The Mixed Blessings of California Rain

When Ray and I first moved to Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, we made fun of the TV weather coverage of rain. A reporter, decked out in a yellow slicker and matching boots, appeared on the television screen and spoke in cataclysmic terms about the threat of 1-2 inches of precipitation. Ray and I shook our heads. “They should see a Texas rain,” Ray’d say. “They wouldn’t know what to do with a tornado,” I’d add. 

Having grown up in North Central Texas, part of tornado alley. I knew the fear of gray-green clouds and high winds and the sight of a funnel cloud off in the distance.  And yet, as a general rule, I had always thought of rain as comforting, soothing, a blessing so crops and plants could grow, lakes could fill and groundwater levels could stay well-replenish. I had never associated rain with anxiety or outright fear. Now, having lived in SoCal for this long, I am aware that those news reporters knew something I did not. It only takes a few inches of rain here to produce mudslides, particularly on parched land or burn areas and with mudslides, rocks and houses can slip down a hillside, causing not only physical damage but also death. 

Two days ago, when the rain started, I read that due to flash flood warnings, mandatory evacuation orders had been issued in parts of LA, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. After the wild fires earlier this year and last, the vegetation-free hillsides are dangerously prone to mudslides. Last January after the Thomas fire, Montecito had a devastating mudslide that resulted in 23 deaths and the loss of 100 homes. Over the past two days, residents of those same areas have been told by county authorities to “Gather family members, pets, and essential items” since debris flow could make roads impassable. Malibu, ravaged by the Woolsey fire this past November, has closed all schools in anticipation of flash floods and mud slides.

Ironically, Southern California has been suffering from a severe drought for several years now and we are badly in need of rain. However, rain brings mudslides; no rain brings wild fires. Nature’s balance is clearly off. Experts say the higher temperatures from global warming are contributing to the flammable conditions that create brush fires. We have much work to do to help Mother Nature.

As a now seasoned Californian, I have learned that different parts of the country have unique perils. A few inches of rain on fire-damaged hillsides can be as dangerous as a small tornado skipping across the prairie. Both are unpredictable and can produce heartbreaking consequences. 

I am hopeful these next few days will be safe ones for all those folks who have evacuated from their homes. Hopefully, the showers will be gentle enough to give us much-needed moisture without bringing unnecessary pain. 

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