Atmosphereic River: The Great Flood of 1862


Ysabella Vasquez, Staff Writer

The crazy storm that is happening in California right now is not the first severe storm in California’s history, it also might not be the last. In fact, the largest flood recorded in Nevada, Oregon and California was in 1861 which caused a major flood in the central Valley and basically formed an “in-land sea.” The cause of the flood is believed to be due to the increase in temperatures causing snow to melt faster and an atmospheric river. It first took place in November of 1861 in the Columbus River because of continuous rain and later moved down to San Diego in December. The storm ended in January but there was continuous non-stop rain in California for 41 days. It left 100 million dollars in damages 1861 USD which is approximately 3 Billion in 2022 USD. This left the state of California in debt and forced to file for bankruptcy, Californian employees also weren’t paid for 18 months. When inflation began it made it a lot harder for those who didnt get paid. More than 4,000 people tragically lost their lives in this event which was 7% of the world’s population back then. The state’s capital Sacramento was submerged underwater and people who worked at the capital found ways to clock in and were transported to and from the building on boats. Later on it was then decided it was best to temporarily move the state capital to San Fransisco while the city rebuilt itself 10 feet higher from where it was originally built, today if you vsit Old Town Sacramento you will be able to tour the tunnels of the “underground city” that was left behind.

After that brief summary of a similar event of what’s going on now, you’re probably wondering what they are and what causes these Atmospheric Rivers. An AR is basically a floating river in the air that transports very large amounts of water vapor collected from evaporation in tropical water regions in the ocean near Hawaii and then dumped, months worth of rain falls in just a couple days. When atmospheric conditions change that water vapor converts to rain or snow and is measured in feet not inches because of the amount of rain that is produced during these storms.  Geological studies evidenced that huge devastating floods occur once every 100-200 years. It’s been 160 years since a major flood occurred so we are around the time for a severe flood. Scientists have found evidence of ARs happening in the past in the years 212, 440, 603, 1029,1300, 1418,1750,1810 and 1862. Emergency planners began studying The Great Flood of 1862 to better prepare people when it happens again They named  it The ARkStorm or “The Other Big One” the first “Big one” is the earthquake on San Andreas Fault. It’s very crucial to prepare for these floods as flood risks intensify with the increase of Wildfires in the region that caused a loss of ground cover (trees,plants etc) and global warming may increase the length and width of the AR making it even more stronger and dangerous.