Published Jan. 31, 2024
BY ANNA PRESCOTT
With multiple atmospheric rivers bombarding Monterey County from the end of December 2022 until March 2023, bringing severe rain, flooding, landslides and power outages, CHS students and CUSD staff are prepared to face any potential rain storms this year.
Last winter, multiple storm systems brought record precipitation amounts to California. According to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Carmel area received a total of 7.48 inches of rain last January. Similarly, February saw 4.32 inches, and March saw 6.43 inches of rain.
Road closures throughout Carmel and on Highway 1 caused by fallen trees, continued extreme weather, power outages and evacuations resulted in the closure of all CUSD sites on Jan. 3 and 4, as well as Jan. 10 and 11 the following week, with all schools in the district finally reopening on Jan. 12. In March, closures again occurred as more storm systems continued to affect Monterey County. On March 10, there was an all-district closure, as well another March 14. On March 15, many CUSD campuses reopened, excluding the middle school and the high school, which were both still without power.
In order to better determine and communicate storm-related school closures during the storms experienced in early 2023, CUSD devised a system of “postures” that assessed the risks of being on and traveling to school campuses. This procedure included communication to students, staff and families about the closure status of CUSD sites at 5 p.m., 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. before the day of potential closure. CUSD Chief Operations Officer Dan Paul comments that a similar protocol will be used in the future.
“The decision times are based on the timing of the County Office of Emergency Services meetings where updated information and projections are provided,” explains Paul.
These heavy rains, and their accompanying high winds, resulted in power outages, flooding, landslides and fallen trees throughout Monterey County. Several CUSD sites, including the Carmel River Elementary School, and many communities found themselves in mandatory evacuation zones.
“I live near the Carmel River on Rio Road, and during the storm we were forced to evacuate our houses in fear of our houses being damaged by the water,” explains sophomore Violet Savoie. “We went to a Hilton, and stayed there for about three days. Nearly a week later, we were sent back to the Hilton because of fear of the flood.”
The neighborhood of Mission Fields, which backs onto the Carmel River, was evacuated last January due to concern of the nearby river flooding. On Jan. 9, 2023, the U.S. Geological Survey website reported the river’s water level reaching 12.57 feet, classifying the rising waters as a moderate flood. This resulted in the Monterey County Sheriff’s office issuing evacuation orders for all low-lying areas surrounding the Carmel River and the lagoon.
Freshman Jeane Kim, a resident of Mission Fields, recalls that during last year’s storms she had to evacuate her home due to concern of her driveway flooding and had to take extra precautions to protect her home from the river’s rising water levels.
Because of the torrential rain and the resulting power outages and flooding experienced last year, CUSD has made preparations for future storms. Paul explains that the district has installed a new system that allows the CHS kitchen to run on a generator in the event of a power outage. The operations officer adds that storm drain repairs have occurred at several CUSD sites.
As well as the changes implemented on CUSD sites, CHS students and the wider Carmel community have also adjusted to anticipate severe weather. Sophomore Jaya Champagne, who was affected by the storms last year, says her family has made adjustments to prepare for future weather conditions, such as using sandbags to prevent their home from flooding.
“We rebuilt a bridge that lets the water flow freely,” explains Champagne. “Usually, when it starts raining, we park our car on the other side of the bridge so we can get to it.”
Though Monterey County has already experienced some rain this winter and is anticipating more, many in the community are prepared due to last year’s experiences.