California's past megafloods – and the coming ARkStorm

Guest Essay By Larry Kummer. Posted at the Fabius Maximus website.

Summary: To boost our fear, activists and journalists report the weather with amnesia about the past. Ten year records become astonishing events; weather catastrophes of 50 or 100 years ago are forgotten. It makes for good clickbait but cripples our ability to prepare for the inevitable. California’s history of floods and droughts gives a fine example — if we listen to the US Geological Survey’s reminder of past megafloods, and their warning of the coming ARkStorm.

” A 43-day storm that began in December 1861 put central and southern California underwater for up to six months, and it could happen again.”

— “California Megaflood: Lessons from a Forgotten Catastrophe” by B. Lynn Ingram (prof of Earth Science, Berkeley) in Scientific America, January 2013.


Lithograph of K Street in Sacramento, CA during the 1862 flood. From Wikimedia commons.

One of the key events in California history has disappeared from our minds. For a reminder see this by the US Geological Survey.

“Beginning on Christmas Eve, 1861, and continuing into early 1862, an extreme series of storms lasting 45 days struck California. The storms caused severe flooding, turning the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea, forcing the State Capital to be moved from Sacramento to San Francisco for a time, and requiring Governor Leland Stanford to take a rowboat to his inauguration. William Brewer, author of Up and Down California in 1860-1864clip_image002, wrote on January 19, 1862, ‘The great central valley of the state is under water — the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys — a region 250 to 300 miles long and an average of at least twenty miles wide, or probably three to three and a half millions of acres!’

‘In southern California lakes were formed in the Mojave Desert and the Los Angeles Basin. The Santa Ana River tripled its highest-ever estimated discharge, cutting arroyos into the southern California landscape and obliterating the ironically named Agua Mansa (Smooth Water), then the largest community between New Mexico and Los Angeles. The storms wiped out nearly a third of the taxable land in California, leaving the State bankrupt.

“The 1861-62 series of storms were probably the largest and longest California storms on record. However, geological evidence suggests that earlier, prehistoric floods were likely even bigger. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that such extreme storms could not happen again. However, despite the historical and prehistorical evidence for extreme winter storms on the West Coast, the potential for these extreme events has not attracted public concern, as have hurricanes. The storms of 1861-62 happened long before living memory, and the hazards associated with such extreme winter storms have not tested modern infrastructure nor the preparedness of the emergency management community.”

For an account of the flood from that time see this by J. M. Guinn; an excerpt from Exceptional Years: A History of California Floods and Drought (1890). Red emphasis added.


Flooded area in California: 1861-1862. From The West without Water.

“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.”

For a more detailed account see “California Megaflood: Lessons from a Forgotten Catastrophe” by B. Lynn Ingram (prof of Earth Science, Berkeley) in Scientific America, January 2013 (PDF here).  The risk of such megafloods remains today as shown in the video “Central Valley Flood Risk” by the California Department of Water Resources and the Corps of Engineers, July 2011.

Why is flood risk so high in California? This video explores the history, risk and government efforts to reduce flooding with one of the world’s largest flood risk reduction systems.


It will happen again: the ARkStorm Scenario

The ARkStorm scenario was prepared by the US Geological Survey, who gathered a team of 117 scientists and engineers — with contributions from 42 Federal, California, and local agencies and universities. Here is the opening of the introduction to the ARkStorm Scenario. For more information see the press release and the full report.clip_image004

“The ARkStorm storm is patterned after the 1861-62 historical events but uses modern modeling methods and data from large storms in 1969 and 1986. The ARkStorm draws heat and moisture from the tropical Pacific, forming a series of Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) that approach the ferocity of hurricanes and then slam into the U.S. West Coast over several weeks. Atmospheric Rivers are relatively narrow regions in the atmosphere that are responsible for most of the horizontal transport of water vapor outside of the tropics.

“Using sophisticated weather models and expert analysis, precipitation, snow lines, wind, and pressure data, the modelers characterize the resulting floods, landslides, and coastal erosion and inundation that translate into infrastructural, environmental, agricultural, social, and economic impacts. Consideration was given to catastrophic disruptions to water supplies resulting from impacts on groundwater pumping, seawater intrusion, water supply degradation, and land subsidence.

“…Megastorms are California’s other Big One. A severe California winter storm could realistically flood thousands of square miles of urban and agricultural land, result in thousands of landslides, disrupt lifelines throughout the state for days or weeks, and cost on the order of $725 billion. This figure is more than three times that estimated for the ShakeOut scenario earthquake, that has roughly the same annual occurrence probability as an ARkStorm-like event.”


“We don’t even plan for the past.”

— Steven Mosher (member of Berkeley Earth; bio here), a comment posted at Climate Etc.

The political gridlock on public policy relating to climate change has prevent the most obvious and easy first step — preparing for the almost inevitable repeat of past extreme weather. Events like superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina were warnings, showing our mad lack of preparation for likely weather events. Unless we change soon, we will pay dearly for our folly.

