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In 1995 California flooded because of El Niño and a faulty storm drainage system

In 1995 California flooded because of El Niño and a faulty storm drainage system
In 1995 California flooded because of El Niño and a faulty storm drainage system

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.

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In Jan. 1995, the Californian coast flooded more than 70 per cent of the state's counties. But this story is appearing in March's weather history because the flooding has a sequel.

In March of the same year, 57 out of California's 58 counties flooded and were declared federal disaster areas.

The flooding was caused by a very rainy few months during an El Niño phase, which generally creates higher than average rainfall and storm frequency for areas including California.

The January storms flooded the Sacramento River Basin which resulted, primarily due to storm drainage system failures. The Salinas River set a new record for water levels, outmeasuring the previous record by four feet. The Napa River and Russian River also set record-high water levels.

Records aside, the results were catastrophic.


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The roads in many areas turned to rivers, bridges collapsed, and city-centres flooded, including San Jose's. The Sacramento River Valley was hit particularly hard because the storm drainage system failed.

During these months, approximately three million tons of sediment were lifted from the Salinas River and travelled to the Monterey Canyon. The Eel River discharged a 10 cm-thick layer of sediment on the continent shelf.

The flooding killed 28 people and caused between $1.8 to 4 billion worth of damage.

The floodings of 1995 prompted California to develop a new flood control and water retention system that benefits water quality, wildlife habitat, and infrastructure protection.

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