(c) 2012, Mike Barkley
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http://archive.org/details/cihm_18390 , various formats including pdf and ocr text - this transcription is a cleaned-up version of the ocr page.,
Thomas Rowlandson, F.G.S.L., "Notabilia of the Floods of 1861-'62"
pp. 27-33
in ed. William H. Knight, Hand-Book Almanac for the Pacific States:

[p. 27]


By Thomas Rowlandson, F. G. S. L.



The regions bordering on the equator are the hottest on the earth, owing to the sun being nearest to their zenith; from which to the poles, the temperature diminishes, other things being equal, proportionally as these points are approached. Owing to this circumstance, an upper current is found constantly flowing from the equator to the two poles, and a lower one from the poles to the equator; the latter becoming heated, ascends and returns toward the extremities of the terrestrial axes.

As the diameters of the parallel circles diminish as they recede from the equator, and as all parts situated in the same meridian make a complete revolution round the axis of the earth in twenty-four hours, it follows that they move with a velocity much greater as the points are nearer to the equatorial line. In the northern hemisphere, as the upper and heated atmosphere proceeds toward the north, it gets more and more in advance of the earth's rotatory motion; the combination of this motion from the west toward the east, combined with the original direction from south to north, occasions a southwest wind.

Within the torrid zone, a considerable portion of the heat transmitted by the rays of the sun is absorbed by the waters of the ocean, occasioning an immense evaporation, and consequently lowering the temperature of that portion of the earth. The rarefied air of the torrid zone, charged with moisture, becomes gradually cooled on passing into a higher latitude, and consequently condensed, thus giving rise to clouds and eventually to rain; contem-


poraneously with this condensation, whether exhibited in the form of cloud, mist, or rain, heat is evolved; a more equable temperature is thus given to the various parts of the earth. Such are the chief laws which regulate climate; but they more correctly apply to what may be termed oceanic climate. Considerable variations occur when high mountain ranges or extended plains, singly or conjointly, contribute to change the normal conditions. In California both these circumstances are found, as well as others, which have an important bearing on its climate; one of the principal of which is, the immense current of moisture and saturated air which flows from the tropics over the Gulf of California and the low-lying coast of Sonora, &c., into the great plain between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. In this way the greater part of the moisture-laden winds from the equator is deflected from California, as our valleys becoming heated usually give rise to a direct west wind, which, although charged with moisture, as evidenced by the great fog banks daily seen on the coast range, is speedily dissipated on entering into the warmer atmosphere found within the valleys which lie between the coast range and the Sierra Nevada. The reverse of this takes place when a southerly wind blows, especially those ranging from southeast to southwest; in such cases a warm, saturated atmosphere invades a comparatively cold one, then rain is precipitated; and this is particularly seen in the torrent-like character of the rain storms which are witnessed on the Sierra Nevada, from Mariposa to the Tejon Pass. Unfortunately, no record has ever been kept of the rain-fall in this region; in some parts it must have been enormous, probably more than 200 inches perpendicular for the entire wet season of six months. A correspondent of one of the San Francisco papers, writing from Visalia, and alluding to lumber, states as follows :

"The latter article is rather scarce here just now, owing to the destruction of all the saw mills by the floods, which seem to have been of a terrific nature on the foot-hills composing the lumber region. From Mr. Thomas, who with his brother lost two mills, I learn that the water in many of the ravines rose to a perpendicular


height of seventy feet, and that hundreds of immense pines, being uprooted, were so ground up that they reached the plains as fine as saw-dust. A huge boiler from one of their mills was carried many miles, and most of the massive iron works have never since been seen."

Whilst it seldom rains in Lower California, in Oregon and Washington Territory tremendous rains occur, and the ordinary rainy season commences sooner and terminates later, both in the sister State and the northern Territory; in fact, the northern portion of California, so far as rain is concerned, possesses a not dissimilar climate to that of Oregon. When the northeast winds bring rain, it is probable that the northeast parts of California are deluged with heavier rains than the sister State or Washington Territory. No return nor any estimate has been made of the rain-fall last year in Washington Territory, but general rumor has described the fall as having been very heavy. Perhaps, on the average, a greater fall took place there, than in either Oregon or California; though probably in no place so low or high as that of some localities in the latter State, where, doubtless, the extremes have occurred, the lowest probably being on the plains of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, and the highest at about 5,000 feet elevation above the level of the sea, on the Sierra Nevada, lying westwardly from the line of Mariposa to the Tejon Pass.

