time it is simply frightening. Glad to hear the worst is over.
    Elephant’s Eye´s last post…Foreign flowers in December for once were Blotanists

    • Well, I’m not sure I was entirely calm ;) We have gotten used to living out here though, and for the most part you just have to accept that downed trees, and power outages, are just a normal part of living up here.

  13. There will be rainbow after the storm, that what I heard, and sometimes it’s true.
    Dewi´s last post…Echeveria. Never Seen It So Reddish …

  14. Your words and photos brought back many memories for me of living on the West Coast. The wind and rain storms in fall can be very serious, especially with all those big trees. Listening to the sounds of snapping and not knowing what’s coming down next is a really frightening feeling. Glad to hear everyone on the farm is okay.

    • I agree, those snapping sounds are quite disconcerting. I don’t usually worry until I hear the loud cracks, but I often forget that even a seemingly small branch can actually be very large once you see it up close on the ground! ;)

  15. What horrid weather!
    Donna´s last post…A Little Christmas Tree That One Day Will

  16. Clare, I’m so relieved that your property wasn’t significantly damaged in any way. So lucky! Having come through an extreme weather event myself earlier in the year, I know how frightening it is listening to those winds and wondering what’s going on outside.

    I also know something of what it’s like to be without power and water. We lost power for ten days and relied on the generator to run for a few hours in the evenings. We also lost water for three days, but lucily had filled every container,including the bathtub with water and managed to make it stretch!

    I’m glad I caught up with this post and caught up with the news.
    Bernieh´s last post…It’s Raining! It’s Pouring! Today I’ll Do Some Snoring … My Dry Tropics Garden Journal … Week 49, 2011

    • That was smart to fill the bathtub. We’ve lost power for up to 5 days before, but never 10. That must have felt like an extended camping trip at that point, especially with losing power. Whenever we live in the wilds though, we all have to be prepared for events such as this. I’m glad things are getting back to normal where you are too :)

  17. Wow! I am so glad that your farm escaped relatively unscathed and that everyone is okay! That sounds so frightening with so many trees around.
    Indie´s last post…Seeds: Next Year’s Garden

    • I’m often in denial, and try not to think about how tall some of the trees are around here. They are quite dangerous in storms like these, and often, the ones that fall, aren’t always the ones you’d expect either.

  18. Wow, that sounds a little scary. I’m so glad it all worked out. I was a little worried myself during the storm because our neighbor does not currently have the funds to thin the redwoods, but thankfully the winds were not as strong down here and we were fine.
    Town Mouse´s last post…California Fall Color

    • Well, it’s my understanding that redwoods are often better off in small groups, as they help mitigate the wind somewhat for each other. A redwood standing alone is much less buffeted from winds like these, and potentially more likely to fall over! They are exciting, and somewhat frightening to watch lash about though!

  19. First, I’m glad you are safe and sound! Second, I find weather fascinating, in that kind of horror and awe way.

    Third, interestingly, this same windy conditions, over here, happens often as far as the sustained winds and max gusts, and we are generally none the worse for it, because our environment is used to it, for the most part even though nearly always in form of massive tstorms lines. We don’t have the kind of trees width or height, and we never EVER have 21% humidity ever in our wildest dreams (thats nuts!), thanks to the gulf of mexico. People don’t even worry about their structures/ windows until we are expecting at least Hurricane 2 force level winds. The houses and roofs are built for these types of storms too. BUT, we honestly got 3 inches of snow here 2 years ago (first time in 20 years) and the carnage was ridiculous. Power was out instantly, car wrecks all over the place, and tree limbs down all over the place.

    All the while up in Upstate New York they can get 3 feet of snow overnight and be to work the next morning, no sweat. An exaggeration, of course, but not by much.

    Whereas here I would look bemusedly out of my window and hope it doesn’t hail, there I’d be scared to death hearing the trees towering overhead and wondering if I should get in a closet or something.

    • Our trees definitely aren’t adapted to hurricane force winds here. I’m so glad we don’t have weather that severe here. We’ve never had 21% humidity in the time we’ve lived here. I wonder what the resident amphibians did on the farm? Hopefully hid underground, or headed for the nearest creek to prevent themselves from drying out ;)

  20. Hello Clare, very happy to hear that you are safe and sound despite the storm! Dramatic (and traumatic) weather always seems to be so hard to capture completely in a photo, but even so, I can get an idea of the lean on some of those trees being buffeted by the wind. The pictures of the aftermath certainly tell the story too!
    Heidi´s last post…At last, some (modest) success with garlic!

    • I really should have taken some video of the storm, but sadly I drowned our good video camera during a spring storm, and the other one I have isn’t the most user friendly. Maybe I’ll have to hit up Santa for a replacement ;)

  21. Apologies Clare for being late in reading this – I think you were so fortunate not to have had any more damage especially to the hives and the greenhouse.
    Rosie@leavesnbloom´s last post…Quiver ‘n Quake