Droughts creep slowly.
Dry seasons pile up, lake levels fall and numbers are tallied. The official word comes in long after everyone has figured it out. Yep, we are having a drought.
Floods come in with a wallop.
The last major local and statewide flooding event was 1995. Four people were killed in San Luis Obispo County during the first four months of the year due to storm related causes.
Seemingly ordinary locations turned treacherous and deadly.
On March 11, 1995, Douglas James Martin, 34, was southbound on Highway 101 near Los Osos Valley Road when his Ford Probe hydroplaned into a culvert.
It was the culvert that carries overflowing water from Laguna Lake. His body was found in San Luis Creek near San Luis Bay Drive a day later.
Jerri “Doni” Shelburne, 39, died when her Volkswagen bug washed into San Luis Creek. The yellow fender of her car was discovered in the mud while authorities were searching for the Ford Probe.
In January 1995 a homeless man, Jack “Jay” Sterling Purdum, 39, drowned under the Marsh Street Bridge, trapped by rapidly rising floodwaters.
Also in January, Charles Speer, 38, was part of a county Public Works crew clearing storm damage in Cambria when a 60-foot Monterey pine unexpectedly fell on his cherry-picker truck.
January was fierce, March was ferocious.
The March storm stalled over San Luis Obispo County for 12 hours.
Hundreds of 911 calls flooded the sheriff’s dispatch center.
Reporter David Eddy wrote in the special section published by the Telegram-Tribune on March 21, 1995: “It was raining so hard in the city of San Luis Obispo that it felt almost hard to breathe, as if the oxygen in the atmosphere had been displaced by water.”
Water fell in giant heavy drops from the sky, then atomized into mist as it hit trees walls and streets.
Eddy also noted the heavy smell of wet adobe filled the air.
In Cambria, 8.31 inches fell in 24 hours.
The West Village was hit hard when peak rains coincided with high tide. Raging rainwater roared down the Santa Lucia Mountains, then stood in a pool from the lawn bowling area to about 10 feet deep near Windsor Boulevard.
In Avila Beach, pilings from an 1870s-era narrow-gauge Pacific Coast Railway bridge were exposed at San Luis Creek.
Rising waters cut off the town.
Flooding in San Luis Obispo was seen near Laguna Lake.
The old Highway 41 truss bridge folded in the center, and oblivious pedestrians and bicyclists risked gawking at the roaring Salinas River from the crippled structure.
Atascadero suffered $3 million in damage.
Paso Robles saw a hillside on Olive Street give way and slide into several homes.
An often dry creek whipsawed a section of Parkhill Road.
Perhaps the most surreal scene was at the intersection of Highway 41 and 46 east of Cholame.
The site of James Dean’s 1955 car crash was underwater.
The highway was closed, the current strong enough to wash cars off the road.
Almost 700 homes and 200 businesses sustained some damage.
On Interstate 5 near Coalinga a bridge washed out and seven people were presumed dead.
A late March story said the month was the wettest since records were first kept in 1869.
March had 16.43 inches of rain, and almost a week remained in the month.
At the end of March only six seasons had higher rainfall totals since records were first kept in 1869: 1883-84, 1940-41, 1968-69, 1977-78 and 1982-83.