Friday, January 11, 2008

Weather you know it or not!

This has been a miserable winter so far with all the wind, rain, road failures, and power outages. I overheard a couple of newcomers that had Garberville weather all figured out. They were seated at the counter of a popular downtown restaurant. The subject of the weather came up and the one guy said to the other, “Only a damn fool would not believe in Global Warming after all of this weather.” They talked about the rainfall and the minor flooding, and how it even snowed in Redway, and about all the trees that blew down, and how this is the worst power outages in a long time. They put it all together and decided: “Yep! Global Warming”.

As I sat there chuckling to myself, and trying not to tell them that they were missing a whole bunch of information. I got to thinking about the weather I’ve seen in Garberville.

The first time I remember the weather being a phenomenon was the flood of 1955. I won’t go into great detail because the flood of 1964 greatly surpassed it. But, there were a bunch of homes and towns that were washed away, or heavily damaged in 1955. Some were rebuilt right back in place, because they thought that the flood was a freak occurrence and wasn’t likely to happen again.

Then there was the Columbus Day wind storm in 1962, where forests were blown down like match sticks. The north end of the flat over by the Garberville airport had a large stand of Fir trees. If you know where the Crazy Horse Ranch is, they grew on that flat. A whole wall of trees blew down across the road. A man, Lloyd Swenson, who was a passenger in a pick-up truck, was killed. The man who owned the Garage in Briceland, Pete Star, decided that the wind was just getting too bad, and he decided to drive home to Garberville. Just as he was nearing the west end of the bridge that crosses the Eel river in lower Redway, a large diameter Redwood fell clear through the west approach to the bridge. Realizing that he was not going to be able to travel any further, he turned around and headed back toward Briceland. Before he could get out of the grove, more trees came down and he was blocked in. Not really thinking about what he was doing he got out of the truck and ran for his life. Heavy Redwood limbs were falling all around him. He made it out of the grove alive and walked back to Briceland. His truck was relatively unscathed. There were more trees blown down than the loggers could salvage, and some ended up rotting. That was a gravy-train year for the logger, with all the trees already down and all laying in the same direction. Nowadays there would be some environmental reason that they would all have to rot.

The brunt of the storm hit in Oregon where the wind was so strong that the wind speed gauges blew up. They figured out that some ridge top winds hit 179 M.P.H.

The 1964 flood has been talked about by almost everyone, but one of the things that you may not know is how much it rained. I have heard all kinds of reasons for the flood to have happened. The one that I’ve heard the most is the loggers built so many roads in the hills that they just washed away. To some extent that was true, but south of Leggett California, there was a whole large hillside of virgin timber that slid clear into the river. The forest had never had a piece of logging equipment in it. It was one of the worst landslides on the South fork of the Eel.

In the headwaters of the South Fork of the Eel, Branscomb California, It rained twenty-four inches in forty eight hours, seven of those in the last four hours. It rained like a heavy thunder shower for two days, and the final rain was so heavy that it couldn’t even run off. It looked like it was raining so hard that you couldn’t breathe the air. All of the culverts in Garberville were over run, and water was running down the streets like rivers. A person could not walk across the main street, because the water was to deep and swift. It was one of the spookiest feelings that I’ve ever had. Everyone was speechless, dead silent. Some times you would hear someone worry out loud about someone or some place, otherwise there was dead silence. There was some that even wondered if Garberville was high enough off the river to avoid flooding. None of us had ever seen rain like that before, or since.

In the early seventies the winter temperatures got down to 14 degrees in Redway, the fire hydrants froze and broke. It was so cold that even the drain lines were frozen, and almost every pipe and faucet that was exposed broke. The temperature got down 4 degrees in Whitethorn, and it got clear down to Zero in Branscomb.

In the middle of all this cold weather, my cousin Roy Branscomb came up from Laytonville to go fishing. We went down to lower Redway, to the Pete Johnson hole. He hooked a large steelhead almost immediately. He played it for quite a while and his hands were getting very cold. Just as he got it to shore, it came unhooked and we both jumped into the shallow water with our hip boots, and between the two of us we were able to grab the fish and flip it onshore. We left the fish there and ran for the truck, our hands were so cold that we couldn’t feel anything. I had left the keys in the ignition, you could still do that back then. The truck started and while we were waiting for it to get warm we looked down at our hands and the backs of them had ice on them.

Also in the early seventies, we had over one-hundred inches of rain in Garberville. It stared raining in August and it rained fairly steadily up until May. I remember that my new bride, Janis, and I were taking a drive up Mud Creek in Laytonville, to see the mud springs. My Uncle Ben Branscomb was driving his new Bronco that he was so proud of. I remarked about what a warm rain that it was. My Uncle replied; “It aught to be warm, this is August!”

