Imagine the Central Valley, 300 miles long from Sacramento to Bakersfield, covered in a vast inland lake 20 miles wide, reaching depths of 30 feet. According to an article in Scientific American in 2013, that is not a science fiction scene.
In December and January of 1861-62, California experienced an atmospheric river dumping rain and snow for 43 days. There were no levees along the rivers, and there were no dams to catch the enormous runoff that occurred. Sacramento was submerged in 10 feet of water and would remain under water for several months.
Sixty-six inches of rain fell in Los Angeles that year. There were massive floods and, in low areas, the flooding caused lakes several feet deep. In central California, a resident, William Brewer, wrote a letter to his brother Jan. 31, 1862, which read in part, “Thousands of farms are entirely under water. The entire Valley is a lake, extending from the mountains on one side to the coast range of hills on the other.”
We should be thankful for our current drought-relieving atmospheric river of storms. And we should be doubly thankful for all the dams and levees that have been built to hold back the floods.
Larry A. Smith, Fresno