The Summer Microburst, September 3, 2017

Looking out from under the shade canopy. Note the umbrella in the air in the distance for some sense of the action and all the dark dots of palm tree debris even higher overhead and the bend in the trunk of the largest tree. That’s some wind!

“I’ve come to know that the white mind does not feel toward nature as does the Indian mind, and it is because, I believe, of the difference in childhood instruction. I have often noticed white boys gathering in a city by-street or alley jostling and pushing one another in a foolish manner. They spend much of their time in this aimless fashion, their natural faculties neither seeing, hearing, nor feeling the varied life that surrounds them. There is about them no awareness, no acuteness, and it is this dullness that gives ugly mannerisms full play; it takes from them natural poise and stimulation. In contrast, Indian boys, who are naturally reared, are alert to their surroundings; their senses are not narrowed to observing only one another, and they cannot spend hours seeing nothing, hearing nothing, and thinking nothing in particular. Observation was certain in its rewards; interest, wonder, admiration grew, and the fact was appreciated that life was more than mere human manifestation; that it was expressed in a multitude of forms. This appreciation enriched Lakota existence.”

Luther Standing Bear, “Land of the Spotted Eagle” (1933)

Let me tell you about the last time it rained in Santa Barbara, because it never rains in Santa Barbara.

It will not rain.

It has not rained.

It may never rain.

On this particular summer day, however, it rained with a vengeance.

The clouds unloaded a deluge that dropped from the sky as if thrown from a giant bucket. The torrent hit the beach with a violent burst of wind that sent people fleeing for cover and left small children crying.

I was at The Pit, otherwise variously known as “Hendry’s” or “Arroyo Burro Beach.” I was there all day. I watched the storm build, and build, and build.

Some people, dangerously oblivious to their surroundings and utterly lacking any sense of situational awareness, have said the storm blew in without warning.

Plenty of warning signs were provided to the observant spectator of nature’s game, I’d say.

But it appeared most people’s senses this day were “narrowed to observing only one another.”

One local media source reported this as a “massive storm” with “massive rain.” Checking the county webpage for rainfall one will see that this brief down pour measured about 1/4 of an inch.

Weather that day, despite mixed high patchy clouds, was excellent. The beach was packed with people enjoying yet another exceptional Santa Barbara summer day. September here is typically the best summer weather of the season.

Yet, dark lumpy clouds began condensing ever more thickly over La Cumbre Peak in early afternoon. Standing in the sand at The Pit one can see the peak through the cleft in the rolling hills between Hope Ranch and the Mesa. The weather noticeably changed.

The mountains eventually vanished from sight behind a fuzzy gray depthless curtain, the typical cloudy look of rain showers seen from afar.

The rain front rolled over the city in due time, spreading from the mountains, over the foothills and out over the coastal plain.

I watched this play out for probably at least 30 minutes, but maybe closer to an hour as I played with the kids.

Then as the rain front blotted out the city a huge rain cloud began building over the Mesa’s Douglas Family Preserve which sits stop the coastal bluffs overlooking The Pit. This cloud was one of the blackest, wickedest clouds I have ever witnessed. That’s not saying much, but it was certainly a rarity around Santa Barbara in summer on the beach.

I pointed to the menacing cloud a couple of times, told the kids it was about to unload a downpour like they’ve never seen. All of their young lives thus far had been lived during the drought, their sister just three years older having been too young as a toddler to remember the few years she had lived before the record dry spell. They hardly know rain.

To rain at the beach in summer on what was not long before a nice day, after years of withering drought, well this was something to see.

That they feel the varied life that surrounds them.

Everybody else, so far as I could tell, were oblivious. Or perhaps I was oblivious to them. Whatever the case, there must have been at least a few other people who had some idea about what was to happen, but in general everybody seemed clueless.

Then the cloud broke open and its guts fell out, dumping a torrential burst of rain onto the beach and drenching everybody within seconds.

It was awesome.

The crowd went frantic and chaos ensued.

Having seen the coming storm approaching, I had pulled down the shade canopy to its lowest height, and I was holding onto the frame underneath like a monkey hanging from a branch to keep it anchored from the wind I knew was to hit.

People ran from the beach to the parking lot, abandoning their possessions as they made futile efforts to avoid getting wet while they all got drenched. A couple of people sought shelter under my canopy before giving it up and shuffling off into the windy downpour.

I howled with enthusiasm, cheering on the storm like a spectator in the stands watching a sporting event. The kids were awestruck and wide-eyed.

The wind blew down the canyon through which the creek flows from along Las Positas Road, hit the beach parking lot and ripped through the palm trees tearing large clumps of old dried fronds from their trunks sending them flying like spears and projectiles.

