Over the weekend, Northern California was hit with a tremendous rainstorm. The Governator has declared a state of emergency in 23 counties, including my home county of Marin, as well as much of the Redwood Empire and Central Valley.
When I tell people on the East Coast that despite the snowstorms and the cold out here, Northern California has far more violent weather, they look at me like I’m nuts. But while blizzards may be temporarily paralyzing, they’re not exactly fierce, and summer thundershowers tend to explode for 45 minutes and then disappear. In California, by contrast, I’ve seen things like 80-mile-an-hour winds out of nowhere or a 24-hour lightning storm with strikes coming as fast as one every ten seconds and not a drop of rain.
More common are the heavy rains that come not for an hour or two but for days on end, until the ground is saturated and the hillsides start to give way. The worst I remember was in 1982 — what my parents call “the Mabul,” which is the Hebrew word for the Biblical flood. Sections of Sausalito fell away, and a power outage forced my elementary school, Brandeis Hillel, to close for the day. My parents couldn’t get there in time, so I was taken home by a family I didn’t really know and fed something smelly and upsetting for dinner. Later I remember seeing water shooting out of the storm drains in Lucas Valley, the force from upstream turning them into murky fountains.
But what took place Saturday is the worst devastation I’ve heard of in Marin. In Lucas Valley, just blocks from where I grew up, a mud flow burst through a house after a culvert was blocked up. You can see a map here, and if you look at the top of Mt. Tenaya, you can see the ravine (marked by the line of oak trees) that channeled the flow into that first house. According to my parents, who were at the Chabad of Marin synagogue (map) when the mud and water came rushing through, the flow came down Tenaya, made a left onto Idylberry, swamped half the Dixie Elementary soccer field, poured down Mt. Palomar and pooled up in the cul-de-sac, and also continued to flow along Idylberry until it reached the eastern junction with Mt. Lassen and poured into a small stream there.
My dad’s car was parked in front of the synagogue as all this was happening, and he looked on helplessly as neighbors moved their own vehicles out of the way of the rising muck. As an Orthodox Jew, he couldn’t violate the sabbath to rescue his own car, but as the water level reached halfway up the hubcaps and sizeable debris began to threaten serious damage, a friendly non-Jewish neighbor came into the synagogue and asked if anybody needed their cars moved.
Other parts of Marin were hit even harder, and other parts of California suffered still worse damage. The Marin Independent Journal provides pictures of the flooding (1, 2, 3) and reports on the $30 million damage to San Anselmo, as well as a good overview of the situation.