Andrew Tope (R) surveys his flooded property in Salinas Calif., on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Salinas, like most of California, has been battered by over a week of heavy weather and is threatened by rising floods from the Salinas river. (Benjamin Fanjoy/ Golden Gate Xpress) (Benjamin Fanjoy)
Andrew Tope (R) surveys his flooded property in Salinas Calif., on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Salinas, like most of California, has been battered by over a week of heavy weather and is threatened by rising floods from the Salinas river. (Benjamin Fanjoy/ Golden Gate Xpress)

Benjamin Fanjoy

SF State shares thoughts about ongoing storms

Geology professors, students and faculty share their views on the recent storms affecting the Bay Area

March 16, 2023

As an SF State student who is living on campus, I was taking my usual route home when I noticed my pathway was blocked by two trees near Thornton Hall.  Next came the notifications of multiple fallen trees on campus and an email from the school warning students about high winds,  keeping moisture out of living areas and not going on the pathway that most students rely on to get home.

Jennifer Gee, an SF State student since 2019,  saw a photo of the fallen trees by Thornton Hall.

Strong winds caused two trees to fall over, crushing a facilities services truck and crushing equipment, at SF State near Thornton Hall on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Dan Hernandez for Golden Gate Xpress) (Dan Hernandez)

“I just couldn’t believe it, especially when there is yellow caution tape,” Gee said. “We should be safe.”

San Francisco has been hit with storms the last couple of days and is forecasted to have a few more before the weather starts to heat up.

“When you ask a meteorologist if they like this weather any meteorologist is gonna say yes, especially when you live here in the Bay Area and we don’t have much weather for at least four or five months of the year and no rain,” said Kevin Levey, a senior meteorology lecturer.

According to Levey, the weather was supposed to be predicted to be wet during November and December, but dry after January. However, the prediction was proved wrong as those months were also wet.

“February was actually below average, probably around about 70-80% of what we normally should get,” Levey said.

The same was said about having a dry March, but as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, it has been wet. 

“So this happened about two weeks ago and we’ve had this inclement weather for at least 10 days now, I think today’s the 14 [day],” Levey said. “So even though it’s been this very wet period it’s not been as bad or as wet as that period we had in late December.”

In December, there was rainfall of five to six inches of rain causing San Francisco to have major street flooding.

According to Levey, the Bay has received La Nina for three years in a row, which is not common.

La Nina occurs when cold waters in the Pacific Ocean are pushed northward in the jet stream. This often causes heavy rain and flooding in the Pacific Northwest while the southern U.S. could be in a drought season.

Flood water fills Andrew Tope’s property in Salinas Calif., on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Salinas, like most of California, has been battered by over a week of heavy weather and is threatened by rising floods from the Salinas river. (Benjamin Fanjoy/ Golden Gate Xpress) (Benjamin Fanjoy)

However, with the current storms, the jet streams that usually make winter storms go from east to west are aimed further south, making the Pacific Northwest get rain. 

Malori Redman, an SF State lecturer said, “We need the rain pretty badly, but the amount of rain that we’re getting in a short amount of time is concerning because our soils are already saturated, meaning they have already what they can get.”

According to Redman, we can tell how extreme a storm is going to be by how much moisture is picked up from the ocean. Moisture that is picked up by the ocean from a storm is called an atmospheric river.

According to Levey, atmospheric rivers make the rainfall more intense.

Redman said there have been recent category scales for atmospheric rivers, almost the same concept as the five hurricanes categories.

“It takes into account how long the event is likely to happen, anywhere from 24 to 48 to 72 hours as well as how much moisture is being transported from the tropical region,” Redman said.

According to Levey, these atmospheric rivers will cause problems, not only with the sea levels rising for people who live by the coast but also for people who live in low-line areas as they are prone to flooding. 

“Had it been further north, we would’ve had more rain for a longer period –that could have been quite disastrous if snow below 5,000 feet had all melted and came down into the Sacramento Catchment Basin,” Levey said. “So,  fortunately, I think we really — this time with this storm — dodged the bullets.”

Redman said some ways people can stay safe during storms is to plan with food and household items, limit their travel, have escape plans and make sure their car is up to maintenance. She said to prepare as if it is an earthquake.

Samantha Ferro is a broadcast electronic communication arts major at SF State who commutes. 

“I usually don’t mind the rain but now the rain is too much,” Ferro said. “I know somebody got stuck somewhere in San Francisco because they couldn’t drive to the school.”

