If you live in Southern California, you know that we don’t have rain often. In fact, the years 2012 through 2014 have been some of the driest, drought-impending years on record. It is the diametric opposite of the state of Washington. Governor Jerry Brown is doing commercials about water conservation, and a state agency is running commercials about saving water if you love California – cute commercials showing people hugging an animated cartoon shape, shaped like the state. Residents of SoCal are ripping out their lawns and planting drought tolerant native plants to conserve water – succulents, cacti, aloes, and such – and some are going so far as to install expensive Astroturf in their yards, not willing to give up that “lush look.” Their yards now look like high end miniature golf courses, minus the windmills. And Home Owner Associations (HOAs) are distributing notes tacked to tenants’ garage doors about conserving water – those residents overwatering sufficiently to cause run-off will be cited after the second warning.
So when a Pacific storm comes along, albeit infrequently, it is big news. All the local TV stations have STORM WATCH coverage. The local weather reporters are suddenly supplanted by bona fide meteorologists showing Doppler radar maps of the impending storm, hanging off the Pacific coast, with prognostication about how exactly the storm, when it materializes, will affect your particular area. These meteorologists often pontificate in a way that reminds you of Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore show. Their forecasts could vary, depending on whether you live in a beach community, a canyon or the mountains, or near a recent burn area following last season’s wild fires. You aren’t sure whether to be alarmed or laugh.I’m not saying the news stations go overboard, but they do make it sound like this is an event of Armageddon-like proportions. Residents of SoCal are known to build and buy homes atop mountains and hills, on hill slopes, at the bottom of hill slopes, and in canyons. Any one of these venues can spell trouble in a rain storm. If you live in Malibu, great amounts of hillside can slide onto Pacific Coast Highway and damage your Ferrari or your Rolls Royce as you commute to Beverly Hills. Alerts are posted as to where residents can get sand bags—local fire departments and community centers most often—and instructions are supplied as to how to fill and position the sandbags in strategic spots to protect your property. Or, maybe you need K-rails along with the sandbags. Those can be made available as well. It isn’t pleasant when your $1.5 million (or higher) property is damaged by mud flowing through the front door. Some home owner insurance companies require residents of certain areas to purchase flood insurance, without which they can’t get a mortgage/loan. Residents with horses are advised of animal shelters or local fairgrounds that can take their animals. It is all part of living in paradise, until the big flood comes and turns it into paradise lost. I’m sure this is not what Dante had in mind when he wrote his great epic.
Residents anxiously glue themselves to TV and radio stations waiting for updates. Any amount of rain predicted that is over one inch in a 36-hour period may be cause for alarm. Remote news crews in vans go out to interview local residents in vulnerable areas, wearing rain slickers and balancing an umbrella. Usually well-coifed Barbie/Ken type newscasters forego their standard hair-sprayed, lacquered-down styles, for the frowzeled, mussed-up look, essential to making sure viewers know they will go to any lengths to be the first with the breaking news. It is even more impressive if there is wind with the rain, and the reporter has to lean into the wind to remain upright. Viewers are encouraged to share happenings in their area on social media, with photos – #STORM.
At the time of this writing a storm is invading, and it is predicted that we can expect anywhere from two to five inches of rain from the current deluge. News teams are scurrying to compete for the most complete coverage, in order to snare the most viewers and listeners. Meanwhile residents who have moved to the area from the Midwest or east coast can barely contain their hilarity watching these poor dopes hasten like squirrels storing nuts for the winter, while they stave off impending doom.
Those of us who are not so overly concerned with mud slides and property damage break out our foul weather gear. For many, this means a sweater or sweatshirt with a hood, and rain tolerant footwear. In SoCal that means sandals with socks. Some hasten to find umbrellas, not easily locatable since the last time one was needed was for a ¾-inch storm two years ago. Upon finding said umbrella, it is with the realization that the dog has chewed it, the cat has peed on it, or one or more of the metal staves has broken, as has the automatic button thingy that makes it open. The brave do without. The squeamish rush out to buy a new one, which will likely be used twice in nine hours while rushing to and from a parking area to an indoor mall, then stored away until the next big storm.
Then there are the freeways. Many in SoCal do not drive well in the rain. The freeways are littered with jack-knifed big rigs, spilled loads of oranges or gravel, spun out vehicles of all sizes, makes, models and colors. You just hope that the car-carrying rig in the next lane, carrying twelve new SUVs to the local Toyota dealership, doesn’t skid and dump them on your vehicle. Traffic reporters and traffic helicopters work overtime bringing updates to anxious commuters. In SoCal, it is common for many to have a twenty to forty mile commute one way, and slip-sliding in the rain, on oil-slick roads requires one to pay great attention to detail. And there is always some bozo, on a motorcycle or in an oversized pickup truck, who comes barreling along on the shoulder at 80 miles an hour cascading a wake of water seven feet high onto your windshield. This places you in great peril, as you are momentarily blinded and have no visibility whatsoever. Buy hey, these storms come only ever 24-30 months. We rationalize that this is a small price to pay for living in paradise. After all I mean, look at those poor slobs in Minnesota and Nebraska, who have eight feet of snow multiple times yearly, sometimes snowfalls that collapse roofs. They fall while shoveling snow and break a hip or a femur. Our troubles are small by comparison – a ruined hairdo and the need for a new car wash constitute a small price.
Sometimes it happens that a predicted storm of biblical proportions doesn’t materialize. It comes down from Alaska as a killer storm, through Washington and Oregon, hits San Francisco, and by the time if makes its way farther south it peters out over Fresno and SoCal gets no rain. Much fear and trembling for nothing. The newscasters look extremely foolish. Oops -so much for Doppler radar.
So what is a resident of the OC to do? Well, you prepare when it makes sense, and you enjoy the overblown news coverage for what it often is—standup comedy. Randy Newman (of I Love LA fame) should write a song.