The 'nightmare' California flood more dangerous than a huge earthquake
California’s drought-to-deluge cycle can mask the dangers Mother Nature can have in store.
During one of the driest March-through-February time periods ever recorded in Southern California, an intense storm dumped so much rain on Montecito in January that mudflows slammed into entire rows of homes. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed, and at least 21 people died.
It was a grim reminder that in a place so dry, sudden flooding can bring disaster.
Eighty years ago this month, epic storms over just six days caused widespread destruction across Southern California.
Rain fell as fast as 2 inches for a one-hour period. Wide swaths of the San Fernando Valley were inundated; floodwaters in the Los Angeles River mowed down bridges and pulled apart railroads.
Government officials responded with a major flood control campaign, building dams and deepening rivers and lining them with concrete to flush water out to sea before floodwaters could rise.
But even those protections have limits. And history shows there is precedent for even more devastation.
Several weeks of monumental storms would be all it would take to overwhelm California’s flood control system and cause widespread flooding and destruction.