For More Information

This is a follow-up to Lessons learned from the end of California’s “permanent drought”. For more about the great flood see Wikipedia and a brief but eloquent account in the 21 January 1862 New York Times.

For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change, and especially these …

  1. Ten years after Katrina: let’s learn from those predictions of more & bigger hurricanes.
  2. An eminent climate scientist explains what caused the record rains in Texas.
  3. Have we prepared for normal climate change and non-extreme weather?
  4. Let’s prepare for past climate instead of bickering about predictions of climate change.
  5. Droughts are coming. Are we ready for the past to repeat?
  6. The bottom line: How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  7. Important: Climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.

143 thoughts on “California's past megafloods – and the coming ARkStorm

      • Worst recorded since the flood of 1955 that is.
        I’ve lived all my life in Ca, more than 60 years, and one thing I’ve learned, is record-breaking storms are relative to those alive at the time.
        Depending on whether you were merely an observer, or lost your entire family, your perspective is relative.
        If memory serves me, according to records, Georgetown had record rains in the 1840s of 110″, currently I have near 80 here and expect another 15″ before the 21st of February, and the funny thing is, I heard officials claim the 1980 storm was a 100 year event, then in 2000 being worse, was another storm that forced removal/replacement of the Chili bar bridge when the waters topped it, yet we’ve already surpassed both those events this year.
        So yeah, 1964 was a horrible storm to those that lived through it, and yeah, I remember having to ride my bike to school in it and how everyone talked about how awful it was, and still we survived it, as we will this one as well.
        Just be prepared with a bugout bag if and when SHTF.

  1. Larry
    Let us also make the obvious point that in the 1860’s California had a few hundred thousand inhabitants. today it has well over 30 million. many will be living in high risk flood points. many more will work in them. Any flooding event therefore likely becomes ‘extraordinary’ and possibly dangerous whether or not many others in the past far exceeded it.

    • Tony,
      Yes, that’s the key point. The ARkStorm team estimated damages in 1861-62 at $10 million — big money for California back then. That’s $250 million in our money.
      A similar storm today, the ARkStorm, would cost a bit more. We’re far better prepared, but the state has more people and more wealth. They say:

      “…Megastorms are California’s other Big One. A severe California winter storm could realistically flood thousands of square miles of urban and agricultural land, result in thousands of landslides, disrupt lifelines throughout the state for days or weeks, and cost on the order of $725 billion. This figure is more than three times that estimated for the ShakeOut scenario earthquake, that has roughly the same annual occurrence probability as an ARkStorm-like event.”

      • The current damage to the Oroville Dam is estimated to be 100 to 200 million alone. Then there are the many homes and businesses that are currently being flooded along the Sacramento River as well as along the lower reaches of the Feather River after the dam, along with the 188.000 people who had to evacuate at some personal cost for each person.

    • “””””….. ” A 43-day storm that began in December 1861 put central and southern California underwater for up to six months, and it could happen again.” ……””””””
      Whadya mean “up to six months” pardna ?
      How long was it, seeing as it was in 1861, and somebody back then must have known how long six months was.

      • Some locations doubtlessly dried out sooner than others, so perhaps six months was how long the places that took the longest were wet.
        Places that were at the edges and/ or were higher dry out sooner.

      • @ Menicholas…even at the end of the flood of 1996/97 it took many months for water to drain from some of the lakes which had formed north of Sacramento during the flood.

  2. The obvious question is whether Green Zealots consider the 1861/62 event to be natural or already part of human induced climate change.
    To me it is a no-brainier that it was a natural once in a few hundreds or more years event. However, it occurred before the era of water management so expecting similar outcomes now is inappropriate. Similar outcomes or worse will be due to major dam failure.
    Events like 1862 were key to the groundwater reserves remaining in balance. Floods like that lead to drainage to aquifers, whereas dam storage prevents such things happening so much in the modern era. The modern paradigm is keeping more water above ground, diverting it to farmland and running the rivers more regularly.
    The lessons California needs to learn concern the strategic choices implicit in dam building, water diversion strategies and preventing natural flooding. There are consequences to that, neither good nor bad, merely different to letting nature doing it her way. Those lessons are far more strategic than lifting water restrictions as they concern interdecadal timescales of water management….

  3. Once again skeptics are proven correct:
    1) Historic literacy of weather and climate is more important than CO2 obsession.
    2) Historical weather was highly variable and extreme.
    3) Adaptation to historical weather extremes is more important than CO2 obsessed based policies to allegedly “mitigate the climate”.

    • Hunter,
      Great point! Should have been in the post.
      I’ve wanted to write a post listing all the points raised by skeptics that have proven correct.
      (1) The importance of ocean heat content as a measure of Earth’s temperature changes. Pielke Sr. was called a “denier” for saying this; not it’s consensus wisdom.
      (2) The significant effect of the Antarctic sub-sea volcanoes.
      (3) The importance of comparing today’s extreme weather with past events, not just averages, to provide a useful context.
      There are others. I suspect it would be a long list.

