Woke this morning, Tuesday, January 3, 2023 and clicked on an email from the SF Chronicle, a daily paper that’s a shadow of its former self, that said a “brutal storm” was headed for the City Wednesday January 4. By the time you read this it will have come and gone. How “brutal” could brutal be? I have weathered brutal storms before, in Sonoma and Mendocino counties and have survived downpours and flooding. According to the US National Weather Service it rained 5.45 inches in downtown San Francisco, making it the second-wettest day in the area since records began in 1849 at the time of the Gold Rush. The current local record of 5.54 inches was set on November 5, 1994. The California Highway Patrol temporarily closed Highway 101, a major North/ South thoroughfare, in both directions near Oyster Point due to major flooding caused by non-stop rainfall and high tides.
Apparently the back of the drought in the region has been broken, though surely not forever. Droughts and flooding like booms and busts, form the weather patterns here. In previous years, when I lived in rural California, if the winds weren’t brutal I would go out in a storm and walk, survey the streams, check the flow and the volume of water. That was exciting. Storms serve as valuable sources of information, though they can create havoc in the lives of people. I once stupidly tried and failed to drive through a road that was flooded when Atascadero Creek near my house broke its banks. My Volvo stalled. I had to get out of the vehicle and push it through the waters. Then I couldn’t start the engine and had to have the car towed to a mechanic.
Actually, I dislike the use of the word “brutal” to describe a storm. “Brutal” ought to be reserved for historical figures like Julius Caesar, Joseph Stalin, Hitler, and US General Curtis LeMay, who wanted to bomb the Vietnamese back to the Stone Age, or so he said. A brutal guy. Brutal—that describes the National Football League that inflicts pain and suffering on players like Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills who was critically injured and went into cardiac arrest during a recent game against the Bengals.
When I settled in SF in May 2021 after living for 40 years in Sonoma County, armed with four umbrellas, my brother Adam—a private investigator who has modeled himself after Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon—took one look at them, laughed and said, “You won’t need them here.”
I am rather fond of umbrellas, or “brollies” as I call them, a word I learned when I lived in Manchester in the 1960s when I used a brolly to protect me from the rain. My Sam Spade look-alike brother is not the only person who has proved to be wrong about the weather in SF, where typically it does not rain as heavily as it does in counties to the North of it. You’d think it would rain a lot in “The City” as everyone here calls it, since it’s situated on a peninsula with water on three sides, but topography, geography, ocean currents and winds from the sea and the land keep rain at bay.
Recent heavy rainfall in The City has had the beneficial effect of washing the streets clean, and removing the stench of human urine and garbage, in many cases a result of humans living on sidewalks, sometimes in tents, sometimes huddling in alleys. Downpours and flooding must be brutal for the homeless who can be seen in many neighborhoods in The City, though not in wealthy neighborhoods and not near higher elevations on Russian and Telegraph hills reached by the famed cable cars. California Highway Patrol temporarily closed Highway 101 in both directions by Oyster Point due to “major flooding” caused by non-stop rainfall and high tides.
Either Mark Twain or his friend and co-author Charles Dudley Warner—they wrote The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873) together—wisely observed near the end of the nineteenth century that ”while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.” In the current Gilded Age, in which the gap has widened between the haves and the have-nots in San Francisco and elsewhere, everyone still talks about the weather and nobody seems to do anything about it. In an hour or so I’m leaving my flat and going outside with a brolly. It’s my birthday and I’m planning to celebrate at a Vietnamese restaurant on Irving Street, a mile or so way. If it’s not raining I’ll walk. If it is raining I’ll take the N-Judah streetcar. Bring it on, I say. I can take it. The City won’t be carried out to the Pacific Ocean and neither will I or my brother and my fellow citizens.