California Drought Report #82: More Drought Coming?

Yes, I know Northern California has more water than it can store and the potential for flooding vast areas are of concern to all who live near river flood plains. Climate is cyclical, what happened in past will happen again in the future. Following the Megaflood of 1861-62 was a severe drought. Here is a historical account from 1890 by J. M. Guinn; in an excerpt from Exceptional Years: A History of California Floods and Drought.

“The great flood of 1861-62 was the Noachain deluge of California floods. During the months of December, 1861, and January, according to a record kept at San Francisco, 35 inches of rain fell, the fall for the season footed up nearly 50 inches {average is 24 inches/year}. As in Noah’s the windows of heaven were opened, and the waters prevailed exceedingly on the face of the earth.

“The valley of the Sacramento vast inland sea; the city of Sacramento was submerged and almost ruined. Relief boats on their errands of mercy, leaving the channels of the rivers, sailed over inundated ranches, past floating houses, wrecks of barns, through vast flotsams, made up of farm products farming implements, and the carcasses of horses, sheep and cattle, drifting out to sea.

“…To the affrighted vaqueros, who had sought safety on the hills, it did seem as if the fountains of the great deep really been broken up, and that the freshet had filled the Pacific to overflowing. The Arroyo Seco, swollen to a mighty river, brought down from the mountains and canons great rafts of drift-wood …{that} furnished fuel to poor people of the city for several years.

“It began raining on December 24, 1861, and continued for thirty days, with but two slight interruptions. The Star published the following local: ‘A Phenomenon – Tuesday last the sun made its appearance. The phenomenon lasted several minutes and was witnessed by a great number of persons.’

“…After the deluge, what? The drought. It began in the fall of 1862, and lasted to the winter of 1864-65. The rainfall for the season of 1862-63 did not exceed four inches, and in the fall of 1863 a few showers fell, but not enough to start the grass. No more fell until March. The cattle were of gaunt, skeleton-like forms, moved slowly of food. Here and there, singly or in small weak to move on, stood motionless with of starvation. It was a pitiful sight. …

“The loss of cattle was fearful. The plains were strewn with their carcasses. In marshy places …the ground was covered with their skeletons, and the traveler for years afterward was often startled by coming suddenly on a veritable Golgotha — a place of skulls — the long horns standing out in defiant attitude, as if protecting the fleshless bones. …The great drought of 1863-64 put an end to cattle raising as the distinctive industry of Southern California.”

While we have enough water now, it will be prudent to save all we can, as it will be needed once the current the flood has soaked into the ground or flowed out to the sea.

More on the MegaFlood and Future Floods can be found at the Fabius Maximus webpage.

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About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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