California’s Top 15 Weather Events of the 1900’s

I came across this list on the Western Regional Climate Center’s (WRCC) page (http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/extreme-events/california/) and felt it was worth sharing. The National Weather Service offices in California (not sure exactly which ones) assembled the list based on impacts to people, property, and the economy. I was born in 1988 and alive for 5 of the Top 15 events, but that isn’t necessarily an indication of worsening weather in the state, or higher frequency of disasters. As the decade progressed, awareness and monitoring of extreme weather situations grew in the state of California and around the United States. Meteorological events were better documented and researched (more technology and resources were available) in the late-1900’s than the early and mid-1900’s.

Below is the list. Use the link above to read more about each event on the WRCC page. There are similar lists made for a few other western states as well.

  • 1. 1982-83 El Nino Storms
  • 2. 1975-1977 Drought
  • 3. October 1991 Oakland Tunnel (East Bay Hills) Fire
  • 4. January 1913 Freeze
  • 5. 1997 New Year’s Flood
  • 6. March 1964 Tsunami-Induced Flooding
  • 7. October 1993 Firestorms
  • 8. March 1907 and January 1909 Floods
  • 9. December 1977 Southern San Joaquin Valley Wind/Dust Storm
  • 10. 1969 Winter Storms and Floods
  • 11. December 1990 Freeze
  • 12. December 1955 Winter Storms
  • 13. 1995 Winter Storms
  • 14. November 1961 Bel Air Fire
  • 15. September 1939 Tropical Storm

One observation that immediately comes to mind as I glance at this list is that most of the events revolve directly or indirectly around temperature and/or precipitation extremes. For example, an indirect effect of exceptionally dry conditions would be making vegetation much more susceptible to a catastrophic wildfire. While severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes receive more attention in the mainstream media, flooding and heat/drought are equally powerful, and are just as (if not more) life-threatening. So if you thought California was immune to “bad,” or dangerous weather… think again.

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Hillside homes burning to the ground during the Oakland Firestorm of 1991.

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Homes almost completely submerged in the Sacramento area during the Winter 1995 floods.

Stephen Bone
Meteorologist