I don’t find anything to like about heavy rains.
Last Sunday’s big storm, and the non-stop buildup it received from the National Weather Service and the news media, shot my everyday anxiety level from a two or three to a six or seven.
For this to happen on a Sunday is just wrong!
If I weren’t in the news business, maybe my dread would have been four or five. But I am in the news business. The forecast had me at battle stations.
The very word “flood” triggers memories of past inundations that messed up central Napa in nasty ways.
Thanks to Nathan Coombs, who laid out Napa’s first street grid next to the Napa River and Napa Creek, this community has an abysmal tradition of flooding. In my time, starting in 1986, Napa went through a 20-year period larded with flood emergencies.
‘86 was the biggie, turning much of downtown and Soscol’s Auto Row into a lake, but there were plenty of smaller events when water entered homes and businesses.
Seemingly every year I got to interview bedraggled residents and business owners as they mucked out.
Shag carpeting cannot handle a flood. Neither can TVs nor upholstered furniture nor shelves of merchandise. Whatever flood water touches, it infects with a smell that curls the human nose.
Last Sunday’s rains came with a relentless drumbeat of news reports warning of a watery Armageddon. No one said “storm of the century,” but after years of drought that’s what the hype felt like.
The National Weather Service issued alerts. Local public safety agencies issued alerts. Forces unknown to me commandeered my cellphone, causing it to squawk with more alerts.
Working from home, I monitored weather websites. The California Nevada River Forecast Center displayed a series of ominous maps showing the river rising above “flood stage.”
One wondered what that means. Vineyards get wet? The Oxbow bypass? My backyard?
Out in the field, Register chief photographer J.L. Sousa and reporter Howard Yune covered the historic closing of the McKinstry Street flood gates for the first time since the Oxbow bypass was completed two winters ago.
Seeing the steel gates clanging shut, you just knew this storm meant business.
In the old days, that would have meant that people who lived or worked anywhere near the river were in for a soaking. Last Sunday, that did not happen.
Fortunately, the rain stopped when it did. This was not the storm of the century, or even the decade. It loomed large in our psyches because it came on the heels of a string of dry years when parched earth was all we thought about.
Let’s hear it for our marvelous flood control project, for which we’ve been paying an extra half-cent sales tax since the late 1990s.
The Army Corps of Engineers, in partnership with local government, replumbed central Napa. Bridges are higher and longer. River and creek banks are wider, more accommodating. Many structures in harm’s way have been demolished.
Like many others, Cheryl and I ventured out late Sunday afternoon in the storm’s farewell gusts to observe the flood bypass doing its thing for the first time.
The channel carried a modest, non-threatening flow. As it cascaded down a series of concrete steps, it seemed a public art feature built to delight tourists. The sound was almost musical.
Is this what floods of the future will look like?