      • Ozone Bust,
        “the skeptic s may get organised.”
        That would be a big change, as I’ve often written. That skeptics are unorganized has been one of the great advantages of the alarmists — who are well-organized. They recruit, obtain funding, and rapidly respond together when one is attacked.
        If the weather (i.e., random events) had cooperated, we’d probably be ruled now by the US Climate Change Department. We’ve been lucky.

      • We’ve been right from the moment we told you that you can’t suspend more refractory insulation media within a fluid covering a substrate, causing less energy to reach the substrate, and make more energy, leave the substrate.
        Even acting like it’s sophisticated is a scam.
        Everyone wasn’t in awe, believing they couldn’t understand atmospherics until these frauds came,
        gases – including Earth atmospheric mix – are the simplest phase of matter. After WWII, the generation of adventurers sailing around the world in minimalist equipment, proved how well mankind understands the atmospheric oceanic complex related to climate.
        Indeed: *indeed* – Hansen had to resort to fraud to get grants and lease government computers for his ”private research” that made him know more than the entire planet, because you couldn’t get climatological
        arguing on real data any more.
        So he started using the excuse that if the computers sat there and the most refined minds in the world, astrophysicists, wanted to ”push the boundaries of science” for nothing more than the cost of running the computers – why not? “We send people to space! To other planets! We can’t afford for some scientists to do a few paltry thousands – hundred thousand dollars’ research on the weather here? The climate here?”
        This paraphrased was a well known trail of fraud promotional puke he spat onto the heads of the nation who hired him, and on the nations of the world. He taught Phil Jones how to get American Grants, Phil Jones, helped him get UK Grants, and they all practiced their own covert “this is whatcha call ‘pure’ research’ – it’s private for us geniuses, you’re too dumb and you’ll be wrong because the math’s so ‘complex’.”

  4. Doubtless, should (When?) it happens again, over the next few years, we’ll hear the cries of “Climate Change Theory predicted this!)

    • since climate change theory now seems to predict everything except a perfectly static climate, that will always be true and is why it no longer makes meaningful predictions nor means anything.

      • What exactly is “Climate change Theory”? Is it merely a theory that climate changes? If so its not much of a theory unless it determines how climate will change. A theory should be overarching so that hypotheses may be derived from it and tested for validity. As such the current “theory” has provided numerous hypotheses many of which have been proven not to exist. If the only tenet of the theory is that the future climate will be different than it is now then it is not a valid scientific theory because it cannot be falsified as no specific hypothesis can be correct or incorrect.

    • Yes – and the media will create unwarranted headlines. We must to learn always to take the media’s gushings with a large grain of salt. In fact, most do – but naive folks obviously can’t. I think it is just funny.

  5. “Important: Climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.”
    Yeah, start by having one in the first place and not refusing to debate with those who do not agree with you. Grow up would be a good start.
    good article BTW

  6. Isn’t Sacramento the California’s capital just few meters above the sea level?
    One flood California’s leaders have to be anxious about is the impending sea level rise, as the catastrophists tell us is inevitable. Get in as many Mexicans as possible, to urgently build the wall to save the capital from drowning by the advancing Pacific. / sarc

    • Hi Vuk,
      As a long time California teacher, I get a good look at our textbooks. One of our current books presents the kids with a topographical map of California regions. Based on that map, the students are asked which is higher, Monterey or Fresno? According to the teacher’s manual, the correct answer is “Monterey.” From which one can conclude that Fresno is below sea level. Since Sacramento is 278 feet below Fresno (per Google “Sacramento elevation”), it must be as low as Death Valley’s Badwater (-278.9 feet). No wonder it floods!

      • A simple search yields Monterey at 25 ft and Fresno at 300 ft above sea level. California Publoc Schools at [their] finest….
        [Publock Schools? .mod]

      • Jerry Brown doesn’t have enough spare change to secede. He’s got a ski jump that he needs to fix for the Feather river to run over out of Oroville Dam.

  7. I’m a fourth generation Californian with sets of GGP arriving in both 1869 and 1887. We always heard stories of deadly droughts and floods. My father would tell stories about “apocalyptic flooding” and get laughed at. He would ask people where they thought all the deep arroyos came from. My brother and I laugh at the overused climate terms like “unprecedented”. See 5 worst floods in San Diego:
    Excerpt: “Back in February, 1891, San Diego County experienced what many call the most violent tempest in its history. It started to rain on February 19 and continued for a solid week: 30 inches in 37 hours in Escondido to the north; 18 inches in 48 at Cuyamaca to the east. By the 23rd, every road in the county had been damaged; a flash flood twisted the railroad line from Temecula station to Fallbrook so far beyond recognition it had to be abandoned.
    1916 San Diego Flood.

    • Joe,
      Thanks for sharing your family’s history! You are one of the rare homesteaders. There’s little historical knowledge of California among people in the San Francisco Bay area. WWII brought a flood of immigrants to the Bay. I came here in 1987, which I believe (haven’t checked) was near the end of the flow of net immigration to California from within the US.
      One of my fellow Scout leaders was a geologist with the California Geological Survey. He’d show us the history of the area as we walked. California has had a violent past compared to the upstate NY where I grew up. It will have a violent future as well. We should prepare for it.

