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For Immediate Use                                                                                               Contact: Alison Sheehey, (760) 378-2531
December 28, 2010                                                                                                           

Floods of 2010 at Audubon Kern River Preserve

When the skies above bring pineapples from Hawaii  - PHOTOS

For Californian's looking at the weather map, it might tell us whether we will be hot or cold, but doesn't usually lead to thoughts of sandbags filling our Christmas stockings. This time was different as the weather map showed a low pressure front stuck off the coast of Oregon and Washington with a weather system referred to as the Pineapple Express funneling moisture in the direction of Central California.

The rains began to fall in the wee hours of December 17th and Kern Valleyites would normally expect them to taper off by mid morning and stop, but this was no ordinary rainstorm. Never a deluge but a steady tenth-inch by tenth-inch, the rain kept falling. By the end of day one just over an inch had fallen. By day two, the rains increased to over two-tenths an hour delivering a whopping 2.75" by the end of the day. This continued on day three with a similar steady amount falling. Of course the mountains always get more moisture than the Kern River and South Fork Valleys, so both forks of the Kern River swell accordingly along with all of the tributaries. With this accumulation normally dry channels began to flow. A new creek here and a new wash there. Suddenly water is everywhere saturating hillsides, rewatering dry springs and causing the slopes to start slipping.

We watched the South Fork gauging station record ever and ever higher cubic feet a second (cfs) of water. By 5 pm on the third day the gauge went from the 52 cfs recorded at midnight to an astounding 5120 cfs. This overtopped the road at Fay Ranch Road with a raging flood within nine hours. The pavement was ripped away with large holes silently waiting to trap unsuspecting motorists in unseen chasms. The water filled every low spot in the valley with roaring water ripping at every man-made device meant to corral nature's life giving flow. Sploosh went one canal structure after another. Water backed up behind every culvert with claws of water tearing at the weak spots, gradually at first and then with one big swoosh the dirt that had been a road a minute before was released from its bondage to become sediment downstream.

By the 20th the rains were still steady but had tapered off to five-hundredths of an inch an hour. By the 22nd the rains ended and repairs albeit temporary began in earnest. The Arctic low pushed the pineapple express far to the south and fortunately for the Kern Valley delivered the final blow of thunderstorms and flash floods south of us into the Los Angeles basin. (Visit our sister preserve at Starr Ranch to see that short but terrifying storm and its aftermath).

The bright spot on the preserve was the buildings remained intact. Although, all roads, culverts and canals suffered serious damage or were destroyed. A lot of work is ahead for our small staff.

It is a funny thing human nature though; we have heard people blaming the trees for the flooding, the canals, the river, the reservoir, the road departments and various other people and projects. We have heard little from the majority of people who realize that this was an extraordinary rain event although not unprecedented.

Rivers flood, desert washes fill, sediment gets flushed downstream to create valleys. This is nature. Those of us at Audubon realize that nature is beautiful and ultimately in charge. That is why the preserve exists, to let nature have its proper home along a river channel through a forest that will flood on occasion. We don't need to build smarter or bigger devices, we just need to pay attention to history and let nature be our guide as to where the safest places are for people to be and where to seek higher ground even during a drought.

Floods on South Fork Kern River

17-24 December 2010 - 17:00 - 5120 cfs

8 November 2002 - 21:45 - 6331 cfs

8-12 September 1975 -

2-7 December 1966 - ~26,000 cfs

February 1963

December 1955

November 1950

29-30 January 1922

17-19 January 1916

25-27 January 1914

10 February 1893


Kelso Creek Floods

6 December 1966 - 5,800 cfs

1969 - 1900 cfs

29 September 1975 - 11,200 cfs

3 March 1978 - 7,250 cfs

1 March 1983 - 1,150 cfs

March 1995 - 1,600 cfs

24 February 1998 - 1,600 cfs

Statistics for December 2010 from the National Weather Service

Bakersfield shatters rain records...
18th... record rainfall for the date of 1.37 inch. The old record was 0.30 inch... set in 1921

19th... record rainfall for the date of 1.53 inch. The old record was 0.48 inch... set in 1984. This also was the wettest day on record for December at Bakersfield. The previous wettest day in December was December 27th 1936... with 1.02 inch of rain.

18-19th... the 24-hour rainfall of 2.31 inches was the highest 24-hour rainfall on record for December. The previous record was 1.15 inch... set on December 3-4th 1914. This also was the 3rd highest 24-hour rainfall on record for Bakersfield after February 9-10th 1978 /3.02 inches/ and January 24-25th 1999 /2.32 inches/.

19th... record high minimum temperature for the date of 55 degrees. The old record was 53 degrees... set in 1981.

20th... the rainfall for the date at Meadows Field was 0.85 inch. This was only 0.01 inch shy of the record rainfall for the date of 0.86 inch... set in 1943.

The rainfall at Meadows Field... Bakersfield for December through the 22nd was 4.95 inches. This broke the record for the wettest December on record... surpassing the previous wettest December... 2.98 inches for December 1931. December 2010 also is the 2nd wettest month on record for Bakersfield /so far/... after February 1998 with 5.36 inches of rain.

Information Resources for the Kern River Valley

North Fork Kern River data

South Fork River flow and stage - click event to get table of all data - click flow, stage to see chart

California mountain highway website. Local state highways - 178 and 155

CHP road website - select Bakersfield - click media information

Kern County road closures

Recollections from the Big Flood of 1966

Southern California flooding history

Photo Album


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