California’s Great Flood of 1862
Flood agents – do you know what historic flood would make Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey look like a duck pond? Was it in Florida? Louisiana? Mississippi? Not even close. It was the Great Flood of 1862 in…wait for it…California!
What Caused the Great Flood of 1862?
The Great Flood of 1862 was the largest recorded flood in the history of California, Nevada, and Oregon. It occurred following several weeks of continuous rain and snow that began in Oregon in November of 1861 and continued into January 1862.These weather conditions contributed to flooding that spanned from the Columbia River in western Oregon to the city of San Diego, over 1,000 miles away, and also impacted a handful of interior states. The devastation was widespread and in California:
4,000 people died
1/3 of property was destroyed
200,000 heads of cattle, or 25% of the state’s total, wiped out
The state went bankrupt, with state employees unable to be paid for 18 months
Inflation saw the price of eggs rise to $3 per dozen, or $79 in today’s dollars
California state legislators had to row to work at the Capital in Sacramento for several weeks before temporarily relocating to San Francisco, so that much of the city could be raised on average 10 feet. You can still visit the “underground city” if you ever visit Old Town Sacramento.
Storms in California Today
Think it can’t happen again? The Multi Hazards Demonstration Project (MHDP) of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) says that, based on geologic evidence and historical data, an extreme ARkStorm similar to the Great Flood of 1862 could again inundate California, causing up to $725 billion in losses.
An ARkStorm is not named for Noah’s Ark – which may be handy in such a storm – rather the “AR” stands for atmospheric river, which is a narrow band of air that transports large amounts of water vapor, equivalent to the average flow of the Mississippi River. When atmospheric conditions change and that water vapor turns into rain or snow, the precipitation that falls can be measured in feet, not inches. Scientists believe that California’s Great Flood of 1862 was the result of one of these ARkStorms and that there is a 50% chance that another such event could hit California before the year 2060.
California’s Major Natural Disasters Include Floods
So, the next “Big One” in California may not be an earthquake, but a catastrophic flooding event of biblical proportions. Flood risk is also compounded by the increase in wildfires across the region. The loss of trees, plants, and groundcover caused by devastating wildfires creates a vicious cycle known as the “Fire-Flood Erosion Sequence”, making floods and mudslides more likely.
While we all hope such a storm never again hits the West Coast, a flood insurance policy from The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or a private flood insurance program like EZ Flood® enables you and your clients to thoughtfully explore options for reducing financial risk in the event of a flood loss.