A few years ago my family and I drove old Highway 101 along the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt County and passed through seemingly endless groves of redwood trees. Along the way we saw numerous “High Water” marks that staggered the imagination. They were from when the Eel River flooded in December of 1964.
An Arctic air mass moved into Northern California during early December that year and produced large quantities of snow in the mountains.
Then around Christmas a low-pressure system off the coast, along with a 500-mile-wide storm track, steered a great surge of subtropical moisture from the Pacific Ocean toward Northern California and Oregon, resulting in unprecedented rainfall from December 19 to 27, 1964.
This warm rain melted much of the snow from the previous storms and caused widespread, record-breaking floods along the North Coast. Unfortunately many lumber mills kept logs stockpiled near the Eel River. The logs, which weighed tons, came down the river during the deluge and crashed into bridges, taking out many of them. Many towns along the Eel River were wiped out.
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The floods of December 1964 resulted from meteorological conditions similar to those over the Central Coast last weekend.
That weather front extended westward across the Pacific, remaining nearly stationary over the Central Coast from Saturday and Sunday. A strong and persistent west-southwesterly storm track and a nearly stationary low-pressure system off the Oregon coast were also in place. So a copious amount of moist, subtropical air was steered toward the Central Coast.
This condition produced some of the highest rainfall amounts in years and mild air temperatures. In fact, many communities set record high minimum temperatures last weekend for this time of year.
At Cal Poly, average total precipitation for December is normally 3.79 inches. From December 17 through 22, Cal Poly recorded 6.72 inches of rain.
Through Friday, the rain gauge at Diablo Canyon recorded 8.73 inches for the month of December.
This month’s rainfall has already broken many records. The Santa Maria Airport has recorded 8.24 inches so far, breaking the previous record of 6.78 inches set in December 1941.
Because of air lifted up over our mountains and squeezed like a wet sponge, locations in the hills above Cambria and along the Cuesta Grade reported rainfall amounts exceeding 10 inches.
Rocky Butte near San Simeon recorded 13.46 inches, and there were reports of rainfall amounts reaching over 15 inches behind Lake Lopez.
As this system moved southward, Lytle Creek in the San Bernardino County Mountains recorded 26.35 inches of rain.
Sunday's Weather Report
A few lingering rain showers will yield to partly cloudy conditions by this afternoon, with morning ground fog developing Monday through Tuesday.
Another cold front will pass the Central Coast Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, producing strong to gale force (25 and 38 mph) southerly winds and rain.
Wednesday through Friday a steep pressure gradient along the coast will produce fresh gale to strong gale winds (39 and 54 mph) with gust to 60 mph northwesterly winds along the coastline and much cooler weather.
Sunday’s Surf Report
An 8- to 10-foot west-northwesterly (280-degree deep-water) swell (with an 8- to 14-second period) is forecast along our coastline through Monday, decreasing to 6- to 8 feet on Tuesday.
Wednesday through Friday, expect fresh-gale to strong-gale (39 and 54 mph) northwesterly winds with gusts to 60 mph. These winds will generate a 10- to 12-foot northwesterly (310-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 5- to 11-second period).
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John Lindsey, media relations representative for PG&E and local weather expert, has lived along the Central Coast for more than 23 years. To subscribe to his daily weather forecast or ask him a question, e-mail him at pgeweather@ pge.com.