HUNTINGTON BEACH FLOOD HISTORY

COMPILED BY TRACEY SALTZMAN,
PLANNING INTERN
SEPTEMBER, 1995

Most of Orange County, as well as Huntington Beach, is located in a flood plain. The greatest flood was probably that of 1884 though it did comparatively little damage as the county was sparsely settled at that time. Measurement of stream flow in Southern California began in the period of 1893-1895, but it was not until after 1906 that any large number of streams were regularly measured. Previous to that time only rainfall records were available. (LA Times 3/4/38)

Since only general deductions about floods can be made from rainfall records along, accurate information about large floods in the past is impossible to obtain. for still earlier information, it is necessary to look at old books, records of the missions, and the writings of early day travelers. This information is of minimal value except as an indication that floods have occurred. (LA Times 3/4/38)

1825

The historical record of flooding in Huntington Beach dates back to the flood of 1825 which changed the course of the Santa Ana River. Previous to that year the Santa Ana entered the ocean several miles to the northwest of its present channel. (OC Flood Control District)

1861-62

The flood of 1861-62 has been called the "great Flood" and the Noachian deluge of California Floods." Beginning on December 24, 1861, it rained for almost four weeks but for two brief interruptions. (Friis 52)

In San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange Counties, the Santa Ana River became a raging torrent during the flood of 1862. The prosperous colonies along the banks of the river were completely inundated, and vineyards, orchards, and grain fields became a barren waste. (OC Flood Control District)

Storms in 1862 accounted for a peak flow of 320,000 cubic feet per second in the upper river and created an inland sea in Orange County. Lasting about three weeks with water standing four feet deep up to four miles from the river, this disaster almost equaled a 200-year or worst possible flood. (City of Huntington Beach Flood Study 1974)

1884

There were two floods in 1884, the first in the latter part of February. This flood did little damage but the large quantity of water that fell apparently used much of the absorptive capacity of the ground. The second flood came 6 or 8 days later and did a great deal of damage. Beginning at a point below where Santiago Creek enters the Santa Ana River, the river cut through the fertile lands east of the old channel and discharged into the ocean about 3 miles southeast of its former outlet. (OC Flood Control District)

32.65 inches of rain made this the county's wettest year on record. It was noted that after one storm, it was possible to row a boat from Newport Beach to Santa Ana. (OC Register 1/13/95)

1916

The estimated average rainfall in January and February of this year was 11 inches. After three days of rain, the Santa Ana River overflowed, sending a wall of mud through farmland and streets. Four lives were lost and property damage was estimated to be $520,500.00. (OC Flood Control District)

1938

A series of heavy rainstorms in the coastal area, extending from San Diego on the south to San Luis Obispo on the north and inland to parts of the Mojave desert, produced extreme floods, the greatest within the last 70 years. (OC Flood Control District)

An eight feet high wall of water swept out of the Santa Ana Canyon. (City of Huntington Beach Flood Study 1974)

At the peak of the flood, just after midnight on March 3, the roaring waters of the Santa Ana River issued from Santa Ana Canyon at an estimated rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second. (Friis 145)

The Great Flood of 1938 was the most destructive in Orange County's history. The swirling waters claimed 19 lives, left 2,000 homeless and deposited a thick layer of alkaline silt and debris on thousands of acres of farmland. (OC Register 1/13/95)

Hours after waters subsided in other districts, flood perils struck the area between Santa Ana and Huntington Beach. An area fifteen miles long and seven miles wide was inundated as the Santa Ana River overflowed its banks near the ocean. Only the roofs showed on many of the houses surrounding Talbert, where a relief station was established. (LA Times 3/4/38)

1939

Following a heat wave--record temperature of 119 degrees September 21--a tropical rainstorm with heavy winds walloped the coast, drowning dozens of people, sinking boats and flooding homes. (OC Register 1/13/95)

In Huntington Beach a 300 foot section of the pier was torn out. (Friis 147)

1969

On February 24, almost 6 inches of rain fell, overflowing dams and flooding parks and nearby canyons. In Huntington Beach the storm drains and flood control channels were unable to handle the extreme water flow and nearly all the lowlands were covered by water. (OC Register 1/13/95)

The twin floods for 1969 resulted in $21 million damages and five deaths. Peak velocities above Prado Dam reached 77,000 cubic feet per second and 6,000 cubic feet per second below the dam. Only emergency sandbagging efforts kept the river in its channel as it approached the City and the ocean. (City of Huntington Beach Flood Study 1974)

1983

A series of storms lashed the county's coast, causing heavy damage to the Huntington Beach pier and flooding many homes (OC Register 1/13/95). As a result, 780 homes in Huntington Beach were damaged, 200 of which suffered major damage. (CERT Newsletter, February 1995)

1988

In January, a powerful storm whipped up twenty foot waves and dropped 250 feet of the Huntington Beach pier into the ocean. (OC Register 1/13/95)

1995

On January 4, Huntington Beach received 4.5 inches of water causing flooding in different areas of the city. Streets were flooded, cars were stalled and people were stranded by the water surrounding their homes. Marine Safety was called to evacuate eight neighborhoods where people could not safely leave their homes due to waist-high water. (CERT Newsletter, February 1995)

The City was declared a disaster site on January 5. A $2.1 million claim was submitted by the Office of Emergency Services to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recover the expenses incurred from the flood disaster.