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The Journal of William H. Brewer
1860 - 1864
THE RAINY SEASON
Floods—Sacramento under Water—The Money Ques-
tion—A Muddy Journey to San Jose—Results of
the Floods—The Chinese.
Sunday, January 19, 1862.
THE rains continue, and since I last wrote the floods have been far worse than before. Sacramento and many other towns and cities have again been overflowed, and after the waters had abated somewhat they are again up. That doomed city is in all probability again under water today.
The amount of rain that has fallen is unprecedented in the history of the state. In this city accurate observations have been kept since July, 1853. For the years since, ending with July 1 each year, the amount of rain is known. In New York state—central New York—the average amount is under thirty-eight inches, often not over thirty-three inches, sometimes as low as twenty-eight inches. This includes the melted snow. In this city it has been for the eight years closing last July, 21 inches, the lowest amount 19 inches, the highest 23. Yet this year, since November 6, when the first shower came, to January 18, it is thirty-two and three-quarters inches and it is still raining! But this is not all. Generally twice, sometimes three times, as much falls in the mining districts on the slopes of the Sierra. This year at Sonora, in Tuolumne County, between November 11, 1861, and January 14, 1862, seventy-two inches (six feet) of water has fallen, and in numbers of places over five feet! And that in a period of two months. As much rain as falls in Ithaca in two years has fallen in some places in this state in two months.
The great central valley of the state is under water—the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys—a region 250 to 300 miles long and an average of at least twenty miles wide, a dis-
trict of five thousand or six thousand square miles, or probably three to three and a half millions of acres! Although much of it is not cultivated, yet a part of it is the garden of the state. Thousands of farms are entirely under water—cattle starving and drowning.
Benevolent societies are active, boats have been sent up, and thousands are fleeing to this city. There have been some of the most stupendous charities I have ever seen. An example will suffice. A week ago today news came down by steamer of a worse condition at Sacramento than was anticipated. The news came at nine o'clock at night. Men went to work, and before daylight tons of provisions were ready—eleven thousand pounds of ham alone were cooked. Before night two steamers, with over thirty tons of cooked and prepared provisions, twenty-two tons of clothing, several thousand dollars in money, and boats with crews, etc., were under way for the devastated city.
You can imagine the effect it must have on the finances and prosperity of the state. The end is not yet. Many men must fail, times must be hard, state finances disordered. I shall not
be surprised to see our Survey cut off entirely, although I hardly expect it. It will be cut down, doubtless, and some of the party dismissed. I see no help, and on whom the blow will
fall remains to be seen. I think my chance is good, if the thing goes on at all, but I feel blue at times.
I finished my geological report on Tuesday, it is 250 pages on large foolscap, besides maps, sketches, etc. I have my botanical and agricultural work yet to do.
Friday, January 31.
WE have had very bad weather since the above was written, but
it has cleared up. In this city 37 inches of water has fallen, and at Sonora, in Tuolumne, 102 inches, or 8 ½ feet, at the last dates. These last floods have extended over this whole
coast. At Los Angeles it rained incessantly for twenty-eight days—immense damage was done—one whole village destroyed. It is supposed that over one-fourth of all the taxable property of the state has been destroyed. The legislature has left the capital and has come here, that city being under water. This will give us a better chance for our appropriation, but still the prospect looks blue. There is no probability that we will get enough to carry on work with our full corps.
Wednesday, January 29, was the Chinese New Year, and such a time as they have had! I will bet that over ten tons of firecrackers have been burned. Their festivities last three days,
closing tonight. This is their great day of the year. They claim that their great dynasty began 17,500 and some odd years ago Wednesday—a pedigree that beats even that of the "first families of Virginia."
All the roads in the middle of the state are impassable, so all mails are cut off. We have had no "Overland" for some weeks, so I can report no new arrivals. The telegraph also does
not work clear through, but news has been coming for the last two days. In the Sacramento Valley for some distance the tops of the poles are under water!
I WROTE you by the last steamer and also sent a paper. I have sent a paper by each steamer for some time and will send another by this. A mail now occasionally gets in, but many letters and papers must have been lost. For papers and printed matter the "Overland” is a total failure.
Since I last wrote the weather has been good and the waters in the great valleys have been receding, but there is much water still. I have heard many additional items of the flood. Judge
Field, of Sacramento City, said a few days ago that his house was on the highest land in the city and that the mud was two feet deep in his parlors after the water went down. Imagine
the discomforts arising from such a condition of things,
An old acquaintance, a buccaro, came down from a ranch that was overflowed. The floor of their one-story house was six weeks under water before the house went to pieces. The "lake" was at that point sixty miles wide, from the mountains on one
side to the hills on the other. This was in the Sacramento Valley. Steamers ran back over the ranches fourteen miles from the river, carrying stock, etc., to the hills,
Nearly every house and farm over this immense region is gone. There was such a body of water—250 to 300 miles long and 20 to 60 miles wide, the water ice cold and muddy—that
the winds made high waves which beat the farm homes in pieces. America has never before seen such desolation by flood as this has been, and seldom has the Old World seen the like.
