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Taking You Back in History: Look Out for Water, Part 1

By Kathy Brown, Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum/Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society

Flooded streets of Sacramento during the Great Flood of 1862.

What a winter we are having! Is the amount of rain and snowfall we've experienced so far unusual for California? How often do these long storms occur? How extreme have they been in the past?

Flooding and wind damage caused by winter storms is not rare in California. Over thousands of years the mountains and foothills have been scoured by the run-off of these winter deluges

running into rivers and creeks. The silt deposits they carried helped create the fertile soil in the Central Valley that allowed it to become rich grassland for grazing cattle, and to develop into the “breadbasket of the nation.”

California has always had years of drought and followed by a few wet winters. More recent

examinations of the soil deposits show that extreme storms and accompanying floods, now

called atmospheric rivers or ARkStorms, seem to happen approximately every 200 years or

less. Floods were a way of life in early Sacramento which was not very many feet above sea level. Excerpts from letters written by Dr. Jacob Stillman, who helped establish Sacramento's first hospital, describe what happened there in 1850.