california's worst moment was a flood, not an earthquake -- 9/23/19

Today's selection -- from The Big Ones by Dr. Lucy Jones. California's worst natural disaster was a terrifying flood, not an earthquake:

"Try asking a Californian what the worst nat­ural disaster was in its nearly 170-year history. A recent transplant will respond with a recent earthquake -- in San Francisco (1989, Loma Prieta) or Los Angeles (1994, Northridge), perhaps. Those with family roots in California might say the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which released fifty times the energy of the Northridge quake.

Lithograph of K Street in the city of Sacramento, California, during the Great Flood of 1862.

"But in fact, the most devastating event in California history was a flood. In the winter of 1861-62, rain across the West created the worst flooding in the history of California, Oregon, and Nevada, killing thousands -- more than 1 percent of the population at the time -- and bankrupting the state. A three-hundred-mile stretch of California's Central Valley, the center of its agriculture, was cov­ered thirty feet deep in water [creating a three-hundred-mile lake]. And yet most Californians have never heard of it.

"I grew up a fourth-generation resident of Southern California, and I had never heard of the Great Flood either. Not until I started a program for USGS to model the big disasters in California's future. In addition to studying earthquakes, my team wanted to create models for floods -- ones that occurred with the same sort of fre­quency as a San Andreas earthquake, once every century or two. There is no point modeling the impact of an event that happens every thirty or fifty years. You have hard data, not to mention the records of people who lived through it; you don't need a scientist to tell you what to expect. I asked the hydrologists I was working with what the biggest storm was that they knew about and almost could not believe their answer."



Dr. Lucy Jones


The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us 




Copyright 2018 by Lucy Jones


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