      • Editor Larry:
        Whatever gave you the idea that New York’s geological past has been less violent than California’s?
        Whether ground to bedrock by glaciers or ground zero for past orogenies.
        An orogeny is the term for when continents collide.
        When you went hiking or walking, I am sure you noticed the micaceous gray, often friable rock that is often riddled with poor quality dark red garnets.
        Garden/yard centers up there sell the same rock as flats for paving walkways and garden paths. A surprisingly attractive stone, if polished, with the garnets as dark red dots.
        That rock is schist, and is formed under great pressure deep underground. A metamorphic process that forms the tiny mica flakes, often along previous silt layers that formed the original alluvial slate rock long before metamorphosis.
        Collision with other continents drove up mountain ranges, likely equal to our Western mountains or the Andes. They were eroded away, then driven up again by the next orogeny; perhaps even raised a third time in the distant past.
        If you happened to take trips along rocky areas, gorges or rocky walls, you likely noticed what appeared to be flat sections of walls or linear cracks. Many of those flat/straight sections are actually fault lines from the continental collisions.
        While partaking of the East’s beauteous outdoors, you might have noticed the hills have rounded shape and gentle often wide valleys between hills.
        If you consider the topography, you might wonder why existing streams are narrow rocky drainages; yet the old age historical weathering of those valleys appears so mild.
        Some of those thoughts get answered when various hurricanes wander up the Appalachians. Those valleys can be get quite full of water. Agnes was an eye opener from Virginia through Pennsylvania.
        Such is the lunacy of hyping relatively minor storm named Sandy.
        And yes, there were also shield volcanoes here along the East Coast.

  8. It is very important to the alarmists that we forget history. That way, everything is exceptional and human caused. I became a skeptic when Michael Mann tried to erase the MWP.

    • CommieBob,
      I agree, and would state that even more strongly: the Left wants us to forget (or despise) our history. That cuts us off from our foundation. Ungrounded, we become easier to manipulate — and remold.
      I saw how successful they have been in my 15 years as a Boy Scout leaders. During treks I’d tell them stories that were known to previous generations, but now lost knowledge. Once I told them the Odyssey. They were fascinated, amazed that nobody had told them about this.

  9. Living memory is all that counts to alarmists. No-one who witnessed this collossal flood is alive so they will dismiss it as unimportant. After all, you can’t seriously expect facts to take precedence over models – that would be heresy. The climate models are not predicting a repeat flood so there is no need preparing for one.

  10. There’s something wrong with the second video it doesn’t mention Global Warming or Climate Change?
    That can’t be right.
    James Bull

  11. I have a family photograph reportedly taken after the 1906 earthquake at our Coffin Road, Santa Clara, home. It shows the house akimbo off its foundations in an inundation and includes a buggy in the foreground with water up to its hubs.

    • Doug, that sounds like liquefaction as a result of the earthquake. Us Kiwis have become more familiar with its effects these past 7 years!

  12. So I hear that the weather in Oklahoma has been 99 F, instead of the usual 56 – but that happens all the time, right?

    • Griff
      You are right about the 99F. According to the historical records;
      ‘An OK state temp. record for Feb. was tied Sat. (99˚ at Mangum), 13 days earlier than the existing record (Feb. 24, 1918)’
      So it doesn’t happen ‘all the time’ just once every century

      • Anybody who’s lived in the plains knows that in dry weather temperature extremes are the norm, not a rarity. I lived in Arizona quite a while, I recall that in the high desert, it was not uncommon at all to see temperatures in the 30’s at night, moving up around 110 during the day. People who’ve always lived near the ocean think that kind of thing is impossible.

      • climatereason –
        80 DIE IN U.S, HEAT WAVE
        Illawarra Daily Mercury (Wollongong, NSW : 1950 – 1954) Friday 16 July 1954 p 1 Article
        … 80 DIE IN U.S. j HEAT WAVE ‘ j NEW YORK, Thurs. — At least 80 persons died in the -heat wave which … in Oklahoma, where the temperature in tih;s last few days has been as thigh as 117.5 degress
        “At least 11 of ‘the victims
        died in Oklahoma, where
        the temperature in this last
        few days has been as thigh
        as 117.5 degress”
        it’s a 100f in Oklahoma back in 1914-

    • Griff,
      Thanks for demonstrating the intellectual shallowness of the climate true believer.
      Warm winters- even hot February’s have happened before in Texas and Oklahoma.
      Just like the issue of this blog post, California’s extreme weather, that you so cynically and cowardly are seeking to derail with your transparent trolling.
      You were shown to be deceitful and ignorant on polar bears, and you continue to do so with nearly everyone of your posts that you are equally deceitful and ignorant regarding nearly any topic that is discussed.
      At least you are consistent.

    • Griff, you always seem to think you’re “proving” something. It’s just adorable. Bless your heart.

