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Storm of 82

A house in Lompico slid of its foundation falling across Lompico road. Residents had to hike in and out of the canyon for months.


1982 – 1983: El Niño Event

There were several large storm events that affected Santa Cruz County during the 1982-83 El Niño, inflicting approximately $8.2 million in damage (Griggs et al. 2005).  Early winter storms initiated erosion and left the beaches eroded and vulnerable to subsequent storms in January-February 1983.  Eight storms had offshore significant wave heights that exceeded 13 feet. Maximum offshore significant wave heights approached 23 feet and several times wind gusts exceeded 60 mph in Santa Cruz County (Ott Water Engineers 1984).
Storm waves eroded Highway 1 at Waddell Bluffs, just north of Waddell Creek in the northern county.  An additional 2,000 feet of rip-rap was placed to protect the road (Griggs et al. 2005).  Farther south in Santa Cruz, approximately $9 million of rip-rap was placed along two miles of West Cliff Drive to protect the bluffs from erosion (Griggs and Brown 1998).  The Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf was partially damaged and oceanfront restaurants in Capitola were inundated as well (Griggs and Brown 1998).  The pier, stairs, and bike trail at Capitola were damaged with an estimated replacement cost of $320,000 (NRC 1984).
Oceanfront properties and public facilities along Las Olas Drive, Seacliff State Beach, Beach Drive, and Via Gaviota were damaged by waves and erosion (see photo from Rio Del Mar Beach).  Several homes along Beach Drive collapsed onto the beach when the bulkhead failed and house pilings were undermined.  A new 3,500 feet long timber seawall, a restroom, and 11 recreational vehicle sites were destroyed at Seacliff State Beach and a protective revetment at Via Gaviota was overtopped and undermined.  All of the destroyed homes in these areas were rebuilt and protective revetments were constructed.  The revetments were embedded deeper to prevent scour and undermining, and built taller to prevent overtopping. 

At the southern end of the study area, the foredunes at Pajaro Dunes were eroded as much as 40 feet and oceanfront homes were threatened.  Roughly one mile of armoring was added after the winter season costing approximately $5 million (Griggs and Brown 1998).

Friday, January 8, 1982 - Santa Cruz Sentinel

EDITOR'S NOTE: Acts or heroism during this week's storm and its aftermath number on the hundreds. This story focuses on just a few. Persons and their actions depicted on the story are not meant to be singled out, but rather to show examples of courage and selflessness demonstrated by all the others.

By Mark Bergstrom, Sentinal Staff Writer

Zayante Fire Capt. Nick Pagnini ran out of Lompico station just as three cabins across the creek began to slide.

In a split second, the house on top was on the bottom and the two which had been it were gone. Literally. Down the raging creek without a trace of debris.

Lompico Road, the lifeline to the maintain community of 2,500, was suddenly gone, "returned to nature" as Pagnini would later describe.

In back of him, the mountain was coming down on Lake Coulevard. The town was cut off.

The sky was a black hole which opened to let out the torrential rain as Pagnini climbed up the face of the mountain opposite what had instantly become the river.

For three and a half miles, Pagnini trekked along the deer trail back to the Zayante firehouse to help organize the rescue operation he knew would be needed.

Along the way, Pagnini checked on residents who lived on the ridge and led them out to safety.

In the back of his mind, he wondered of the pond above his own home on West Zayante Road was holding and unconsciously prayed for the safety of his wife and two daughters. It would be 12 hours before he would know they were secure.

During those 12 hours, Pagnini's energy was directed toward answering the barrage of calls for help in and around Zayante.

As he raced from call to call, the radio in the Zayante rescue wagon scremed out emergency calls in Boulder Creek, Brookdale, Ben Lomond and in Felton.

Pagnini's store - Roy's Market - is in Felton. There was damage in Felton he knew, but there was no question Chief Mac McDonnell and his volunteers would give their all for Pagnini and others.

Unnoticed by Pagnini, there also were calls of flooding in Soquel. Again, there could be no doubt that Chief Steve Negro and his volunteers would be breaking their backs in the battle, just as the volunteer in Boulder Creek were doing.

Calls for help were universal - a tree had just crashed through a home on Cathedral Drive in Aptos.

Rich Topham, a meter reader for the Soquel Creek County Water District, was at home across the street when "we heard the tree go down all of a sudden.  A neighbor of mine and me ran down the road. We could hear the screams."

Topham was joined by fellow water employees Joe Lathan, Bob Tonkin, Dan Stringrube and Mike Brightwell, who had been working in the area to repair a broken pipe.

Together they began digging as the first Aptos Fire units pulled up to the scene.

Two and a half hours later, the rescuers found Carole Seagrave, 34, dead, but her teenage daughter, Sheri Sheridan, was alive.

For days, only Sheri knew her mother was the real hero - she had shoved her daughter to safety.

As rescuers struggled on Cathedral Drive, the radio blarred on: An avalanche of mud had knocked a home onto Beach Drive in Rio Del Mar. The resident was trapped inside.

Firefighter Mark Frank had worked the Sunday shift and was looking forward to a day off Monday, even though the rain was still heavy when he awoke.

By 10 a.m., the call had been broadcast for all off-duty Aptos firefighters to report to their stations.

He was still on duty Thursday when he recalled frantically digging with his fellow firemen to free the man who was trapped in the mud and debris of the the Beach Drive home.