Ferro said that professors should try to understand if students can’t come to class.

“It was very hard to drive, there was a lot of water on the road so it’s not safe and you have to be extremely careful,” said Ferro.

As for SF State, Redman thinks they should check all the drains on campus before storms are predicted to hit so flooding does not happen,  along with checking the trees to see if they are dying or diseased.

“This campus is so pretty, it’s what drew me to campus as a student, but we have to keep in mind with these big events that happen, those things can go very quickly,” Redman said.

Students walk by with an umbrella in the rain at SF State, on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (Aaron Levy-Wolins/ Golden Gate Xpress) (Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Levey’s main concern when it comes to the storms that are hitting California is the question of where the water is going to end up, as the main issues come to water managers of the dams in California.

The water managers have to predict whether they want to let out water into the ocean so it doesn’t overflood or to keep it in a dam and hope it doesn’t overflood with rainfall.

“You basically have to let out a lot of water because it’s early on in the season because in case there’s gonna be more rain later on in the season. So sometimes you can waste a lot of water,” Levey said.

Redman also thinks the water we are getting needs to be taken care of.

“I truly believe that the next major conflict that’s going to happen is going to be over water,” Redman said.

According to Redman, Las Vegas and parts of Arizona are dependent on Lake Mead and Lake Powell which have not been getting water.

“Las Vegas is a huge population and tourist attractions obviously, so if you don’t have enough water to sustain them they’re kind of fucked for all intents and purposes,” Redman said.

She also mentions that, for now, the environment will flourish and turn green, but that can be bad when it comes to summer as this could cause more wildfires as the plants die.

Redman said the best thing we can do is to adapt to the new changes that climate change is making.

“When I started teaching in 2014, it was something I said to my students that this was gonna affect their children, the next generation. But in nine years, I’m already seeing the things that I warned about in 2014,” said Levey. “It seems like we already are dealing with it now and is it gonna get worse? I can’t tell you that for sure.”

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About the Contributors
Photo of Samantha Morales
Samantha Morales, Campus Editor
Samantha Morales (she/her) is this semester's campus editor for Golden Gate Xpress, where previously she was a reporter. She is now a fourth-year journalism major and minor in criminal justice studies at SF State. After she graduates from SF State, she hopes to report on crime in the Bay Area or from her hometown. Samantha is originally from Selma, California, but went to school at Fresno City College before transferring to SF State. At Fresno City College, she was previously the News and Entertainment editor for the college’s student-run news publication, The Rampage. In her free time, she enjoys working out, whether it is at home or a gym. She also enjoys painting and building Lego sets when she is not working on a story
Photo of Benjamin Fanjoy
Benjamin Fanjoy, Staff Photographer
Benjamin Fanjoy is a San Francisco-based photojournalist. Originally from Maryland, Benjamin moved to San Francisco in the summer of 2018 after completing his five-and-one-half year enlistment in the United States Coast Guard. He is currently studying Journalism (concentrating on Photojournalism) with a minor in Political Science at San Francisco State University. Benjamin has photographed social justice movements of historical relevance including Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, Abolish ICE, the wildfires in Northern California, San Francisco's response to Covid-19, and the immigration surge at the Tijuana-San Ysidro Port of Entry in Mexico. Benjamin has worked with The Associated Press, Bloomberg, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Standard, El Tecolote and Golden Gate Xpress.
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Dan Hernandez, Visuals Editor
Dan Hernandez (he/him) is the Visuals Editor for Golden Gate Xpress, majoring in journalism and minoring in business administration. He is an award-winning multimedia journalist, applying his skills in both news reporting and press photography. He got his start in journalism at 15 years old as a staff writer for The Advocate at Contra Costa College before becoming editor-in-chief as a high school senior. Outside of journalism, he is probably camping on a road trip, playing water polo, riding his bike or dancing at concerts. He also goes by the nickname “Biscuit.”
Photo of Aaron Levy-Wolins
Aaron Levy-Wolins, Xpress Magazine Photo Editor
Aaron Levy-Wolins is a senior photojournalism student who specializes in portraiture. He has spent multiple semesters with the Golden Gate Xpress newspaper, working as a photographer. San Francisco Bay Area born and bred, his work has been published in SFBay, El Tecolote, and Broke-Ass Stuart.  While his passion is photography, he loves watching movies and cooking. He plans to freelance and travel after graduation.

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