By Breeana Greenberg and C. Jayden Smith
After local agencies and municipalities encouraged considerable preparation for Tropical Storm Hilary, with the distribution of sandbags and other preventative measures, South County experienced milder weather on Sunday, Aug. 20, than projected.
Capt. Greg Barta, Orange County Fire Authority Public Information Officer, said the agency expected 1 to 3 inches of rain within a short time span, which could have led to floods, and 15- to 25-mile-per-hour winds.
“Fortunately, we had advanced warning of the weather event, so we were able to staff accordingly, plan accordingly, (and) provide advisories to our citizens and communities we serve,” Barta said, adding, “The best news of all was (that) the storm here in Orange County was less intense than originally anticipated.”
With similar weather events where significant rainfall occurs, OCFA usually sees flooding, an uptick in traffic collisions, and hazards from high winds knocking down trees or power lines, according to Barta. He said the impacts from Sunday’s storm were “less severe” than expected.
Still, the agency did receive a fair share of calls for service.
“I can’t attribute them to being related to the weather or not altogether, but we were busy as an organization,” said Barta. “We did run a handful of calls that were an increase in nature due to some of the wind and some of the rain.”
Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano city officials all reported that maintenance crews worked to clear up fallen debris from trees, in addition to individual issues for each city.
San Juan Capistrano City Manager Ben Siegel, explained in an email that contractors had joined the public works crew’s “large clean-up effort.”
“Additionally, last night a vehicle struck the traffic signal electrical pedestal on Camino del Avion and Del Obispo, disabling the signal and causing it to go dark,” Siegel said in the email. “The City’s traffic signal contractor was called out and is working with SDG&E to replace the pedestal and restore power to the signal.”
The City of San Clemente was readily prepared for Sunday’s weather, according to Public Works Director Kiel Koger, as officials had consistently communicated with other local authorities in the lead-up to the weather event.
In addition to giving sandbags to interested citizens, city staffers also pushed sand up against numerous facilities on city beaches to protect against higher surf from the storm surge.
Alliance Diversified Enterprises, Inc., the city’s contractor for work on the slope at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, covered the slope in a thick plastic sheeting and sandbags, and used sandbags to divert flowing water away from the neighboring Reef Gate condominium complex.
“We were concerned that if we got enough rain—which we did—and (the slope) wasn’t covered, it could’ve created some real issues for us,” Koger said. “The contractor did a really good job on Friday and part of the day Saturday, really covering everything so that the slope pretty much stayed dry.”
He added that he didn’t think the slope had moved and that it “should be in good shape” going forward.
Dana Point Public Works Director Matt Sinacori explained that the city was tracking the storm through the National Weather Service forecasting since Wednesday, Aug. 16.
“That actually helped us plan resources based on the weather forecast,” Sinacori said. “So, we set up resources to come in at strategic times in advance and have them all set up for Sunday, but even before that, we were cleaning storm drains, really prepping the city to get ready for the storm.”
Digging out the storm drain outlet in Capistrano Beach was a key focus, Sinacori added, with crews working until close to 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, to clear the outlet.
Because the city had time to prepare, public works trucks were all pre-loaded in case crews would need to conduct traffic control or close streets down quickly.
“We were loaded and ready to go, and that’s a critical thing just to be able to respond quickly,” Sinacori said.
Previously, stretches of Pacific Coast Highway had been temporarily closed after heavy rains because of debris clean-up and landslides.
“That section of roadway held up great and we’re knocking on the table right now hoping that it continues to do so as we start to dry out here,” Sinacori said.
The City of Dana Point was not aware of any landslides occurring in the city because of the storm.
Sinacori noted that the storm ended up being lighter than expected throughout the day as Tropical Storm Hilary moved east, with heavier rains hitting South Orange County in the late evening.
“Because we were a little lighter throughout the day, we really used it as a critical cross-training method for our staff and put people together and made sure they understood where all our drainage issues have typically been, patrol for debris and keep the city really dialed in,” Sinacori said.
“We have little to no damage other than a few trees down citywide, some branches and things fell but obviously the streets need a lot of cleaning but nothing major,” Sinacori continued. “We didn’t have any major flooding issues.”
Sinacori added that the city is also using the event as a learning experience so that it can continue to improve and ensure the city is well covered in the event of similar storms.
“The public has access to sheriff’s dispatch, and all of us in a multitude of ways, and we’re tracking all of those items getting dispatched, even in the middle of the night, we get dispatched to trees down and all that stuff,” Sinacori said. “So, the reason we’re able to respond quickly is because the process works.”
Trolley services in Dana Point, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Niguel were suspended Sunday out of safety concerns, Sinacori noted.
County and state Beaches, trails, parks and libraries were all closed on Sunday because of the storm.
Dana Point residents can submit requests for service through the Report2DP app.
To reach the non-emergency dispatch, call 949.770.6011.
To report fallen branches or debris to the City of San Juan Capistrano, email the Public Works team at firstname.lastname@example.org.