"Our hands looked as if we'd been in a karate tournament,"  Frank recalled three days later.

There could be no pain in his hands a mere mour after that Beach Drive rescue when Frank turned around after evacuating residents of the Aptos Pines mobile home park. He was hit by a a sea of mud and debris which swept him onto his back and pushed him almost an entire block down the street.

It was then and only then, that Frank, like other firefighters, thought of himslef.

Still, the calls mounted, including the first from the Love Creek area of Ben Lomond, the scene of greatest tragedy.

A woman had called 911, screaming for help. The, the line went dead.

Sheriff's Deputies Joe Hemingway and Mike McShane raced to the scene in a four-wheel drive jeep.

They rounded up 12 residents - eight children and four adults - but as they headed back down the hill, trees crashed behind them and mud blocked their path ahead.

Abandoning the jeep, Hemingway and McShane led the residents through the dark, the rain and the waist-high mud - carrying the youngest children on their shoulders to the firehouse.

Hemingway's confidenxe, the victims said, was the saving factor.

Thus, the Love Creek story had begun to unfold and today, four days later, the tragic ending had yet to be written.

By Wednesday, Pagnini and the other Zayante volunteers and mountain residents were still struggling to open a road out of Lompico.

At 9 p.m., Pangini headed out in his four-wheel drive, hopeful he could open the road to caravan traffic on Thursday.

As he neared the Zayante firehouse, he heard a voice which had dominated radio traffic in the three days following the devastation.

It was Ben Lomond Fire Chief Mike Smith asking him to call the Ben Lomond station.

With power restored to Felton, Smith knew Roy's Market would need fresh milk for the townspeople. And, the market is on Smith's milk route.

Early Thursday morning, Pagnini and Smith met at Roy's for the delivery.

As Pagnini left to finish digging out the road to Lompico, he knew Smith was going back to Love Creek to dig for bodies and that task, Pagnini knows, "really rips your heart."

Sunday, January 10, 1982 - Santa Cruz Sentinel

Downpour Called A 100-Year Storm

By Denise Siebenthal, Sentinel Staff Writer

It was a 100-year storm that caused last week's death and destruction in Santa Cruz County.

Santa Cruz weatherman Ron MacDonald came to this conclusion after reviewing National Weather Service statistics.

Slightly over eight inches of rain fell on the city of Santa Cruz between 7 p.m. on Jan. 3 and 7 p.m. on Jan. 4, according to measurements taken by Santa Cruz weatherman Ron McDonald from his Prospect Heights home.

A table put out by the National Weather Sevice shows this much rain in a 24-hour period occures on the average once every 100 years.

Therefore, he concludes, it was a 100-year storm.

The 8.23 inches that fell on Santa Cruz this peiod was the most rain ever to fall on the city since the National Weather Service began compiling 24-hour rainfall statistics in 1891.

LAst week's storm topped the former record for the city of Santa Cruz of 5.06 inches of rain that fell within a 24-hour period on Nov. 17, 1942.

While the National Weather Service lists its rainfall statistics for 24-hour periods, last week's storm actually lasted 28 hours, according to MacDonald.

It began at approximately 7 p.m. on Jan 3 and ended at approximately 11 p.m. on Jan. 4, MacDonald said.

During this 28 hours, 9.44 inches of rain fell on the city.

And while MacDonald had no rainfall statistics compiled for the mountain areas that got hit the hardest, he said that normally areas like Boulder Creek get twice as much rain as Santa Cruz.

For the 24-hour period ending 8 a.m. Tuesday, Boulder Creek reported 12.70 inches of rain, Ben Lomond had 11.50 inches and Lompico was hit with 15.50 inches.

While some may argue tha the 1955 storm which flooded downtown Santa Cruz was a bigger storm than last week's downpoor, MacDonald has the statistics that show that last week's storm was more intense than the once that hit Santa Cruz in late December 1955.

In the storm 25 years ago eight inches of rain fell over two days - Dec. 22, 1955 and Dec. 23, 1955 - in the city of Santa Cruz.

According to the National Weather Service chart, eight inches of rain over two days can occure every 50 years. Therefore, MacDonald pointed out, the 1955 downpour was a 50-year storm.

Another major difference between the two storms is that the 1955 flood occurred after five days of heavy rain, which las week's storm lasted only 28 hours.

Also, MacDonald pointed out, flood control measures hadn't been constructed along the river in 1955.

"When the 1955 flood occured, everything was really saturated and the river didn't have a levee like it has today," MacDonal noted.

As a result of the 1955 deluge, the total rainfall for December 1955 storm was 21.07 inches.

MacDonald had a word of warning, however. There's probably more rain to come since January historically is the wettest month of the year in Santa Cruz.

"We still have 75 percent of a month to go," MacDonald noted.

February and March are our second and third highest rainfall months, he added.

MacDonald als shed some light on the cause of last week's storm. "We had cold air preceding the storm from an Alaskan storm, causing snow at 1,000 feet. There was a report of snow from Big Basin Park headquarters (on Jan. 2)

"Meanwhile, a low pressure system was moving east from warmer latitudes above Hawaii. This warmer storm overtook the colder storm over California. When warm air hits cold air, it intensifies the storm."

MacDonald also keeps temperature statistics for the city of Santa Cruz. This past week's low was 28 degrees on Thursday, while the high was 69 degrees Saturday.