A sudden downdraft from a thunderstorm laden with extra moisture from Tropical Storm Lidia — which left at least seven dead late last month in Baja California Sur — blasted the Santa Barbara Waterfront for about 10 minutes on Sunday afternoon with heavy rain and winds gusting to 80 mph. On the beach near Sea Landing, Alyssa Nuño, a 16-year-old junior at Dos Pueblos High School, was hit by an outrigger canoe, which broke her wrist and shoulder, and fractured her skull, according to her cousin Karina Arroyo. “I was the first responder on that,” said Beach Operations Supervisor Rob Graham. “She had a very bad head injury. One of the worst I’ve ever seen. I knew we needed to get her back-boarded and [to the hospital] as soon as possible.” According to Arroyo, an ambulance transported Nuño to Cottage Health hospital, and she was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where doctors are monitoring brain swelling ahead of surgery.
Graham described the freak storm and its immediate aftermath as “pandemonium.” As his team rescued a boatload of kids capsized in the harbor, Graham tended to Nuño “with a few gentlemen who volunteered to help me get her stabilized,” he said. “She was conscious … and very brave, and her family was there.” Nuno’s mom did “a great job” of applying direct pressure to her daughter’s head wound before Graham arrived, he added. The family has set up a gofundme account to help with medical bills.
The weather event, called a microburst, also toppled trees and sailboat masts, ripped roofing from Funk Zone real estate, and knocked several dozen kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders into the water. It is blamed for weakening a tree on the 700 block of San Pascual Street which came down on Tuesday morning, critically injuring a man when a 16,000-volt powerline fell down with it. The man has been reportedly sent to a burn center in Southern California.
Microbursts occur mostly in the southern U.S., formed when a thunderstorm’s biggest raindrops and hailstones aloft all dump at once, pushing air downward, usually across a relatively small area. Reports of Sunday’s deluge ranged more or less from Butterfly Beach to Arroyo Burro and inland to the foothills. “For it to happen right over downtown Santa Barbara is unusual,” said Eric Boldt, a National Weather Service meteorologist. He added that these events don’t have “a good signature to tell us in advance that this would happen.”