Ben Lomond resident Krista Scarborough, whose family owns Scarborough Lumber, spent the first few weeks of 2023 questioning whether the ever-intensifying weather systems could fairly be compared with the historic storms 41 years ago that killed 33 people.
“When it first started, I was downplaying it and saying it’s definitely not like in 1982,” Scarborough said, over a pint at Joe’s Bar in Boulder Creek. “In 1982, what happened was it rained for like a month. Things got so saturated. Then the mudslides happened.”
On Jan. 5, 1982, 10 people were killed when Love Creek overspilled its banks and triggered a slide, killing 10 people in Ben Lomond. Thirty homes were destroyed.
But as one storm followed another, Scarborough began to change her mind. The situation in the San Lorenzo Valley was starting to look eerily similar to the disaster that occurred back when Reagan was president.
“The ground is saturated; the rivers are full,” she said Jan. 12, noting the atmospheric rivers are slamming into Santa Cruz County while the CZU Lightning Complex Fire isn’t very far in the rear-view mirror. “We’re seeing the mudslides and the trees falling.”
At the time she was tracking more potential deluges on the way as people continued to pick up the pieces from the first few blasts of Pacific energy.
“I have employees that have been out of power for nine days,” she said. “Now we have three more systems coming in.”
Sure, the company has been doing a brisk business as people stock up on lifesaving tools and materials. But they’re short-staffed—and they’ve been getting a fair number of returns, too.
“We can’t help the community as well as we’d like to,” Scarborough said, noting they still had generators for sale, but were out of sump pumps. “But everybody has been extremely understanding and extremely patient.”
She hopes, now that people have awoken to the winter reality—after months with barely a whimper from the rain gods—area residents will be more prepared for the rest of the storms. Only one of their stores had to shut down for a day—that was Carmel Ace Hardware, which was subject to an evacuation order.
Her partner, seated to her right, David Blackwolf, said it took them about an hour just to get to Joe’s Bar, as traffic was being diverted due to the section of Highway 9 that had given way and tumbled into the river valley below.
“The power outages are all weird,” he added. “Your neighbor could have power and you don’t.”
Scarborough noted many drivers seem to be maintaining the same chaotic pace as ever through the mountains, despite the detour.
“You have these huge semi-trucks,” she said. “They’re not slowing down.” She worries about the school children in the residential areas.
Blackwolf said the constant on-and-off of the power had begun to grate on his nerves.
“It just kind of sidetracks everything,” he said. “You grab a hot shower when you can.”
Scarborough said she was on edge about what could still happen. She was bothered to find out about someone inquiring on social media about kayaking down the San Lorenzo River.
“They don’t understand that this isn’t just like a big open river,” she said.
Blackwolf can’t remember a time where the water rose as high as it has this January.
“There’s this build-up of things that can go wrong,” he said, adding he was supposed to be working on a project out in Bonny Doon on Smith Grade—a road that was cut off from the rest of the world on both sides by fallen trees and landslides.
The road was cleared in part by County crews, but also with the help of locals jumping into action.
“What I love is all the people that carry chainsaws up here,” Scarborough said. “It’s just random people.”
It’s this spirit of community-togetherness that has allowed the San Lorenzo Valley to survive through these weather events, according to Blackwolf.
“That’s how you keep all of it going,” he said. “These communities that deal with this all the time, they just deal with it. Especially the Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek crowd. They’re pretty similar.”
Scarborough says people in the area know you should hope for the best, but you need to plan for the worst.
“You can’t trust the weather reports,” she said.