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Memories of 1997 - and a look ahead at the coming week

This all happened 20 years ago, so my memory is a bit hazy - but here's what I recall about the New Years Flood of 1997. According to my friend Matt Echeverria, there was nearly six feet of snow at Lake Tahoe on Christmas Day 1996. By New Years Day a week later, the entire snowpack at lake level had disappeared - washed away by a week's worth of Pineapple Express storms (what forecasters 20 years later would call "atmospheric river events"). Steve Danna, another friend who farms in southwestern Yuba County, suffered tremendous property damage when a levee broke on the nearby Bear River. I definitely remember seeing the high water line in his farm shop building - it was 18 feet high! And I definitely remember Steve telling me that they found melon bins bearing the Danna name in San Francisco Bay a month after the flood.

Closer to home, the front page of our local Auburn Journal featured a photograph of the American River from the Highway 49 bridge on the way to Cool - the water was lapping at the roadway. When I drove down to the bridge a day or two later, I was startled to see several large logs stranded on the upper portion of the nearby No Hands Bridge. The force of the water must have been incredible.

I haven't had time to research the actual rainfall totals that led to the 1997 flood, but I read a forecast today that suggested that the storms headed for California may exceed the 1996-97 event in terms of total rainfall and snowfall. Indeed, the forecast precipitation for the next 10-day period is the wettest this particular forecaster had ever seen. He indicated that the potential ranged from "'major flooding' all the way to possible 'EPIC FLOOD.'"
Looks like we're gonna get wet this week!

California's history shows that drought sometimes ends with flooding. In their 2013 book The West without Water, B. Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam write of the 1861-62 flood that ended nearly two decades of dry years. Surveyor William Brewer noted that some areas in the Sierra Nevada received  60-102 inches of rain. Nevada City (just up the road from us) measured more than nine feet of rain that winter - normal precipitation is around 55 inches. Brewer was amazed that the two-month rainfall totals in some locales was more than two years of rainfall in his typically wetter hometown of Ithaca, New York.

Who knows whether this round of storms will be as intense as predicted! I have noticed that short-term forecasting seems to be much more accurate in 2017 than it was even twenty years ago - especially when it comes to estimating total precipitation from individual storms. I guess we'll know in about a week - but the rain we're supposed to get in the next 7 days would exceed our total precipitation from February 1, 2013 through January 31, 2014 (a 12-month period in which we measured less than 10 inches of rain). We'll see!

In the meantime, we're getting prepared. The sheep are on good pasture with plenty of sheltering trees and terrain. The woodshed is full of dry firewood, and the barn is full of hay (for the horses and the home sheep). We'll probably put sandbags in front of our garage and shop to keep runoff from flowing through. And we'll keep an eye on the weather....


  1. Holy Yikes! The storm I remember the most is the one of '82...but this one is sounding scary!! Is that really 7-10" in Grass Valley!?


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