When the Franciks moved to Redway, they rented a house, and I delivered them a new refrigerator. They remarked that they didn’t want to buy a house yet, because they heard that it rained a lot in Garberville, and they weren’t sure that they would like it here. I must have thought of them a hundred times that winter. By spring they decided that if that was one of the wettest winters, that it would be okay, and that they liked the people here. So they stayed.

In the late seventies we had less than twenty-two inches of rain. It rained so little that all of the hill people’s springs were dried up. That was back before all of the potable water trucks were around, and every one had to haul their own water. Dick Keating was smart enough to buy up a bunch of surplus pickle barrels and he sold them by the thousands. People were coming out of the hills and stealing water from anyone that had a faucet that they could sneak up to. Finally they put in a water dispenser at the Redway fire hall. If I recall correctly it was set to dispense fifty gallons of water for twenty-five cents.

One person that I knew hauled his water in an old waterbed that he had in the bed of his truck. He had a piece of plywood placed over it to keep it from sloshing. He had some good old Garberville ingenuity.

There has been a few remarkable earthquakes, and some pretty terrific fires also. The Finnly Creek fire burned from Finnly creek on the Wolf Ranch on Telegraph Ridge to Shelter Cove and out to sea in one night. Over ten thousand acres. It was fanned by a strong land wind, like a Santa Anna Wind but the Southern Californians get upset if you use that term because they own it.

Then more recently the Saddle fire and the Canoe Fire. But most people know about the recent stuff, I just though you might like to hear about some of the things that happened around here to the best of my recollection. Some things I’ve left vague because I can’t remember the exact dates, or numbers but otherwise this is a fairly accurate recolllection of things. Please feel free to add to, or correct me.


Fred said...

I've never heard how it affected Garberville, but back in 1977-78(?) there was a big windstorm up here. I can't remember what month it was in. If someone else can, please let me know.

Winds up on Kneeland supposedly went over 90mph and power in some areas of Eureka was out for 3 days, or more.

I was a caretaker on a ranch up in Maple Creek at the time and lived in a cabin with no electricity or running water, so I didn't have to worry about the power going out and I just listened to my battery powered transistor radio to find out what was going on.

It started out just as wind just after dark, if memory serves me correct, and then kept getting stronger. I think it was around 9 or 10pm that I realized something was wrong and it wasn't just an ordinary wind storm.

I could hear trees snapping and falling down all up and down the mountain. I was scared to death because I had some big fir or pine trees right next to my cabin and I could just imagine them falling down and smashing the cabin with me inside and the wood stove setting everything on fire.

I thought maybe I should make a run for my bosses' cabin- maybe a mile away. He didn't have any trees near his place.

I put on the hard hat I still had from back in my C/R Forestry days, grabbed my flashlight and went outside. Shining the light up in the trees I could see huge branches flying through the air. Some were probably as thick as my leg at their base.

I decide it was too dangerous to try and make my escape so I just hunkered down, although I was ready to leave the cabin on a seconds notice if I heard a tree falling.

I was scared to death, and the gal at KRED radio was my only contact with the outside world (or anywhere for that matter).

I remember that station closed down at night back then. I forget what time. I was so glad when it came time for KRED to sign off the gal said that they were on generator power and she was going to keep the station up and running. She said bad things were happening outside with the windstorm, everybody should stay inside and she'd keep the information flowing as best she could.

I remember one thing that she announced, while keeping everyone informed, was some barn had blown off its foundation and across some road.

I believe the Ferndale Fairgrounds also lost the roof to the bleachers at the race track.

I forget when the wind finally subsided. I think by around 4am it finally lightened up.

When we had that big blow two or three years ago some were claiming it was evidence of global warming. I thought it was fun, as I did here back then, to bring up the old wind storm of '77/'78 which was probably just as bad.

It was actually worse for me as that old windstorm was one of my life's scarier experiences.

Greg said...

It snowed in Baghdad yesterday for the first time in memory. Historic weather stories must happen everywhere.

Personally, I could do with a couple of weeks of global warming about now. There seems to be scientific merit to global warming concerns, and it looks like Humboldt County may actually get better weather as a result.

lodgepole said...

That's one thing I remember vividly about my early years: It seemed to rain all the time... It seems to me it gets a pinch hotter in the summer these days at peak heat, however I could be wrong. Hey Ernie, where is the Pete Johnson hole, bottom of orchard lane? Who is/was he? And lastly, do you have more info on the mud springs in Laytonville?.....Sorry, one more: One of my former college instructors was raised in Laytonville, and he said his dad used to own some of the town. Apparently he lost his holdings in a poker match or somesuch. My instructor was named Ron Evans, I don't know his pops' name. Ring a bell?