But the spirits of the people are rising, and it will make them more careful in the future. The experience was needed. Had this flood been delayed for ten years the disaster would have
been more than doubled.
The telegraph is now in working order, and we had news this morning-up to 5 P.M. last night from St. Louis—surely quick work. But the roads will long be impassable over large portions
of the state.
U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010-1312
Multihazards Demonstration Project
Overview of the ARkStorm Scenario
The U.S. Geological Survey, Multi Hazards Demonstration Project (MHDP) uses hazards science to improve resiliency of communities to natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, landslides, floods and coastal erosion. The project engages emergency planners, businesses, universities, government agencies, and others in preparing for major natural disasters. The project also helps to set research goals and provides decision-making information for loss reduction and improved resiliency. The first public product of the MHDP was the ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario published in May 2008. This detailed depiction of a hypothetical magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the San Andreas Fault in southern California served as the centerpiece of the largest earthquake drill in United States history, involving over 5,000 emergency responders and the participation of over 5.5 million citizens.
This document summarizes the next major public project for MHDP, a winter storm scenario called ARkStorm (for Atmospheric River 1,000). Experts have designed a large, scientifically realistic meteorological event followed by an examination of the secondary hazards (for example, landslides and flooding), physical damages to the built environment, and social and economic consequences. The hypothetical storm depicted here would strike the U.S. West Coast and be similar to the intense California winter storms of 1861 and 1862 that left the central valley of California impassible. The storm is estimated to produce precipitation that in many places exceeds levels only experienced on average once every 500 to 1,000 years.
Extensive flooding results. In many cases flooding overwhelms the state’s flood-protection system, which is typically designed to resist 100- to 200-year runoffs. The Central Valley experiences hypothetical flooding 300 miles long and 20 or more miles wide. Serious flooding also occurs in Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay area, and other coastal communities. Windspeeds in some places reach 125 miles per hour, hurricane-force winds. Across wider areas of the state, winds reach 60 miles per hour. Hundreds of landslides damage roads, highways, and homes. Property damage exceeds $300 billion, most from flooding. Demand surge (an increase in labor rates and other repair costs after major natural disasters) could increase property losses by 20 percent. Agricultural losses and other costs to repair lifelines, dewater (drain) flooded islands, and repair damage from landslides, brings the total direct property loss to nearly $400 billion, of which $20 to $30 billion would be recoverable through public and commercial insurance. Power, water, sewer, and other lifelines experience damage that takes weeks or months to restore. Flooding evacuation could involve 1.5 million residents in the inland region and delta counties. Business interruption costs reach $325 billion in addition to the $400 property repair costs, meaning that an ARkStorm could cost on the order of $725 billion, which is nearly 3 times the loss deemed to be realistic by the ShakeOut authors for a severe southern California earthquake, an event with roughly the same annual occurrence probability.
The ARkStorm has several public policy implications: (1) An ARkStorm raises serious questions about the ability of existing federal, state, and local disaster planning to handle a disaster of this magnitude. (2) A core policy issue raised is whether to pay now to mitigate, or pay a lot more later for recovery. (3) Innovative financing solutions are likely to be needed to avoid fiscal crisis and adequately fund response and recovery costs from a similar, real, disaster. (4) Responders and government managers at all levels could be encouraged to conduct risk assessments, and devise the full spectrum of exercises, to exercise ability of their plans to address a similar event. (5) ARkStorm can be a reference point for application of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and California Emergency Management Agency guidance connecting federal, state and local natural hazards mapping and mitigation planning under the National Flood Insurance Plan and Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. (6) Common messages to educate the public about the risk of such an extreme disaster as the ARkStorm scenario could be developed and consistently communicated to facilitate policy formulation and transformation.
"We've always known that the Earth's magnetic field is variable, constantly evolving in time," Raymond said.
And those massive superstorms themselves? They're definitely a possibility, albeit not connected to the magnetic pole ideas. In fact, one such event struck California in 1861, said Dr. Marty Ralph, Chief of the Water Cycle Branch at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory.
"Local observers called it a 300-mile-long inland sea," Ralph told FoxNews.com. The event occurred, he believes, when a series of phenomena called atmospheric rivers (http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/atmrivers/) stalled over California. These rivers -- narrow regions of the atmosphere that move the lion's share of the world's water vapor through the atmosphere -- are quite real, and they're quite astounding.
They can stretch thousands of miles, for one thing, and move vast amounts of water, sometimes with winds of hurricane force, but focused a few thousand feet above the earth’s surface. "A typical river carries five-to-ten times the amount of water vapor than the Mississippi river carries as liquid, on average," and a big one can carry fifty times, he added. "Most flooding events in the major rivers on the West Coast are a result of atmospheric rivers creating copious rainfall," Ralph said.
Using two real storms that struck California in 1969 and 1986, a team of scientists created a computer model of what would happen were a series of atmospheric rivers to stall over the West Coast over a several week period. The results were presented on January 13 at the ARKStorm Summit.
"The conclusion: $400+ billion worth of damage. So it's raised some alarm bells," he told FoxNews.com. "I can say as a scientist involved in defining what real weather conditions could come together to create this, it's plausible."
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