We begin 2023 relieved that the unprecedented Southern California flooding of ’22 is now behind us. Witnesses say the flooding was the worst on record: “waters covered the low-lands entirely and rose to a greater height than ever before.” And yet only seven years previously the same residents suffered floods so violent they permanently changed the course of the Los Angeles River. So we understand those in California demanding action to tackle the climate crisis. But sadly we note that whatever is done will be too little and much too late. Because these floods happened not in 2022 and 2015, but in 1822 and 1815. And according to the 1890 edition of the journal of the Historical Society of Southern California, they were not rare events: they were followed by severe floods in 1825, 1832, 1842, 1850-52, 1861-62, 1867-68, 1884 and 1886, with the deluges interrupted by repeated droughts. Yet somehow no one blamed mankind for all this trouble.
We owe a hat tip to someone for pointing us to the article “Exceptional Years: A History of California Floods and Drought” by J.M. Guinn. But we have lost the tweet or blog link we followed so we’ll just wave our hat around while saying the article in question is remarkable in two ways.
First, it makes no attempt to downplay the severity of the weather horrors regularly inflicted on the residents of the Southern and Central California regions. The 19th century in Southern and Central California certainly sounds like Al Gore’s “nature hike through the Book of Revelation”. Yet, second, far from wailing about the so-called climate crisis, the article cheerfully accepts the perils of California weather. Notwithstanding the years of deluge or dryness, he boasts that “California has the most glorious climate in the world.” He avers that any true Californian would make this same boast, and accept the years of duress as the price to be paid for the exceptionally pleasant weather the rest of the time. Needless to say, he hadn’t met any 21st century Californians.
Of duress there was plenty in the 19th century. And just like climate change today, weather back then could cause it to be wet, or dry, in rapid succession. In fact the floods in 1811, 1815, 1822 and 1825 were followed by a terrible drought starting in 1827 and lasting into 1829, ending just in time for the floods of 1832. Then the cycle repeated, with a flood in 1842 followed by a three-year drought beginning in 1844.
The subsequent flooding in 1850 was so vast that the Sacramento Valley became an inland sea and Sacramento itself was described as a “second Venice.” Flooding continued in the winter of 1851-52 when warm rains landed on the snowpack in the Sierras, turning every creek into a river and every river into a lake, according to Guinn. During January and February 1852 an incredible 46 inches of rain fell.
Talk about your storm of the century. And then it stopped. A few years later, 1856 brought drought, heatwaves and severe sandstorms. In 1859 even worse heat arrived, with October temperatures in Los Angeles reaching 110 degrees F in the shade. Then, only two months later, the floods returned, including one 24-hour period when a foot of rain fell. Rains continued and in the winter of 1861-62 35 inches of water fell in San Francisco, reaching a seasonal total of 50 inches. The Sacramento Valley once again became an inland sea and Anaheim was under four feet of water.
The fall of that year brought the return of drought, which lasted until the winter of 1864-65. The skies closed so severely that the vegetation dried up and died, followed by the entire livestock inventory of Southern and Central California. 30,000 head of cattle died on one large ranch alone. Guinn writes:
“The loss of cattle was fearful. The plains were strewn with their carcasses. In marshy places and around the ciénegas, where there was a vestige of green, 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.”
We often note that climate alarmists would do well to study a little history. We’ve tried to call attention to the many surprising lessons it holds (e.g. here and here) concerning the wildly variable climates of the past, but these are inconvenient truths for a movement that wants everyone to believe large variations in temperature and precipitation are new and unprecedented. They aren’t. What is unprecedented is the belief that they amount to a crisis that negates all the good things we experience in life. This was something people knew in 1890, and need to learn again.