Kym said...

I remember how beautiful it was during the cold weather year in the early seventies (I think spring of '72) The culverts froze in mid gush along the freeway from Miranda to Redway. And the sun shone a lot which was so weird to me then because, to a kid, it seemed like it started raining in October and didn't let up until early June.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Thank-you guys for jogging my memory.

Yes Fred, that was a bad year for wind here also. There was a bunch of trees that fell in Lower Redway, huge trees, three to four feet in diameter. Two houses were destroyed and many more damaged down on the river flat. When the wind kicked up, the first thing to happen be all the limbs started breaking and snapping off. A Woman by the name of Helen Mallory called and said that she had limbs landing on her house, and she wanted to be taken out of there. We went down with the fire truck to get her out. I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I do remember six limbs stabbed through her roof, and ceiling, and floor, and stabbed into the dirt under her house, we didn’t have any trouble waiting for her to pack. I think that all she brought with her was her cigarettes and lighter.

That same storm, a woman with an infant lived in one of the houses that got destroyed down on Eel River Avenue. Someone told her that the safest place to be if the wind blew, and a tree might fall, would be in a doorway, so she held her baby in her arms and stood in the doorway from the kitchen to the living room, while three large diameter Redwood trees crushed her house around her. The doorway, and the fireplace, and the beam were the only parts of the house left standing. When we got to her, she was saying how great it was that she knew where to stand. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that if the tree had come her way it would have been all over, but there was some credence to the doorway being the safest place to stand, because if it weren’t for the support in those areas to house would have surly flattened.

One man that was semi-invalid and weighed well over three-hundred pounds was in his house when one of the trees hit it. His neighbor, Pete Winkler, said that he heard al the trees starting to fall and he heard Mr. Manley holloring for help at the top of his lungs. Pete said that he shined his flashlight toward him and was yelling at him to stay put. Pete said that he would have no part of staying put, and started to run as fast as he could through all the falling, and fallen limbs, and got over to Pete’s house. Pete said that it wasn’t any safer at his place. But he guessed that he just didn’t want to die alone. Pete often jokes about Mr. Manley with his considerable frame, in his underwear, and his pure white completion, running for his house. It must have been quite a vision.

The one thing that I should say while I’m on the subject of this storm is that John VanMeter, the same John VanMeter that took out the fiber-optic cable in Weott with his back-hoe, was a member of the fire department at that time, and before the storm was over he was down in lower Redway with his chainsaws and hard hat cutting the roads clear for emergency vehicles. I can forgive him for a lot after that. He is a very selfless person and he had more concern for the safety of the people of lower Redway than himself. Your opinions of a person can change a lot when you are in life or death situations together. If I’m ever in one, I would be proud to have John guard my back!

Lodgepole, yes at that time you could drive right out onto the river bar. Pete Johnson worked at Eel River Auto Parts, then Slagles Napa until he retired.

Kym, yes that was the year (I think) that we had over One -hundred inches of rain.

I thought of a lot more stories, but my wife needs the computer. But “I’ll be back”. He said with an Ahnold accent.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Before my wife gets the computer, I have to tell you that this last storm the winds on Cahto Peak reached 135 M.P.H. (Laytonville)

Ernie Branscomb said...

On several occasions in the past, I have seen over four inches of snow on Garberville’s main street. (‘69 or ‘70?)

EkoVox said...

Kym, I remember 1972 as well. We had incredible ice and rain. I have never seen so many icecicles as them.

Ok....high water from rain. I ate breakfast at the Samoa Cookhouse today and afterward, wandered into the Hammond room to look at the photographs. On one wall, they had photos of the flooding on the Eel River in 1909 and 1911. Lo and Behold, the photos were taken by my Great Uncle Frank Spesert. I knew he operated a photo studio in Fortuna at that time, but I didn't know to what extant.

Anyway, 1909 and 1911. Horrible Eel River flooding. 1909. Nearly 100 years ago. And how much logging was being done up in the high country in 1909? None, that's how much. They couldn't get up there. But, the Eel River forks had flooded greatly, just the same.

Ernie Branscomb said...

My grandmother Ruby Branscomb said that in I933 They drove the Model-A Ford up a frozen over Ten Mile Creek in Laytonville to get home to the family ranch.

I understand that same year a family in Miranda that lived up on Bear Buttes walked across a frozen South Fork of the Eel River to get to Miranda for food. There were no bridges on the river then.

ben said...

