We here on the central Oregon coast have been concerned about rain - or the lack of it - for the last several years. Rain is not usually seen as a nuisance in these parts. It’s our life blood. For many reasons. But we’re catching up. And I’m more than ready for some blue sky. Damn, it’s wet!
Since 2012, rivers have been too low for many of the Salmon to reach their spawning grounds. That’s adversely impacted both commercial and sport fishing industries. What river flows there have been are reaching the ocean too warm for several fish and animal species. Starfish are almost gone. Sea anemones are disappearing. Many sea lions and otters have been forced further North to find colder waters. Lobster and crab seasons have been less than record-setting. All because of a stretch of unusually low rainfall.
But we’ve had some recent relief. We’re wet. Boy, are we wet! The last couple of months we’ve been so soaked the animals are walking in twos. I’ve been to the dictionary three times to check the length of a cubit. We are - to put it dryly - soaked.
“How wet is it,” you ask?
Well, let’s take our own little coastal puddle as an example. First 22 days of December, we had just over 22 inches. Average an inch a day. Rained every damned day! Double normal December rainfall. A good number of folks from Waldport to Tillamook have been flooded out. In one Newport neighborhood, an elderly lady just made it out the front door before her house split right down the middle and half of it slid 70 feet into a ravine. Highway 101 - our asphalt link to each other - has several places where guardrail posts are hanging exposed over open space left when slides took out the earth underneath. Other places where pavement has shifted, lifted or sunk.
Between Roseburg on I-5 and the coast, Highway 42 is the main route. It was closed by a slide that just kept moving. Took transportation folks were a month getting even one-way traffic. You could stand there for days and hear the trees crack as the ground kept moving downhill under them.
But, let’s put all this wet excess in perspective. The whole State of Oregon gets about 42 inches of rain a year. Pretty dry over on the East side so the average statewide is higher West of the Cascades. Coastal average is over 70 inches. Still, it’s pretty liveable. Most of the time. On average. But, remember: you can drown in the water held in a tablespoon - on average.
We do have our special occasions - to put it mildly. The day after Christmas, 1926, the stretch from Newport to Lincoln city got hit with - are you ready for this - 10.98 inches in 24 hours. In 24 hours! Imagine what that would do in your own neighborhood. Pictures taken in the aftermath of that 1926 soaking show nearly all roads impassable - hardly a building left undamaged. In some places, hardly a building left all, in fact.
So, with those numbers and images in mind, our inch-a-day so far in December and much of January seems liveable. But it’s going to take several years of more-than-average rainfall to mend the fishery and habitat damages we’ve already seen. Local fishermen say they have to go many miles further away from the shoreline to find the usual schools of fish. Also, most of ‘em are using heavier weights to get nets to sink lower where the colder water is.
Oh, lodging and restaurant businesses have been cutting a fat hog during the extended summer dry spell in 2015. Tourist traffic - and the resulting tourist room taxes - set records. To the joy of local governments. Just one happy headline after another. But, those were just short term benefits of more than the usual amount of sunshine. The downside - and their certainly is one - is logging, fishing, crabbing and other outdoor industries have quietly lost ground without the usual rainfall. We’ll need an awful lot of wetness to make up.. It’ll take years.
So, as usual, Mother Nature seems to delight in feeding the needs of some of the population at a some cost to the rest. Whichever way it goes, somebody makes a buck and somebody else loses one.
But, consider this. With the resultant widespread coastal damages we’ve seen with our less-than-record rainfall of the past several years - not to mention that 1926 gully-washer - how do you suppose we’ll fare when that “big one” hits? When the ocean is pushed onshore 50-90 feet high at 75-100 miles an hour? Given what we know about what’s been - and it ain’t been nearly anything like that - what will be left around here? Who will be left around here?
Aw, maybe we can live with an inch of rain a day. But I’ll still cuss every time I take the dog out.