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The California Storm of January 1862

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Wayne N. Engstrom*
Department of Geography, California State University, Fullerton, California, 92634


The greatest storm in the written history of California struck the region in the winter of 1861–1862. The unusual weather began on Christmas Eve, 1861, and persisted for some 45 days as a series of middle-latitude cyclones made landfall along the California coast. Episodes of very cold and very warm temperatures occurred both during the storm and in the spring of 1862 as meridional flow prevailed. Heavy precipitation swelled the Santa Ana River to more than triple the highest estimated discharge in this century. High water levels in coastal streams between Los Angeles and San Diego persisted into the spring. Lakes were created in the Los Angeles Basin and the Mojave Desert. Arroyos were cut. Sediments from the flood may be preserved in offshore basins.

Research Article
University of Washington

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