People stop to take photos at “Harbor Falls,” a waterfall created by storm runoff from the Lantern District flowing down to a drainage pipe on Dana Point Harbor Drive and then directing it out to the Harbor. Photo: Andrea Swayne
People stop to take photos at “Harbor Falls,” a waterfall created by storm runoff from the Lantern District flowing down to a drainage pipe on Dana Point Harbor Drive and then directing it out to the Harbor. Photo: Andrea Swayne

By Andrea Swayne

For more than a year, predictions of this year’s El Niño weather pattern have been promising a deluge of rain, wind and storm currents to take center stage this winter. Up until this week, “weather” of any kind has been rare in Dana Point, home to what is arguably the best year-round climate in the country.

The start of the first work week of 2016 has brought rain in amounts of 1.5 to 2 inches per day (according to the National Weather Service), high winds, stormy seas and flash flood warnings to Dana Point. But with the city’s abundance of erosion-prone cliffs dropping off steeply from bluff-top neighborhoods, so far there has been little in the way of landslides and flooding.

Dana Point Emergency Services Coordinator, Aaron Rosen, said that in light of the deluge, and reports of surrounding south Orange County highways and roads being flooded out or blocked with mud, emergency and public works calls to the city have been pretty minor.

Public Works officials noted a report of only one rain-related traffic accident where a motorist hit a tree after losing control of the vehicle on a slick, although not flooded, roadway. Minor slope-area erosion has occurred but no property damage caused by landslides has been reported. The wind has contributed to roadway debris, mostly in the form of palm fronds. A handful of clogged drains briefly caused road flooding but were quickly rectified, and the department has received no reports of damage caused by high surf.

“A drain on Pacific Coast Highway between Camino Capistrano and Palisades Drive was clogged briefly on Tuesday causing the northbound lane to be closed for a short time, but there hasn’t been anything really major,” Rosen said. “The Public Works Department has responded promptly to a few minor issues and taken care of them very quickly.”

Rosen reminded residents to heed the widely reported warnings related to the storms and not to delay taking general preparedness measures. Public Works officials added that residents should look out for and heed “road flooded” warning signs when driving.

“It’s been said many times before, but cleaning gutters and drains and sandbagging flood-prone areas around your home are essential,” Rosen said. “And don’t drive through flooded streets. It’s much better to be slightly delayed in your travels than to get stuck in the water.”

The city issued a Jan. 5 notice asking for residents’ help with erosion prevention, giving instructions for the free or low-cost procurement of sandbags and their proper use in redirecting rainwater and controlling sediment runoff.

ENJOYING THE SPECTACLE

For Southern California residents, stormy weather is somewhat of an anomaly compared with much of the rest of our country’s citizens, and in Dana Point it makes for some compelling and beautiful sights and “photo opps.”

When storms arrive, people get out to see, and photograph, Mother Nature’s spectacle. In Dana Point, one popular site is the waterfall at the Dana Point Harbor—dubbed “Harbor Falls” by the DP Times in 2010—rushing down from the cliffs towering over Dana Point Harbor Drive.

Although the water is really just dirty, bacteria-laden runoff from the bluff top Lantern District neighborhood, the waterfall area looks like a lush tropical island cove, prompting dozens of people each day to stop for selfies. Sight-seers should note that parking is prohibited along the inland side of Dana Point Harbor Drive and the area near the cliff is posted as a “closed area” due to the possibility of falling debris.

The water drops down the cliff and into a catch basin below then into a concrete drainage pipe running under Dana Point Harbor Drive and into the Harbor.

The County of Orange created a berm along the sidewalk at Capistrano Beach to prevent water, sand and rocks from infiltrating the parking lot due to high tides and storm surf brought on by the El Niño weather system. Photo: Andrea Swayne
The County of Orange created a berm along the sidewalk at Capistrano Beach to prevent water, sand and rocks from infiltrating the parking lot due to high tides and storm surf brought on by the El Niño weather system. Photo: Andrea Swayne

High surf crashing over the Harbor’s rock jetty near Baby Beach and pummeling the shore and parking lot at Capistrano Beach are also popular spots to take in nature’s fury, as is the site of “rapids” flowing in the San Juan Creek channel and the city’s spectacular bluff-top views.

But with the many opportunities to enjoy the beauty and power of El Niño come dangers city and county officials ask people to be mindful of.

High surf, fast-moving water, the possibility of landslides and ocean water pollution should be considered when taking to the outdoors to experience the weather.

The county’s Environmental Health department, at www.ocbeachinfo.com, issued a rain advisory on Jan. 5 warning swimmers and surfers of the presence of elevated levels of bacteria entering ocean waters due to urban runoff during and for a few days after significant rain events.

Orange County 5th District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett also reminds citizens to sign up for instant voice and text message warnings from the county at www.AlertOC.com and find more tips for El Niño prep at www.ReadyOC.org.

After weathering this week’s storms very well, city officials urge residents to enjoy the view but stay safe during the winter’s predicted future El Niño events.

“Things around here this week have been oddly mellow, knock on wood,” Rosen said. “So far, so good.”

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