In California, we’ve been living with a drought for the past few years.
Climatologists have studied El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean for months, cautioning us that the predicted rain may not fall in the right places to refill the reservoirs. We still don’t know what to expect, but this week the northern part of Los Angeles County had flooding from a severe storm. That wasn’t what anyone with good sense wanted.
The drought in L.A. is still going strong. One massive storm doesn’t correct the problem, although it causes the obvious new troubles. Even with carefully spaced events and above-average snow and rainfall for the season, California’s drought will continue next year and possibly for a few years after that.
The Earth is getting hotter, and we should be ready for things we didn’t used to expect. The tornado in May 2011 which destroyed a large portion of Joplin, MO was a scary example of extremes hitting so hard and carrying so far there isn’t always a chance to take cover.
Tornadoes aren’t unheard of in California. They’re newsworthy because we never expect them. We don’t prepare for them, either, which might come back to get us someday.
By the way, most people in California don’t prepare for earthquakes, either. As Jo Anne Worley used to say on Laugh-In, “Now, THAT’S dumb.”
Disclaimer: The prevailing theory is that weather doesn’t affect earthquake risk. That statement is included so I can sort-of change the subject without misleading anyone.
Today, October 17, 2015, is the 26th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Centered in Watsonville, CA (Santa Cruz County), it was strong enough to be felt in most of the state and cause damage, injuries and death in different parts of the Bay Area. People around the country remember it as the World Series Earthquake because our two Major League teams, the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants, had to cancel Game Three of the series at the last minute. Candlestick Park was full of people who left as quickly and as cautiously as possible, not knowing what they would run into outside. One memorable photograph from that date shows Tony La Russa, still in his A’s uniform, leaving the ballpark with his family and looking slightly dazed from the shock.
The Bay Bridge was closed immediately after a panel of the upper deck collapsed and stopped traffic. One motorist who was driving into the city on the upper deck died after she drove her car into the empty space. On the lower deck Financial District commuters were heading east, and anyone who hadn’t driven past that section before the quake was temporarily stranded.
I heard in a news report that the Golden Gate Bridge was closed as a precaution so it could be inspected, but I don’t know if that happened with other bridges. A commuter I knew told me he drove from his office at the Jung Institute in San Francisco to his home in Oakland via the San Mateo Bridge. Fortunately, he had refilled his gas tank that morning, so he got through the stop-and-go traffic.
Many people ran out of gas and had to abandon their cars. Then they had to decide whether they’d sleep in their vehicles, hitchhike or try to walk somewhere and find a room. Most of them couldn’t call their families even if they found telephones because other panicked people were tying up the phone lines. Technically, the phone lines weren’t down. They were just overused.
In spite of the traffic nightmare after the quake, we could be grateful there were fewer cars than usual on bridges and freeways. The earthquake occurred at 5:04 p.m. and, like the Bay Bridge, the freeway overpass in Oakland (The Cypress Structure, a section of I-880) which collapsed was less crowded than usual for that time on a weekday. People in the Bay Area were excited about two local teams playing in the World Series, and some employers allowed their workers to go home early. It was a blessing for some people and not others.
The Cypress Structure and an apartment building at Fillmore and Cervantes Streets in San Francisco’s Marina District were the among worst places to be. There were also disaster zones closer to the epicenter, in Santa Cruz County. I understand some people died in their collapsed homes after leaving work early, so for them the tragedy (slightly) resembled an anecdote titled Appointment In Samarra. The rescue effort took days, and at least one man who survived initially on the freeway died in the hospital later from an illness caused by dehydration while he was waiting for someone to find him.
Fewer than one hundred people died in the earthquake and its aftermath, and although we can be grateful it wasn’t worse those people had their lives shortened. Some of them suffered for hours or days before passing.
We can’t prevent this from happening again, but we can try to prepare. We should also consider the strong possibility that earthquakes will become a major threat in states such as Oklahoma, where fracking is thought to be responsible for disturbing underground faults. Global Warming makes extreme heat waves and storms — such as tornadoes — more likely in California (and everyplace else).
I’ll share two separate media items here. The YouTube video shows a waterspout in the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco (2011), and the Sandra Boynton drawing is the reason for the subject line.