Cal Poly began the Winter 2017 quarter on Jan. 9, only two days after the beginning of a Pineapple Express — a non-technical term for a corridor of atmospheric moisture that causes heavy precipitation on the West Coast. As last week’s storm made landfall, the impact was intense.
On one hand, the storm provided some relief from the drought that has afflicted California since 2011. The storm added much needed water to many of the state’s reservoirs and the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 41.78 percent of the state is now out of the drought — an increase from 32.39 percent on Jan. 3, 2017 and from 16.41 percent on Oct. 11, 2016. Additionally, the Drought Monitor reports that only 2.13 percent of the state remains in a state of exceptional drought, down from 42.66 percent one year ago.
On the other hand, many communities in Northern California specifically have experienced a large amount of flooding. According to The Weather Company, there were over 100 reports of floods and landslides in California, Nevada and Oregon on Jan. 8. The California Department of Water Resources opened the Sacramento weir’s floodgates on the Sacramento River for the first time in 10 years and the Russian River only began to recede on Jan. 12 after extensive flooding of communities in Sonoma County.
The rainfall proved to be an inconvenience and danger to many Cal Poly students who were returning to San Luis Obispo after the holidays. They faced flight cancellations, flooded roadways and unsafe driving conditions.
Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey e-mailed students on Jan. 6, advising them to take extra safety precautions when traveling and informing them that instructors were ready to work with students who would be unable to attend the first day of school due to dangerous weather conditions. Additionally, on-campus housing was opened early to offer students an opportunity to beat the storm.
“Our main focus has been working with the faculty to help them support students who may have missed their first class of the quarter,” Humphrey said. “We did anticipate the problems and worked to open our residence halls on Friday instead of Saturday, allowing students to return early if they could.”
Many students posted on the Cal Poly Ride Share Facebook page during the days leading up to the storm, trying to make it back to San Luis Obispo before the first day of class.
Child development freshman and South Lake Tahoe native Sabrina Green posted on the Ride Share page on Jan. 6 trying to return to San Luis Obispo after the storm had passed, but was not so lucky.
“I was unable to leave the Tahoe basin after severe storm warnings of flooding and massive snowfall, as well as avalanche warnings,” Green said. “In one night we had over four feet of snow. There was no way I could get to the store — let alone SLO … I missed a full week of school because of this storm, but luckily can come back at the end of this weekend.”
Video by Allison Royal
Biomedical engineering junior Joseph Rainaldi faced a similar problem. He was forced to drive in a blizzard to avoid missing class after facing flight cancellations.
“… After having flights cancelled four days in a row and potentially missing three days of school I drove three hours through blizzard condition to get on a plane which stranded me in an airport that I had to spend the night in,” Rainaldi said. “[I] did all this because I knew I was unfairly falling behind in classes that were moving forward at a quarterly pace without me in them.”
As of Jan. 14, much of the Sacramento and Northern San Joaquin Valley remain under flash flood watch and flood warning according to the Sacramento Weather Forecast Office. As Cal Poly heads into the second week of winter quarter, the National Weather Service has predicted that Northern California will experience more heavy precipitation beginning Jan. 18 that will likely continue until Jan. 20.