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November 26, 2021

Window on the World Column | The Atmospheric River

I love this time of year, when the “storm window” opens, the water possibilities increase ten-fold and the population of our desiccated West Coast becomes transfixed by weather and all her whims. “We are on the storm watch,” the forecaster whispers in spooky tones. We tune in just to see if we missed anything from the broadcast an hour ago.

“Breaking news!” (Yes, by all accounts, we did!) “Get ready for potentially historic rainfall!” (Ooooh, historic! Love historic!) “Evacuation warnings are in place for the burn scar areas.” (Oh dear!) “Watch out for debris flows. Leave now!” These broadcasts take on an almost thriller aspect, much more interesting than your daily news banter about politicians caught doing naughty things and the movements of the Dow Index. No, this is non-judgmental stuff we can all get our teeth into on the West Coast, soon to be called the “Wet Coast.”

“The Atmospheric River is approaching the California coast, leave now! Flash flood warnings in place!” (Say it quickly.) Oh, I do love an Atmospheric River when she comes to visit. Though, truthfully, our state can never handle one of those spectacles when they pass us by. They always lead to flooding and all of the above described drama-rama; but it is so delicious to see our browns quickly turn to light greens, our weather forecasters talking about something other than the drought and the second driest year on record, along with photo shoots of earnestly depressed politicians standing in dry river beds. It is so refreshing! There is also absolutely no crossover between Covid and an Atmospheric River — even more fabulous!

Last winter was a complete washout — or rather dry-out — in the world of the water tables. It was pathetic. I honestly wonder why some of the geniuses of the world could not put their heads together and pipeline some of that gorgeous wet stuff from up north or wherever to our bone-dry state. We could do a trade for lettuce or broccoli, or even marijuana for goodness sakes. Would that be so hard to accomplish?

Maybe, instead of taking a rocket up to Jupiter, they could spend a few gazillions on that project and stop all the stressful chaos every year. Yes, pretty much every year. You no longer hear much about desalination successes. We know it is possible, we know it is expensive. Make it less expensive for crying out loud. Let’s take the salt out of the salt water and, lo and behold, we would have water we could use! Such a concept. Anyone listening, anyone?

Back to the Atmospheric River topic, because I just like saying it so much. My father in the British Isles, where it rains pretty much seven out of every 10 days, giggles when I say that, because everyone knows California is such a dry state and we love to overreact when we are talking about a little bit of rain. You wait; the schools will likely be closed tomorrow, and the excited newscasters will be telling everyone to stay off the roads. People will be driving into ditches and power poles likes there’s no tomorrow, because obviously they miss the memo time and time again that, it’s finally raining, the roads are slick; it would be smart to drive less foolishly.

Still, you will witness the fools hitting the 101 Northbound at commute time, driving right up behind the car in front. You will see the makeup being applied in the fast lane and the odd texter maneuvering the puddles to send that one vital message. Makes me crazy! Oh and then, of course, there will be the obligatory power outage with no end in sight.

I learned to drive in rain, snow, sleet and black ice. I’m not bragging; it was just a fact of the winters where I grew up. I also learned how to exercise double the caution, drive into a skid, apply only mild brakes — you know that kind of thing. So that when the Atmospheric River would hit — like often — I would be well-skilled at driving that death machine under those conditions.

Might be also good for the smarty-pants in the world, whilst they are pondering my other suggestions, to devise a driving program where people actually learn to drive in different conditions, because not everyone was born with common sense, apparently. It is not always warm and dry in California, contrary to what myths might be concocted in that regard. We do have rain — normally not enough — we do have storms and — boy oh boy — when we are really lucky, we might get into that fabulous storm window we do rain dances for; not to mention the weather forecaster heaven when the storms stack up off the coast, ready to come and flood our glorious state; also throw us an Atmospheric River once in a while.

We love the storm windows; we get so excited about them we can hardly stand ourselves. The dogs look up with concerned eyes at the billowing grey clouds and swirling winds. They beg to come in, though it is neither cold nor wet; just weird. The doves fly by all wonky on the wind and even the flies are desperate to come in out of the storm window and rest a little while in the dry. It is so funny to witness.

Meanwhile, the Salinas River is still bone dry and we have received just a few small droplets on our patio. I haven’t seen the sun today, but that’s OK because it’s laundry day and a day for indoor pursuits. I shall not be rushing out the door at dumb-commute time tomorrow either, because I know the sort of trouble that could be asking for. I shall be watching the weather and the traffic reports and tut-tutting over the latest person to skid into a ditch or the flooding that will inevitably happen on 101 North at Spence Road.

Idiocy is doing something more than once, when it didn’t work out the first time. Some of our state’s responses to water, or the lack thereof, are simply idiotic. Pipeline, people! We need a water pipeline from the wet states to the dry ones. Could someone please drag Joe Genius off his next flight to Mars and have him devise something really smart in that regard?

Meanwhile, it’s back to my Atmospheric River. Must be time for another weather update. Time to tune in. Wait, there’s no power…

Lucy Jensen
Soledad Columnist

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