In the windstorm of '77, I was living in one of the little cabins under the redwoods at Astrinsky's (now the Meadowwood) a half mile south of
Phillipsville.. My girlfriend and I had gone to the movies in Garberville and during the show, the lights flickered several times but came back on and we stayed 'til the end. When we came outside, it was obvious something big had happened. Tree branches were everywhere and often far from any trees. There was a greenish tinge to the night sky and the wind was still blowing hard. When we got to the Meadowwood, the cabins were obscured by a huge pile of redwood branches. Needless to say, I slept at my girlfriend's that night. When I came home the next day, I discovered that two limbs had come through my roof and dented the floor. The foliage on the redwood limbs acted like the feathers on an arrow and all the limbs fell heavy end down. My cabin was the lucky one, two others were punctured like pincushions and some limbs had gone through the floors just as Ernie describes in Redway. Three people were staying in the cabin hit worst and they were afraid to run as limbs were coming down everywhere. They huddled in the kitchen as six or eight limbs slammed through the roof. One came right into the kitchen but no one was hurt. They were petrified for days afterword. The barn blown onto the road was an old barn at the south end of Broadway as you enter Eureka. The road was, of course, highway 101. I was janitoring at the High School with a fellow who was trying to get a business going raising rare birds. He had his birds in Sears type tin sheds up Alderpoint Road on Windy Gap. You can guess what happened. A whole bunch of rare finches headed for the Hurlbutt Ranch across Dean Creek. The wind laid the power poles on Windy Gap right over on their sides. Impressive.
Rain and drought come and go, but the one thing that is different is the amount of fog in Eureka in the summer. Far less now than twenty or thirty years ago. The spring that supported five houses on my place back in the 30s, 40s, 50s, now dries up in June. The little gulch next to me was once a year 'round creek.
I believe the trees call the rain. Less trees, less rain. Plant trees!

Ernie Branscomb said...

Ben, I agree about the fog. There used to be a lot more fog here on summer mornings than there is now. In the Early sixties we were logging at Jewett Valley, and on foggy morning all the trees on the ridge would be raining from the fog blowing through them.

It makes sense that if trees were planted on ridge tops that the springs would work a lot better. I wonder why they don't do that. I guess you just have to have either seen it happen, or have lived here long enough to know that it happens that way.

The things that the new people don’t know about the river bothers me that most. It wouldn’t bother me so much but it seem like he who screams the loudest wins. It doesn’t make any difference what you’ve seen.

EkoVox said...

Oh the SoHum fog was legendary.

I remember driving to Alderpoint in January of 1990 to play a gig at the Legion Hall. It must have been about 6pm. It was so foggy, we were creeping over the top at about 2miles per hour, knowing any minute that we were going to drive off the road and be found two weeks later.

That night, it snowed hard. We ended up staying the night on civil defense cots huddled around the woodstove at the hall. The next morning, we get up and it's bright blue sky. The county snow plow had just gone through and we followed it. We drove out when the sky was in that blue sky weather cell that you can often see. By the time we reached Windy Gap it started into light snow and by the time we hit the bottom it was full snow again. We holed up inside of the Waterwheel until it passed and headed home.

Boy, was it foggy that night...the worst I've ever seen.

Ernie Branscomb said...

We used to live at Eel Rock back in the early sixties. My dad had a logging show out there. There was no bar, and the store closed early, so sometimes the logging crew would head over the hill for a night of drinking. Coming back over the ridge the fog was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Sometimes at a dead stop you couldn’t see the road. So the way they got home was the driver would stick his head out the window and watch the edge of the road, and the passenger would stick his head out the other window and watch his edge of the road. The passenger would holler “right” or “left”, and after a few beers “right” and “left” got easily mixed up. Then someone would holler “stop”. Then we would sit there for a while as there would be an argument about who said “right” or “left” and it was wrong, or someone said it right but the driver would turn the wrong way. There was some damn fine shouting matches. Sometimes they almost got out of the car to fight.

Finally someone figured out that “right” and “left” was just plain too confusing, and they decided to shout “your way” or “my way”. That worked a lot better, but sometimes “stop” was still used. They only had to be pulled back onto the road a few times.

Fred said...

Ernie wrote, "There used to be a lot more fog here on summer mornings than there is now.".

Agreed. When I first arrived in Eureka back in July of '73, there was some pretty good ground fog. Had it a number of times just after I moved up here, but we don't get so much low fog anymore.

In fact, I'd say we don't even get the intensity of the fog that southern CA gets back when I lived there.

Geee....must be global warming.