Historic storm hits Bay Area; several trees down on campus

Miguel Arcayena & James Salazar

Staff Writers

Several fallen trees were found across campus, including two massive trees blocking the Lone Mountain ramp. PHOTO BY JAMES SALAZAR/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

This weekend, the Bay Area was hit with its strongest storm in years. According to the National Weather Service (NWS) Bay Area, on Sunday Oct. 24, more than four inches of rain fell in San Francisco and wind gusts peaked at 50 miles per hour. USF could not escape the impact of the wild weather, with a total of four fallen Monterey Cypress trees at Lone Mountain, behind the University Center, and along Masonic Avenue.

On Sunday at 1:55 p.m., an email alert from Public Safety was sent to the University that two trees had fallen at Lone Mountain. An hour later, an updated alert was sent that the trees had blocked the ramp heading down to Turk Boulevard, causing the closure of all vehicle access to Lone Mountain campus. However, by Monday evening, Public Safety provided an update that the ramps up to Lone Mountain and down Lone Mountain East residence hall had reopened. The middle exit where the two trees had fallen remained closed.  

Junior psychology major Bella Hartley lives across from Lone Mountain, and she and her roommate “couldn’t help but notice the downed trees from our front window. With the howling of the wind, we had not heard them fall. It was shocking and saddening to see such large, old trees fall,” says Hartley. “Their height, and the moss covering them, showed they had been there for many years.”

Hartley pointed to California’s lack of rain as an inevitability “that storms will bring down trees like this.” She also thinks that with such extreme weather conditions becoming more common, a safety concern exists. “I believe it is important to have protocols to address the damage quickly and accommodate any students with disabilities who may need aid accessing their dorms with the ramp blockage,” said Hartley. “It was USF’s calls and emails that notified us, so there appears to be quickly updating protocols in place.”

A third tree behind the University Center fell into the parking lot where University facilities’ vehicles are usually parked and acts as a major delivery loading zone for the entire University. 

The downed trees at Lone Mountain and University Center did not cause any damage. A fourth tree had fallen onto a moving vehicle along Masonic Avenue according to USF Public Safety Director Dan Lawson, though he clarified that no one was hurt and the damage was done only to the back end of the car. 

The third downed tree fell into the lot behind the University Center, near the walkway between Harney Science Center and the University Center. PHOTO BY MIGUEL ARCAYENA/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

The last time trees on campus grounds had come down due to heavy rain and wind was back in January 2019. However, that incident was shrouded in controversy. As reported in the Foghorn, San Francisco Public Works denied USF’s request to remove the tree. Nearly a month later, another tree had fallen between the Gillson and Hayes-Healy residence halls with “high winds plus extended rain after years of drought” being cited as a factor. 

The Foghorn reached out to USF Facilities Management, the department that operates and manages all University buildings and grounds, regarding the situation of the new fallen trees. However, Facilities was not able to provide a comment at the time of this writing. 

NWS Bay Area noted that the 4.02 inches of rain on Oct. 24 was the wettest October day in San Francisco history and the fourth heaviest day of precipitation in the city since rainfall records started being kept in 1849. According to Jan Null, a Bay Area meteorologist and NWS forecaster, the “storm across the SF Bay Area is, so far, tied as the third strongest since 1950 on the Bay Area Storm Index (BASI)” and the strongest in 26 years. 

Crews from Facilities and a service contractor began to clean up pieces of the fallen trees at Lone Mountain Monday morning, Oct. 25. PHOTO BY BEAU TATTERSALL/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

Just a week ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that California recorded its driest water year in a century. The water year, which ended Sept. 30, accumulated 11.87 inches of rain and snow. This amount was calculated by the Western Regional Climate Center, who used data from each of its stations, and the total was less than half of what experts deem average during a typical water year: about 23.58 inches. 

The storm created havoc across the Bay Area with flooding, storm debris, evacuation orders, and power outages to nearly 130,000 PG&E customers at one point. 

In its aftermath, residents, such as Hartley, are questioning if the city’s infrastructure was “slightly unprepared for this storm.” On Sunday afternoon, Hartley said, “Flooding began in the walls of our rented, three-story apartment. We slowly noticed rainwater discoloring the paint of the wall in the hallway.” Hartley continued by saying, “The severe weather was also enough to litter our small backyard with tree branches and debris, as well as wake us all up during the night, as living on the second story places you among the trees, which shook violently in the heavy winds.”

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