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
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
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
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 -
8 November 2002 - 21:45 - 6331 cfs
8-12 September 1975 -
2-7 December 1966 - ~26,000 cfs
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
North Fork Kern River data
South Fork River flow and stage
- click event to get table of all data - click flow, stage to
California mountain highway website.
Local state highways - 178 and 155
website - select Bakersfield - click media information
Kern County road closures
Recollections from the Big Flood of 1966
Southern California flooding history