Last weekend’s storm took a turn for the worse as waves pummeled concrete benches, obliterated a boat under the Goleta Beach pier and gave Saturday morning breakfast at Moby Dick Restaurant a dash of salt when a high storm surge broke through one of the windows and flooded its dining room.
According to Gerry Mora, floor manager at the Moby Dick Restaurant, the incident was the result of two large consecutive waves. The first slammed into the pier, he said, breaking off fragments of wood, and the second flung the debris up and shattered the window.
Mora said he evacuated and closed the restaurant within 30 minutes.
“Everybody rushed over to see what happened and take pictures and video,” Mora said. “I was just like, ‘Okay this is not good, I need to evacuate the whole building because now we are open to the elements. If there’s another wave that’s going to come, you guys don’t want to be here.’”
At 10:30 a.m., one hour after the wave crashed into the restaurant, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department (SBCF) shut down and evacuated Goleta Beach Park due to unsafe conditions.
According to SBCF Captain David Sadecki, waves crashing over the Goleta Pier uprooted three boats and washed them toward the shore. Sadecki said two of the boats beached and the third was pushed under the pier and “smashed to pieces,” while a mixture of sand, water, kelp and wood debris flooded the lawn and parking lot.
“The storm was kind of like a perfect storm — the way that the waves would wind up and hit the beach,” Sadecki said. “They were at the same angle as the beach, and we had a high tide and then a high surf, and so those three things combined made pretty much a really strong storm surge right at high tide.”
According to Sadecki, it was the fire department’s first time in recent years to declare the beach unsafe and shut it down due to a storm.
“A rogue wave could have come in, grabbed somebody, washed them back out into the ocean and then maybe underneath one of pier pilings or maybe up against one of the boats,” Sadecki said. “It was dangerous.”
Duncan Proctor, a first-year biology major, said he went to watch the waves crash onto Santa Barbara Harbor Saturday night.
“When they’d hit the repercussions of the wave before going off the wall, they’d shoot up 20 or 30 feet and then they’d hit the wall and hit another 20 or 30 feet. Then they’d just spray over onto you,” Proctor said.
Proctor said he grew up in Santa Barbara and was visiting the harbor with his family earlier that day, at low tide, when he saw concrete benches broken from the surges. He said he decided to come back around 9 p.m. at high tide with his roommates.
“What destroys everything are those surges,” Proctor said. “The harbor shut down because it’s four-feet-deep right now, all the way across. The boats can’t get in or out because it pulled sand in so they have to dredge it.”
Kai Wilmsen, second-year ecology and evolution major and co-chair of the Environmental Affairs Board, said a severe storm of this intensity at the end of a rather dry season is an omen as well as an indicator of climate change.
“It is showing just a general shift in the way that the climate is here, and it could just be this year,” Wilmsen said, “This could just be one wacky year and things will reset and go back to normal. But I think, just with the way things are going, this might become the new norm.”
Wilmsen said the rainy season runs November through March, but even though the storm brought an additional seven inches to the Lake Cachuma reservoir, it is still at only 36 percent capacity because there were only two inches of rain before the storm.
“The rain was really great because it moistened things again so there’s not as much fire danger, and it’s definitely brought up reservoir levels,” Wilmsen said. “But it hasn’t really alleviated as much of this stress from the drought, as it may have seemed.”
A version of this story appeared on page 5 of Thursday, March 6, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.