    • There were record lows in Aman and Quatar during the past week Griff, so what’s your point? I would guess that not a week goes by where records are broken somewhere in the world on the extreme ends of all weather measurements .
      The main question to all of this is, to what extent is the warming observed on our planet natural vs. man made. And regardless of what spin is put on it, nobody knows. NOBODY KNOWS. But extreme weather events have happened in the past, and trying to tie the warming to an increase in extreme weather events currently has been an exercise in futility.

      • Jake,
        And record lows in Western Australia accompanied by record highs in the Eastern States of Oz; all explainable by natural erratic regional variations in airflow and ocean circulation (sometimes called ‘weather’).
        Griff naively sensationalized the same hot spike in Oklahoma over at JoNova where the record cold in Western Australia is discussed:
        Bob Fernley-Jones

      • Oh, and ‘The Australian’ newspaper advises that in the north of Western Australia (that State is over six times the area of California BTW):
        “The mighty King George Twin Falls are in full flood as a “proper” wet season recharges the Kimberley, ushering in a new cycle of plenty after two years when the monsoon rains failed to come.
        It’s officially the biggest wet since 2010-11 and likely to rank among the top three in a century…”

        Another example of “Extreme Events” (formerly known as weather variability) that have been lost from living memory,
        Google for the article: Go with the flow: wild rivers run free after Top End deluge

    • Griff,
      Thanks for demonstrating the intellectual shallowness of the climate true believer.
      Warm winters- even hot February’s have happened before in Texas and Oklahoma.
      Just like the issue of this blog post, California’s extreme weather, that you so cynically and cowardly are seeking to derail with your transparent efforts.
      Big weather events, droughts, flooding rains, big storms, huge blizzards, are notable because they are rare.
      You true believers lie and pretend that if an even did not happen in the last few years, it mus be caused by CO2. Why you are so dishonest is something only you can answer.
      You were shown to be deceitful and ignorant on polar bears, and you continue to do so with nearly everyone of your posts that you are equally deceitful and ignorant regarding nearly any topic that is discussed.
      At least you are consistent.

    • Moderator,
      Hi, I am not certain what I posted in the two version of my reply to Griff that triggered moderator attention. I apologize for the repost- I was attempting to figure out if it was a particular word. Any feedback will be most gratefully appreciated. Thanks.
      [There are a number of key and tricky words that trigger the moderator’s queue – rather than an immediate posting to the world. Don’t worry about it. .mod]

    • “”So I hear that the weather in Oklahoma has been 99 F, instead of the usual 56 – but that happens all the time, right?””‘
      Griff, you keep proving that either global warming is not happening…..or CO2 has no effect on temperature
      ..what was CO2 levels 100 years ago when this record was tied?

    • That is correct Griffie, it happens all the time.
      In fact that 99 F only tied the record for that day. The record being set back in 1918 if I remember correctly.

      • The all time record low temperature for any date or location in Oklahoma was set in February, just six years ago; -31F.
        Meanwhile back at the ranch, it snowed n Mangum and western Oklahoma, 72 hrs. after the high temp. mentioned by Griff.
        As noted by others, such variability is nothing new for the Plains states. Oklahoma City once set a record low and a record high on the same day in November, 1911.

      • Griff has claimed to be British. It’s highly unlikely he has ever experienced anything like mid-continental weather.

    • Since NWS records only exist for less than 150 years, which is less than 1% of the time going back, just to the last 15,000 years of weather, one would expect many unprecedented events and new records………for the brief NWS period of record.
      Humans, who mostly live for less than 100 years are caught up with the notion that their memory and their experiencing of past weather should get more weighting than 99% of weather that happened before they were born(going back 15,000 years for instance).
      Slight and so far mostly beneficial global warming does however, increase precipitable water in the atmosphere, which does contribute to a slight increase in high end rain events.
      Most extreme weather events have not increased and some have decreased as expected from decreasing the meridional temperature gradient.

      • Your comment regarding temperature records only being 150 years old reminded me of my High School days. The school that I went to was only 5 years old, so school track and field records were being broken all the time.
        The first year, each top performance would be a school record. The second year, about half of the old records were broken, etc. By time I went there, about 1/5 of the records were broken, and after 50 years, which was 2010 , only about 2% of records were broken

    • Sure you have heard of a one-hundred year event? Don’t such event happen even though they are rare? Are you as dense as you seem?

    • Skankhunt42, er, I mean Troll, er, I mean Griff, why don’t y’all come out to Western Canada during a typical winter. We get these weather thingy’s called “Chinooks”, which are a result of west winds from the Pacific that bring moist air onshore. These air masses rise as they cross the Rocky Mountains, losing their moisture in the form of snow, with the drier air then dropping on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. This drier air warms up (think the First Law of Thermodynamics, basically the reason why the temperature of our atmosphere IS WHAT IT IS) and brings very pleasant temperatures to the province of Alberta in the winter.
      We can have temperature swings from -30 C to +20 C in one day. A DELTA OF 50 C, or 90 F, in one day.
      Weather happens, Skanky, deal with it.

