This Picture of Yesterday’s Santa Cruz Storm Surge Is Chilling

A local photographer was perfectly positioned to caption the moment a 4’ storm surge roared up Santa Cruz’s Soquel Creek.

On Thursday, January 5th, swells smashed into the coastline communities around Santa Cruz — decimating roads and houses, leveling piers and fence lines, and leaving social media aflutter with posts around the enormous storm surge that caused all that aforenoted damage. As the San Francisco Chronicle notes, yesterday’s surges along the Santa Cruz Coast were recorded as high as 26 feet at some point, meaning it was by far the “largest and most energetic wave action of the season,” according to the National Weather Service.


What transpired from these sustained high-speed winds, which included gusts registered at 35mph, was a massive storm surge that gave a haunting glimpse into the future defined by the climate crisis.

Moreover: These historic surges obliterated Capitola Wharf, damaged hundreds of homes, and annihilated the pier at Seacliff.

In an image uploaded by photographer Native Santa Cruz ([at]nativesantacruz on Twitter and Instagram), we get a rare glimpse into how the tsunami-like waves produced by storm surges can swallow coastal areas.

“An interesting photo of the strangest thing I saw today, a 4’ wave going up the Soquel Creek,” reads a tweet sent out by the photographer about the picture. “This is just inland of the trestle and traveled up the creek as far as I could see. This is [hurricane-like] storm surge!”

They’re not wrong in that assumption, either. The bomb cyclone that hit Northern California was a “*textbook* mid-latitude cyclone,” according to climate scientist Daniel Swain. Per Swain, its “well-defined warm and cold fronts,” along with its development of an “eye-like feature near its center” was gorgeously captured by satellite images.

This week’s deluges have proven particularly revealing; they’ve shown just how vulnerable metros in and near the Bay Area are to rising sea levels and flash floods. San Francisco literally wasn’t designed to handle this amount of rainfall. Storm drains around the city are prone to clogging — you can adopt one, FYI — and their dilapidated, rusted-out conditions leave them susceptible to collapse… potentially worsening flood conditions.

It’s unclear what the collective cost of this storm will tally up to be. What is clear, however, is just how damaging the storm was.

“I’m struck by the power of nature,” said Aptos resident Tim McDermott to the San Francisco Chronicle. McDermott was among hundreds of people gathered atop a bluff to look down at the whirling seas that toppled the previously mentioned pier. “It’s wild to come down here and see stuff so familiar but changed so much by the storm.”

Wild, indeed. Chilling? Yes. A new normal? Perhaps.

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