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.
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.
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.
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.
Fortunately, no significant branches hit 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Parts of the roads on the property were covered in various layers of Redwood litter.
There was so much, we bagged some up, and have discovered it makes an excellent substrate for the turkey pen floor!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Fortunately, with the tractor, the chipper-shredder, and the chainsaws, we’re well prepared for events such as this.
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.
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.
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.