Storm More Impressive in Town Than in the Hills


The Monterey Peninsula and the Carmel River mouth. Although the Carmel River is now flowing under Rosie’s Bridge, in the Village, no water has yet made it as far as the lagoon. Water reached the lagoon about 9:00 am this morning!

Before it even arrived, yesterday’s storm was being hailed as the storm of the decade, the century, or even of all time – both in terms of wind and rain. In the actual event, while wind gusts of up to 147 mph were recorded on the Sierra crest near Donner Pass, winds in coastal areas were much less severe than had been feared. The highest winds recorded in Big Sur and the Santa Lucia mountains were only a bit over 50 mph, which is nothing out of the ordinary for winter storms there.

The rain, at least in the Monterey Bay area and Big Sur, might also have failed to meet expectations had the front moved steadily through, as expected. Fortunately, though, the system stalled out for much of the evening, allowing quite a bit of rain to accumulate. The Monterey Peninsula, which rarely gets more than an inch or two from big winter storms, got nearly four inches, and many locations throughout Central California, were at or near their all time single-day rain records last night.

Things were a bit different down the coast. The front stalled out north of the usually extremely rainy South Coast ridges, leaving them with lower rain totals than the, normally drier, northern Big Sur coast. The Big Sur Valley got over seven inches of rain, for example, while the usually much wetter Mining Ridge got less than five.

This rain was sufficient to lift the Big Sur River to a peak flow of around 1,500 cubic feet per second (cfs), the Arroyo Seco and Carmel Rivers to around 2,000 cfs (although none of this flow has yet made it down the parched and pumped out Carmel Valley as far as the lagoon), and the Nacimiento River to around 4,000 cfs. A trickle that topped out at about 15 cfs even made its way down the dry bed of the San Antonio River toward the nearly empty reservoir.

Although this was enough to close the highway and cover Sycamore Canyon road with some minor debris flows, by Big Sur standards, it was not an especially impressive rain event.

To put it in perspective, when the remnants of Typhoon Melor arrived, in October 2009, Mining Ridge got 21.34 inches, accumulations of over ten inches were common and, in spite of water levels being even lower in the streams when that storm began, the Big Sur and Carmel Rivers rose to around 5,000 cfs. The San Antonio went from dry to 7,000 cfs. The Nacimiento River went from dry to 18,000 cfs, and the Arroyo Seco hit a full 20,000 cfs. That’s what a serious rain event looks like in Big Sur.

Go back to the rainy ‘90s and you’ll find storms that produced flows of 16,000 cfs in the Carmel River and an almost unfathomable 57,600 cfs in the Nacimiento. That’s what a “storm of the century” looks like.

9:00 am Update

The Carmel River has finally made it to the lagoon. About 600 cfs now flowing in.



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