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Clueless in California: The real reasons we are having more & bigger disasters
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

A group of golfers plunked down $100 apiece to play a round last Thursday.

They did so at the Shore Course at Monterey  Peninsula Country Club.

As the name implies, the 18-hole course is along the Pacific Ocean shoreline of the rugged, wind-swept Monterey Peninsula.

When the peninsula hosts the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am — it is set for Jan. 30 through Feb. 5 this year — winds can play havoc.

Now imagine playing it during a time that the National Weather Service has predicted extremely high winds and heavy downpour connected with a series of storms making up the term du jour for old school “Pineapple Express” — atmospheric rivers.

The Internet was treated this week to a video posting of golfers fleeing for their lives when the storm system whipped up a 45-foot wave that came crashing down on the 14th hole.

The smartphone — apparently “smart” applies to the device and not the user — footage caught golfers running for their lives. The aftermath showed submerged golf carts including one that was almost taken out to sea.

A few days ago, Ellen DeGeneres posted a selfie video in her backyard in Montecito standing next to a raging creek that the comedian says “never flows” with what she is about 9 feet of raging water.

This is the same Montecito that was hit by a wildfire and mudslides five years ago.

By the way, the creek clearly was carved out by “unprecedented rains” and “an angry Mother Nature” — DeGeneres’ words — at some point in the last hundred to thousands of years.

Talking heads on TV and Internet posters that try to outdo each other with superfluous elevation of words to attract viewers and clicks, breathlessly talk about how “the historic and unprecedented storms.” Then in the next breath they share how San Francisco “has logged its third wettest 15-day period on record, which goes back to the Gold Rush in 1849.”

If they bothered to think about what they were saying or typing, it clearly isn’t unprecedented as there are still two 15-day periods “on record” that were wetter.

As for “historic” that is in in the context of the last 175 years. Keep in mind the oldest rocks in California date back 1.8 billion years.

Speaking of “unprecedented,” we supposedly have never had “atmospheric rivers” slam California. Before the term was coined in 1994 they were referred to as “The Pineapple Express” that brought moisture in large quantities to the state from the tropics.

As for the phenomenon itself, records show that rain fell on more than three dozen consecutives days in California at the end of 1861 and the beginning of 1862. The result was almost all of the Central Valley was under water at one point.

Gee, what are the odds the event was an earlier “Pineapple Express” or “atmospheric river?”

Back in 1845, there were an estimated 150,000 indigenous people in what we today call California and 14,000 non-natives. That comes to 164,000 or just a tad over one person per square mile for the 163,691 square miles that constitute California.

Today, there are 39.24 million people living here. That translates into 239.7 people per square mile.

The preceding  tidbits points to why we are having more and more natural disasters:

*Many of us need to devote so little of our waking hours to securing food and simply staying alive we can pursue leisure activities that put us in harm’s way when major storms approach instead of battening down the proverbial hatch to weather the storm.

*We build homes — and golf courses — in danger zones.

*We ignore history — even the ridiculous short time on the geological clock that’s less than a second of when “modern man” has been in California.

*We have paved over more and more of California to accommodate 39.24 million people. Water that 150 years ago would have either been absorbed into the ground now adds to the destructive runoff.

*We assume dry creek beds never should have water in them again, although they clearly exist as part of natural drainage system.

Take flash floods in mountainous areas of the Mojave Desert such as in Death Valley.

Every so often there are stories that “shock people” about a storm that drops less than an inch of rain in an hour’s time turning desert canyons into raging rivers moving boulders and wash away highways.

Yet most of the time when you hike them they are as dry as a bone with progress impeded often by soaring dry falls that are what the name implies.

It’s bad enough we routinely play Russian roulette with nature.

But it is not as fatal as our suffering from a toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance when it comes to water regardless of its form.

Water is nature’s ultimate carving tool.
It wears down mountains.

It transports massive amounts of rock and silt.

In its frozen form, it carves massive granite into valleys such as Yosemite.

When it becomes scarce we can’t grow food or consume it to simply live.

Yet, we carelessly waste it.

We are foolish enough to think we’ve tamed it.

We don’t have to go looking for it or fetch it every day. All we do is turn on a tap.

We never give a thought to the endless miles of levees and canals plus hundreds of dams that either contain it to protect land that — if nature was left on its own — would flood either yearly or once a century or so.

Those same conveyances and dams also store water for periods when nature makes it scarce.

Because we are generations removed from trying to semi-tame places such as the Northern San Joaquin Valley, we are either ignorant, smug or perhaps both.

The Yokuts were smart enough to reside on higher ground in winter and move to the Sierra when summer rolled around. That’s when desert-live weather returned to the Central Valley complete with water sources drying up, food sources dwindling and fire danger rising.

We rely on levees fashioned by dirt and rock as well as massive dams from earth and concrete to control annual flooding and to store water for the non-rainy season.

Yet we foolishly don’t keep re-investing such protection against drought and storms.

If nature’s forces can form the inland sea and then create the Central Valley and help wear down the Sierra that scientists believe rose as high as 20,000 feet more than a million of years ago, it can easily in relatively short order erode whatever structures man has built to hold it back or to channel it.

Yet, we aren’t investing money into resources to counter the wearing down of dams, even with the 2017 scare when Oroville Dam almost failed.

In terms of geology and civilianization, California is young.

Evidence of that is offered by our active volcanoes, daily earthquakes of which many are too small for people to feel as well as the fact San Francisco and Los Angeles — considered two of the world’s greatest cities — are still in their infancy compared to Rome, Tokyo, London, Paris, Mumbai and Beijing.  Even New York City is three times older.

We do not control nature.

That is the true conceit.

The best mankind has ever been able to do is to adapt to nature’s dictates.

It’s about time arrogance and ignorance is set aside in California.

Our choices — blatantly ignore known risks — is what is making “natural  disasters” more frequent and more deadly.