A second later the wind slammed the Boathouse Restaurant like a terrible backhand sweeping anything loose and light enough into the air and thrashing other items against the glass curtain that surrounds the outside dining area. In a split second diners went from enjoying a meal to being soaking wet in the midst of a dangerous squall.

The gust took up huge shade umbrellas from the restaurant and threw them into the ocean like tiny cocktail adornments, carrying them away some thirty yards or more. Everybody’s umbrellas and shade canopies on the beach where thrown into the air, tumbled and twisted up or tossed into the Pacific Ocean.

Some people screamed out in terror. Children cried. People ran from the beach in a duck like soldiers boarding a helicopter.

I was enjoying the spectacle, holding down my canopy. People must have thought I was a lunatic hooting and hollering.

Looking over the beach immediately after, the place was strewn with towels and coolers and busted up umbrellas and canopies that were twisted up like pretzels. It looked like a bomb went off with debris scattered everywhere and people wandering around in a daze.

Clint Elliott tells me of seeing the after effect of a microburst in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The downdraft hits the ground with such a force that it flattens huge patches of trees.

The beach cleared out with only a small number of people remaining when just a few minutes before it was a crowded summer day. Some people left their things never to return.

Hours later there was still abandoned property left in place and trash strewn about. People were reporting left items to the lifeguards. The lifeguards were cutting up the twisted corpses of shade canopies and umbrellas with electric saws and hauling them to the dumpster on their ATV. Restaurant employees were hauling their umbrellas out of the sea.

Then as the chaos subsided, and the clouds began to break up, and the sun once more showed, and we few die-hard Pit Locs chatted among ourselves about our experience, Arroyo Burro Creek began ever so slowly swelling with runoff.

The creek had been dammed up as a shallow pooled slough behind a sand berm, as is typical. I first noticed water having slyly rolled over dry sand. Instead of the damp line spreading out from the edge of the slough, dry sand began right where the water stopped.

Despite the intensity of the rain shower it was brief and momentary, and I was surprised to see the now departed storm reflected in the rising creek. Yet here I watched as the water slowly rose and eventually later that day broke through the sand berm and drained into the sea.

After five years of epic drought, the rare summer rainfall was a treat. And the way it blew in was a special experience.

‘Twas a scene to behold, not an ordinary day.

Nature, and the people.

Clouds that did not rain on November 16, 2017.

(Postscript: I hacked out a few words of this post months ago then promptly got distracted by other priorites. Recently as I pulled it out of the drawer it still had not rained and there was no rain in the extended forecast. Hence the opening lines. However, as of this moment now, 10:34 1-08-18, it is expected to rain quite a bit. Evacuation warnings have been issued for areas burned in recent wildfires like the massive Thomas Fire as flash flooding is expected. Several inches at least are expected.)

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9 Responses to The Summer Microburst, September 3, 2017

  1. edsafaris says:

    Well said. Your thoughts on the Microburst at the Pit are fitting. It’s always good to remember, whether you’re practicing Buddhism or trying to cross the street, to “Pay Attention”.

  2. Thanks for this Jack. I was in West Beach when this hit full. I watched as trees snapped like twigs. Complete white out. Never to be forgotten.

  3. Iverson Movie Ranch says:

    Jack, you did it again. This may have been the best piece of yours that I have read. You are an incredible talent. Can I assume that you have a novel somewhere in the works? I sincerely enjoy your style and flavor. Thanks once again.

    • Jack Elliott says:


      “Can I assume that you have a novel somewhere in the works”

      Huh. Well. Funny you should say that of all things. I don’t want to flatter myself, but I am indeed actually working on a novel. It is just a fun project. One of my hobbies. Maybe one day if I am extraordinarily lucky I’ll get it published, and mention it here.

  4. Erik says:

    Love me some weather. Looking forward to the show tonight.

  5. Lila Henry says:

    Let us know if it rains tonight. (I’m in Nipomo and don’t know if the storm will make it up here or not.) Thanks for the description.

  6. I can’t imagine no rain – we get it most days here. But I can understand completely the Indian quotation at the top of your post – that’s what we call ‘townies’ here – completely oblivious to nature and all its signs. I’m used to looking for bad weather being a hillwalker – it’s essential to always be aware of what’s coming in the hills here.

  7. Terry Ferl says:

    I had checked your page several times since January 9th, wondering where you went. I did see the Microburst piece but had at first missed the postscript. And I had not until today seen the question by one of your fans about your possibly writing a novel. Is that indeed what you’ve been doing the past month? I can only imagine that your exaltation at the Microburst was dashed and upended by the events of January 9th. I have Santa Barbara connections but do not live there and have not lived in beautiful California for more than two decades. But I keep an eye on her. I hope you are well, and writing.

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