    • G. February 17, at 5:07 am….
      Do they have google where you live? One of the things others have discovered and -you could too -is the wonderful feeling, of knowing what they’re talking about. That’s how others avoid being kicked around like the court jester.

  13. The “Eternal Drought” is merely in a “pause.”
    And, in a few short years, the 2017 rainfall totals will be adjusted/smoothed/trended downward….until the “pause” never existed, except in the minds of “Drought Skeptics.”

  14. Fear mongering by prestigious figures or groups is still fear mongering. It hurts society but helps the activists. Environmentalists have developed fear into their most potent weapon.
    Heck of a way to make a living.

  15. An image of California in a more sane time.
    Watch carefully and take notes. There will be a short quiz at the end of the presentation.
    The Birth of Oroville Dam:

    1) Who was Governor at the time.
    2) Why are things different today.
    It is said that it takes one special kind of a society to build great things. It is another society entirely which allows those great things to fall into ruin.

  16. I live on a channel just off SF Bay and I have been studying this event for a while. I want to know what level san Francisco Bay got to in the flood. All I can find is the note that for several days no high tide was recorded. I would think that is 11 or more feet above MLL Tide level.

  17. I hope the moderator doesn’t mind me pointing out that there is a thriller about the threat to California from a new Ark Storm. It is about a meteorologist working on a method of making early predictions of the course of major atmospheric rivers who discovers that other people in the organisation she is working for have developed a method of triggering an atmospheric river so it drops its water at the “right” moment as part of a terrorist plot.
    For more details google “Ark Storm novel”.

  18. One point I am not seeing much is that environmentalist and central planners pushed a policy of no new dams and tearing down existing dams. That makes the effects of floods and droughts worse. The effect on citizens of these policies is amplified by rules that allocate a fixed amount of water to wildlife (like snail darter) even in extreme drought. Of course without the dams (paid for by the shat-upon citizens) wildlife (like snail darter) would get nothing in extreme drought. The cathedral does not hold environmentalist and central planners to the exacting standards it applies to businesses (except their businesses) or private citizens. But the truth is, its environmentalist and central planners that have made effects of extreme weather worse. And the idea that CO2 causes more extreme weather is laughable. Look at what this article tells us about extreme weather in California.

    • Bits and Atoms,
      California has been building its dams and canals for over a century. There are some geologically and economically suitable locations remaining, but not many. Not enough so that new dams would make a substantial difference — think percent impact — in future droughts and floods.
      What we need is work — maintenance and improvements — on what we have. This work has begun, but generations of under-investment will take time to fix.
      Oroville Dam is the poster child for this. Of the four outlets, one has been unusable for years (the lower valve), one broke immediately (the main spillway), one was grossly under-designed (the emergency/auxiliary spillway eroded away when used at a small fraction of its rated capacity), and the turbine exits (shutdown, reasons not released, but they’re relatively small). The cost of damages will be big, consequences of our negligence.

      • It appears from what I have read that the flood control efforts of Oroville Dam, and I suppose some others in Northern California, were predicated on the Marysville Dam being built which it never was. So, perhaps there are not a lot of opportunities for further flood control and water storage available, there sure are some, and these seem to me to be quite important.

      • “the turbine exits (shutdown, reasons not released, but they’re relatively small)”. There was a presser from DWS earlier this week. They explained that they had to shut down the connection to the power grid. The turbines were designed to only run with the link intact ( why?, good question!) Then the erosion of the spillways dumped enough material that partial “dams” /bars were created which backed water and debris into the diversion pond and toward the power plant. Now they are trying to clear the bars and clean up all the junk/debris around the power plant. The potential flow rate through the power plant is not inconsequential…=12,000 CFS

  19. I’m in East Malaysia at the moment , a place that I’ve lived in, worked in, sailled in and visited for 35 years now. There has been no sea level change in that time ( I helped put in some flood defences in the early 80’s so I know) and whilst in the tropics is the coldest that I have ever known it to be. I when I normally sweat the night away. slept comfortably in a long house the other night

  20. Call me mean spirited, but I have no sympathy for California or Californians. For example, they continue to spend tens of billions annually (I think this is a low estimate) on illegal aliens, but have neglected their infrastructure. The problem I have is the rest of us are going to be stuck with paying for the damages. Any state this out of touch with reality should be forced to fend for itself. At the very least, the Clinton Foundation and George Soros should get hit with the bill.

    • California also has strong teachers’ union membership. What was NOT reported is that increases in education funding were not going into schools, but into paying generous retirement benefits to those teachers.

    • Jay,
      “The problem I have is the rest of us are going to be stuck with paying for the damages. ”
      Too soon to say who will pay the bills from this. Well worth reading: “Why Trump Should Not Fund an Oroville Dam Fix” by Wayne Lusvardi. Excerpt:

      “California Governor Jerry Brown has requested President Donald Trump declare California a major disaster area in the hope of defraying $162 million in projected disaster related expenses. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a number of programs for disaster relief of households and government entities … including funding to reimburse state and local police who managed the evacuation, fire fighters and state National Guard members who are assisting with the flooding response, and non-profit shelters that provided beds and food to evacuees. The Trump administration has not withheld such aid and Pres. Trump signed a disaster declaration as is customary for such incidents.
      “…Most dams in California are privately owned. The federal government also has no obligation to fund repairs on those dams.”