The great plain and morass watered by the Sacramento and San Joaquin, is the recipient of all the waters which fall upon an area whose extent is equal very nearly to that of England proper, and in geographical position appears to be placed, when taken in connection with the southern counties, as intermediate between an extremely dry (Lower California) and an extremely wet country, the latter being composed of the northern counties of California and the United States Territories to the north. It may easily be conceived that, from this peculiar position, the amount of aridity or humidity between any given years may be exceedingly discrepant. Thus a tradition exists among the Indians, that during one year not a drop of rain fell in central California, whilst the con-


verse of this is also reported, namely, that heavier rains and floods than have been witnessed during 1861-'62, have been known. The truth of the latter is greatly corroborated by the fact, that marks exist on trees, growing in the San Joaquin valley, showing that a former flood had been fully six feet higher. Mr. Robert B. Randal, of Crescent City, has kindly informed me "that the first flood (1861-'62) was some forty feet higher than the usual stages of water at Bradford's Ford on Smith River. From the bank at that place, the ground has a gradual rise in a northerly direction, and was overflowed a mile or more; from this high-water mark, and a quarter of a mile in the same direction, are several drift logs, evidently deposited by a former and still higher flood. * * * The Indians have it that this former flood occurred about forty years since;" --possibly contemporaneous with that, the evidences of which are still to be witnessed in the San Joaquin valley. The latter fact has been attempted to be explained away as imperfect evidence, and attributable to the growth of the trees; this, however, is a fallacy, because trees grow by cellular elongation, and the addition of new cells.

According to the rain-gauge kept by Dr. Ayres, near Stockton and Clay Streets, San Francisco, for the season 1861-'62, the fall amounted to 40.674 inches; the one kept by Mr. Tennent indicated 49.27 inches, and the one observed by Dr. Logan, at Sacramento, showed 35.549 inches for the same period; while at Fort Gaston, Hoopa Valley, Klamath County, according to the published statement of Dr. C. A. Kirkpatrick, the fall from Sept., 1861, to June 18th, 1862, amounted to 129.16 inches. Dr. Logan has further advised me, that according to the observations of W. A. Bigoli, of Red Dog, Nevada, there fell for twenty-four hours ending 9 A.M., Jan. 10th, 5.82 inches; for twenty-four hours ending at the same period of the day on Jan. 11th, 5.50 inches were collected in the rain-gauge; from which, and the amount of snow which was observed on the Big Tree Road, it is a fair inference that at least an average of four inches of rain fell within the great central watershed of California. For, according to the published statement of


Mr. Richy, from observations made four miles west of the Sierra Nevada, on the Big Tree Road:
    Jan. 5. Amount of snow in inches . . . . .14 
    "    6.   "         "       "    . . . . .14
    "    7.   "         "       "    . . . . . 2
    "    8.   "         "       "    . . . . . 4
    "    9.   "         "       "    . . . . .84
The total fall of snow from Nov. 11, 1861, to March 23, 1862, being 50 feet 2 inches.

Dr, Logan remarks that, on the occasion of the first inundation at Sacramento, on Dec. 7th, 1861, " It commenced raining at 12 M., and ended at 9 A.M. on the 9th; amount in inches, 2.570; the flood commenced at 10 A.M. of the 9th Dec, and at 10 P.M. had reached 2 feet 6 inches in my office; by daylight it had all subsided. At the second inundation, on Jan. 5th, 1862, rain commenced at 10 A.M. and ended at 1-1/2 A.M. on the 6th; during that interval there fell 2,690 inches. On Jan. 8th, rain commenced at 11 A,M. and ended at 7 A.M. on the 10th; between which periods there fell 2.840 inches. On January 10th the flood reached my floor at 2 P.M., and at 8 P.M. came to a stand, at 3 feet 11 inches above my floor. The Sacramento River rose during this night to 24 feet above low-water mark. On the 14th, the water had receded from my floor."

