No one knows exactly what impact this winter’s El Niño forecast will have on Southern California. But, despite the uncertainty, many people in Santa Barbara are getting ready. They may be lugging sandbags, fixing roofs or prepping crops. We spoke with different people with different plans for the wet skies, heavy winds and strong seas that may be coming our way. (Reporting by Linda Sturesson)
Harvey Banick and his wife, Margo, have lived on their 52-foot boat, “Huna,” in the Santa Barbara harbor for nine years. Despite El Niño predictions, they don’t plan to move out this winter. Banick says he’s worried about the swells, not the rain. His dock lines have snapped in strong storms, and he’s since bought ones designed for a much larger boat. “I think my dock lines are stronger than the docks, so if a dock should come apart, then I have a problem.”
Banick says the boater community is strong. Live-aboards help each other out whenever there’s a storm. “We all seem to be on the dock at the same time, in the middle of the night.”
The Harbor Keeper
Santa Barbara Harbor Operations Manager Mick Kronman helps prepare the harbor for predicted strong El Niño weather. “The major concern comes from the sea, not from the sky. The big problem is gale force winds and huge tides.” He says one of the scary parts about big swells in the winter is “the lookie-loos” who come down to watch the waves along the breakwater.
“We had signs up a few years ago. A few people got washed right over the railing and onto the rocks,” Kronman says. “Harbor Patrol will be prepared to to undertake ocean rescue if it needs to.”
Although surfer and surf photographer Jon Shafer is excited to take action shots of surfers in the high waves this winter, he advises novice surfers to stay away from the water this winter. According to him, no one with less than five years of experience should risk his or her safety. With possible strong El Niño currents, they might not know what they’re getting themselves into.
“They get out there, and they get into trouble. When the waves get really big, we have these tremendous long currents that pull you from north to south,” he says. “You can paddle out in Carpinteria, and 20 minutes later you’re halfway to Ventura.”
The Homeless Helper
Tamme Dishion spent more than a year on the streets of Santa Barbara . She said the homeless should prepare for the El Niño weather well before it hits. “You need tarps, certain kinds of foods, more than one blanket, flashlights, a radio, things you don’t think about until you need them in the moment.” It’s hard to find a covered spot to sleep. Those who can’t make it to a warming shelter use awnings, vans, tents and cardboard to stay as warm and dry as possible.
“It’s hard when it rains; it really is,” she says. “It makes you think about your life a little bit more.”
The Charter Captain
Arthur McNary operates a 47-foot sailing catamaran out of the Santa Barbara Harbor. Since the business is highly dependent on the weather, McNary worries he’ll have to close down over the winter. McNary and his wife, who works as a chef on the boat, may have to move the boat to Ventura or the Channel Islands for the season.
“If we do have rain anything similar to El Niños in the past, it could literally shut the business down for three months,” he says.
The Berm Builder
In the 13 years Jill Van Wie has worked as manager of capital projects for Santa Barbara County’s Parks Divison, this is the first time she has been involved in constructing a winter sand berm. The 8-foot-tall wall of 23,000 cubic yards of sand stretches a half mile, from the Goleta Pier to the eastern edge of UCSB’s campus.
The berm was built in early December, after the county received a permit from the California Coastal Commission. But, unanticipated high tides and strong swells washed parts of it away.
“The berm has done an excellent job of protecting the beach, but it gave us a glimpse of what likely will happen in an even stronger capacity in the coming months,” says Van Wie, who thinks the county may have to consider stronger installations, like geotextile bags.