    • I feel the same way about the rest of the US. Was born in California and have lived here almost my entire life. For years and years when our economy was rolling we sent a lot more of out tax money to Washington DC than what we got back…probably holds true today. And like you I am sick of sending all that money to Washington to support their failed policies (Obamacare, the EPA…etc) and their lack of fixing the rest of the countries infrastructure. California is not the leader in failed infrastructure.

      • California’s economy is dependent on the rest of the country. The entertainment industry (movies, TV, recording, etc.) and agricultural products, to name a few, support California through sales to the rest of the country. These sales would not be possible without the infrastructure , paid for with all our tax dollars, throughout the country. And not only are tax dollars from D.C. flowing into California, consumer dollars from the rest of the states also flow in. A better comparison would show how many of California’s tax dollars sent to Washington generated through sales outside the country are returned to California. And while we are at it, let’s compare Federal welfare dollars sent to California with those sent to each of the other states.

  21. I read a report a few days ago that had listed some 13 major floods as gauged at Oroville. A few of them are random storms it seems once a decade or so, but there were two sequences of clustered events. One cluster appears from 1902-1909 and another from 1960 -1964. The earlier sequence occurs during a period of elevated precipitation, and the latter within what appears to be a drier time. Its Mandelbrot’s Joseph and Noah effects written in a small table summarizing one small region.
    By coincidence I saw Joe Bastardi’s weekend summary from weekend last, and he was speaking of how the analog year for much of this winter has been 1960, but that this analog fell apart within the last couple of weeks as, rather than staying very cold, as 1960 did, it turned suddenly warm out west. I have noted to my wife recently how much the past couple of winters have reminded me of the early 1960s, where we could go from short-sleeve shirts at Christmas to the coldest temperatures ever recorded here in Laramie in about 40 days time. The statistics characterizing weather and climate are nothing if not amazing, and very unlike gaussian models of randomness.

    • K. Kilty,
      Great reminder that while megafloods are rare, heavy storms are typical for this region.
      The ARkStorm scenario combines the storm that struck southern California in January 19-27,
      1969, followed quickly by the storm that struck northern California in February 8-20, 1986,

      • Tulare Lake went from non-existent to 130 square miles in about one months time, with a maximum depth of 20 feet.

  22. Shades of Lucifer’s Hammer! Who needs sci-fi? The earth can serve up catastrophes on its own quite well, you know. Even without AGW. (Like I said, who needs sci-fi?)

    • Bruce, the fake news champs are at the NYT, followed closely by WAPO. They are remarkably immune to rational critical thinking and are completely stuck on stupid.

      • It is fun to bash the fools who staff newspapers, but the average citizen has a remarkable ability to observed deviations from the conventional wisdom, yet organize his thinking to overlook the observations.
        I have been giving advice to an Arizona entity on some agricultural projects, and happened to read a blog from a nut-tree nursery. One customer stated that his region of Iowa used to be climate region 4B, but because of “climate change”, is now region 5. However, the pecan trees he planted suffered repeated freezings until they died. This he blamed on the Polar Vortex.

    • The picture shown is of the St. Francis dam which failed March 12, 1928. Poor siting appears to be the cause
      For the collapse. Hundreds died and many were never found. Some washed out to sea.

  23. While warmunistas often portray floods and droughts as CO2 climate weirding, a strong case can be made for natural oscillations that are simply not fully understood and not incorporated into models. However there is enough of a pattern that some predicted California’s drought would end with this series of atmospheric rivers and resulting flood.
    From Dettinger 2013 “Atmospheric Rivers as Drought Busters on the U.S. West Coast”
    “When the individual storm sequences that contributed most to the wet months thatbroke historical West Coast droughts from 1950 to 2010 were evaluated, 33%–74% of droughts were broken by the arrival of landfalling AR storms. In the Pacific Northwest, 60%–74% of all persistent drought endings have been brought about by the arrival of AR storms. In California, about 33%–40% of all persistent drought endings have been brought about by landfalling AR storms, with more localized low pressure systems responsible for many of the remaining drought breaks ”

  24. The ARkStorm setup in 1861/62 was obviously as result of a long-term Jet Stream blocking set up to position a longwave trough just offshore the California coast so the south-east flow was positioned right into California. With this setup, short-wave after short-wave came ashore with it’s moisture & dumped it with rain in the valley & rain/snow in the mountains which washed down in the canyons into the lower valleys. However, even if every valley was dammed, the reservoirs can only hold so much – case in point, Lake Orville is already having to release excess water & the wet season still has about a month to go.
    If it happened before, it can happen again.

    • The ARkStorm setup in 1861/62 was obviously as result of a long-term Jet Stream blocking set up to position a longwave trough just offshore the California coast so the south-east flow was positioned right into California.