There are two circumstances which will almost invariably be found the accompaniments of extremely heavy floods, namely, that of occurring early in the season, previous to the early fallen snow on the mountains having become hardened and compact--in the former state being more easily percolated, and consequently dissolved by warm rains; and secondly, the direction of the winds being continuous for some time from the southeast to southwest, by which means the tidal waters of the Bay of San Francisco become elevated beyond their normal condition, and to that extent impede the outflow. At the first flood, the former cause was the


chief one; at the second one, each cause had its influence. A slight reflection, however, will convince any one acquainted with these subjects, that all these phenomena will in future, as we have witnessed in the past, be likely to be coincident with great floods that may occur hereafter; in fact, may rather be viewed as their cause, instead of an accidental accompaniment, and should, consequently, in any suggested palliations or remedies, be taken into calculation as a constant element. From tradition, it would appear that we may anticipate a flood once in about eight years, or twelve in a century; including in the latter number, about three more than usual heavy ones, an estimate which is in a great measure justified by the geographical position of California.

Assuming the entire water-shed drained through the Straits of Carquinez as occupying an area equal to 50,000,000 [sic] square miles, and that the rain-fall averaged over the entire area a depth equal to four inches in twenty-four hours--and for some days in January last it certainly must have exceeded that amount--it would be equal to 5,377,785 cubic feet per second, or four times the highest gauge ever made of the Mississippi at its highest floods. The whole of this immense volume has no outlet, excepting a passage not greater than 300,000 feet sectional area, with the further disadvantage that this outlet is subjected to tidal influence. Under such circumstances, that the low-lying country to the east of Carquinez should become inundated, and that for a long period, is not surprising.

The inundation thus caused, extended over probably more than 6,000,000 acres; the remedy for which evil can only be sought in mountain impoundage, for which purpose the physical character of the district surrounding the great central valley affords singularly great facilities, and in positions remarkably favorable for the utilization of the proposed imprisoned waters for mining, manufacturing, and irrigating purposes, which, if placed under proper regulations, and combined with a judicious improvement of the lower Sacramento and San Joaquin, these rivers could, at no great expense, be made susceptible of floating an ocean going steamer to Sacramento and Stockton. The arrangements made for leveeing


the swamp lands under the existing law, may be sufficiently effective during small floods; but should the same policy be pursued over any considerable area, it will be found to aggravate the evil, and the first large rain-fall will demonstrate its insufficiency. It will be for the Legislature to determine, whether the balance of the swamp land fund should be frittered away in fruitless and petty expedients, or form the nucleus of a fund, to be expended in permanently shielding the low lands from the disastrous consequences of future floods, and at the same time greatly enlarging the general productive powers of the State.

Among other curious phenomena connected with the late floods, was the fact of considerable breadths of tule floating in the bay, on the surface of which there was generally found a number of land snakes, some of which floated into the Pacific, others got landed under the wharves, and for a long time after the floods had in a great measure subsided, numerous snakes were to be found about the wharves of San Francisco. Most singular of all, however, was the fact that the bay fishermen frequently caught fresh-water fish in the bay; for from two to three months, the surface portion of the entire waters of the Bay of San Francisco consisted of fresh water, to the depth of from eighteen to twenty-four inches. Dr. W. O. Ayres gave to the California Academy of Science the following list of fish so found:-- Archoplitis interruptus, Catostomus occidentalis, Catostomus labiatus, Orthodon microlepidotus, Algausea formosa, Laomia compressa, Ptychochcilus grandis, Mylopharodon robustus.

The oysters placed on oyster-beds fattened and died; mussels became fresh and flavorless, but, as far as my observation went, did not perish. At the Golden Gate, for nearly a fortnight, the stream on the surface was continuously flowing toward the Pacific, composed entirely of fresh water, the tide not affecting the surface flow, and the water was brackish at the Farallone Islands.


--Mike Barkley, 167 N. Sheridan Ave., Manteca, CA 95336 (H) 209/823-4817
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