clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

El Nino's storms drying up California tourism

There was no way Lula Snell was going to make her annual trip to California this winter - even though she would miss her grandson's second birthday in Sacramento.

"It's flooding," the Oklahoma City woman exclaimed over the telephone. "To me that's not a vacation. Why should I leave a perfectly dry place for that?"Up and down California, where generally pleasant weather makes the Golden State a year-round vacation destination, El Nino is dumping on tourism.

The Pacific weather phenomenon is pouring torrential rains on amusement parks and zoos and scuttling whale-watching cruises and other boating trips with storm-tossed seas.

El Nino's assault on the state was resuming Monday with rainfall totals approaching record levels in areas, but forecasters predicted this latest storm would leave as quickly as it came and give way to sunny skies by midday Tuesday.

"If the sun is out, it's just gang busters. But we had only one decent day over Presidents Day weekend," said Terry Koenig of Blue & Gold Fleet, which runs boating tours to Alcatraz Island, one of San Francisco's top attractions.

The 25 percent to 50 percent drop in business has been enough to force layoffs and budget cuts, said Koenig, vice president of sales and marketing.

"There's nothing you can do," he said. "We know we really have to make hay when the sun does come out."

While statewide figures on the financial impact of El Nino have yet to be tabulated, economists say it's hard to imagine the impact won't be severe.

"People have lost money, that is the bottom line," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles. "And they're losing business that they can't make up."

Two of the most prominent vacation spots - Disneyland and the Universal Studios tour - have refused to release attendance figures during this wet winter, but they do admit that sales of umbrellas and ponchos are up. And they are trying to put a positive spin on the soggy climate.

"You can experience a lot of Disneyland indoors and just dash from attraction to attraction. You're not running that far," insists spokesman Tom Borcato.

Others in the tourism industry actually had reason to praise El Nino's effects.

"We are the traditional contrarians in the tourism industry, and this is shaping up to be a very good year for the ski resorts," said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association.

At Mammoth Mountain in the eastern Sierra Nevada, 129 inches of snow have fallen so far this month compared to just 6 inches last February.

Along California's scenic coast, El Nino has swirled up colossal waves that have boosted surfboard rentals and wetsuit sales at Malibu Ocean Sports, said employee Terry Morich.

And Napa Valley's wine country encourages callers to take advantage of the off-season, emphasizing that wineries are even less packed because of the storms.