      Didn’t you get the memo? Manmade CO2 caused the ARkStorm. The IPCC has now proven that the effect of manmade CO2 is now retroactive to all past extreme weather events….(sarc).

  25. The winter of 1996/97 was a semi biblical flood year. I was living in Novato, Marin Co. It rained for around 30 days and nights. There was always some level of moisture coming down. That is the longest period of rain which I have ever seen in my 67 years.
    At the height of that rain lakes were forming in the valley around Marysville and Yuba City. The Oroville Dam was spilling water at maximum, and the dam still came close to over topping. Note that man seldom learns from the past.
    Next to the home which I was renting in Novato was a drainage for a stream. The flow was some 3 or 4 inches of water when I moved in, and the ditch was overgrown with brush and small trees. At the peak of the rain that ten foot deep/15 foot wide drainage ditch filled and overflowed into the surrounding area. That is nature roaring.

    • But…but…I thought our children won’t know what floods are!
      Guess they will now.
      With “Climate Change’, what goes around comes around.

  26. This post is focused on California along with other areas past major weather events being “forgotten”.
    Where I live The Weather Channel’s “Local on the 8’s” routinely included the record high and low temp for the day. It’s been years since they did that. ( I think our local channels also phased that out.)
    TWC is quick to report when a record temp somewhere may potentially be broken tomorrow but rarely do they follow up unless a record was broken.
    (I wonder how their projections of broken records compares to reality? “Climate Models” might have a better track record.8-)
    PS Local record highs and lows have also undergone …adjustments. I know mine have.
    (Nothing is new under the sun….but in the dark……)

  27. California and the ArkStorm.
    Rain fills valleys and dried lakes.
    Well, them lakes are not dry after an ArkStorm. Isn’t that one definition for a flood plain?
    Silicon Valley is so going to love an ArkStorm.
    All of those eco-vehicles will plug some of the potholes on the road while urban road warriors driving their never-dirty limited edition SUVs find new ways to get stuck in desert muck.
    I wonder how all of those windy turbines will fare in storm after storm with water flowing around their bases as the water flows downhill.
    Then all of those relatively new fields of solar cells or mirrors. How deep are these sometimes dry lakes?
    Then who will clean off all of the mud and bugs off of those things.
    I hope they have to clean them without wasting water.
    Start blaming guvvy Brown, now.

  28. What I started thinking about is the vibration effect of all that water falling hundreds of feet (300-400? and crashing onto the rocks below.
    I am also thinking of the liquefaction effect of an earthquake – you know where hard packed roadways with concrete tops start breaking up, not by the earthquake but by the ground liquefying under the vibration effect?
    That waterfall is surely sending vibrations right through that hill under and into the weir on it’s left and into the dam on it’s right.
    If the dam face starts cracking due to the continual vibrations water will start to seep into it is my concern, I have heard nobody say anything about this so am I concerned for nothing or has this constant vibration effect been missed/ignored?

    • Aidan : The dam and the power station were build on bedrock. The main spillway has now soured out down to bed rock and is well below the actual dam. Earlier posts have links to videos that show how it was build, check them out.

      • Asybot : Thank you for your response, however I have done all that. Your response did not address the issue of constant vibrations travelling through the hillside (including he bedrock) & possibly affecting the dam.
        My query was regarding the possible danger of the constant vibration not erosion..

  29. How well did the government solution work for New Orleans before and after Katrina? Good luck with that.

  30. IMHO, the crisis CA is now facing is of their own creation. They have wasted fortunes on this “green” agenda and fighting the war on climate change, and did little to prepare for the inevitable. CO2 caused climate change is pure speculation, the flood is 100% certainty. During the drought did they build desalination plants? Nope. Did they maintain their dams? Nope. Neither makes any sense. If the drought was going to be forever, they should have been building desalination plants. If it was going to end, they should have been maintaining the dams. They did neither, they built wind and solar farms, and spend a fortune on the California Renewable Fuel Standard. Nit wits.
    Hey California!!!, Wind and Solar Don’t Work in a Flood
    BTW, I hope the editor of the Fabius Maximus Website understand that most people disagree with him and his position on this board, but you will never see Mr Watts censor or “moderate” him. In fact, Mr Watts publishes your articles so that his readers can get all sides of the story. That is the difference between liberals and conservatives. We aren’t afraid of debate or listening to the other side.

    • Yes. Lived here all my life and if not for the dams, the north Valley too would be as dry as a fox turd in summer.
      If not for dams, the winter water would scour the valley beyond the banks of rivers as the settlers experienced with routine flooding.
      Come summer the snow melt run off lasts till mid-summer at which time most of the rivers turn to creeks and vernal pools, leaving behind nothing but desert.
      Sure, there were the occasional oasis, but in between was wasteland.

  31. As ARK storms go I’m not impressed. One day of rain. Most of it the straight up and down variety. Not impressed at all. Didn’t need a boat, float, life jacket, hip waders, or even rubber boots, much less a ride from Noah.

  32. This is a very wonderful history lesson that needs to be incorporated into high school history classes.

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