Historic Descriptions and Pictures of the Four Floods of the Sacramento Valley from December 1861 Through January 1862

December 1861 and January 1862 Floods

The Sacramento Valley experienced four floods from December 1861 through January 1862. These floods are legendary in newspaper accounts from the time. The historic descriptions and pictures from these floods continue to hold fascination today. Can these floods happen again? This is the question covered in "Lake Sacramento" — Can It Happen Again? [PDF, 8 MB] by Leon Hunsaker with Claude Curran (2005).

The authors' approach to answering this question was to research the available historical data. After conducting field trips to libraries, newspaper offices, historical societies, and various public and private sources, Hunsaker and Curran concluded "… a realistic assessment of the runoff potential can be made for each December 1861-January 1862 flood event." (p. 2) Their publication describes their journey, what they found, how they used the data, and their conclusions.

Estimate of American River Peak Flow on January 10, 1862

In 2005 Leon Hunsaker and Claude Curran completed their book, "Lake Sacramento" — Can It Happen Again? They decided to continue their look into the historic 1862 flood.

During the summer of 2006, we decided if our results were going to be conclusive we needed to demonstrate numerically that the flood peaks of January 1862 were greater than any that occurred in the 20th century. We chose the American River because of its early history of flooding the city of Sacramento. Then it was decided that a peak flow estimate would be made for January 10, 1862 at Folsom — the recognized date of the all-time record high flow on the American River at Folsom (Fair Oaks).

They chronicle their reasoning behind estimating the American River peak flow on January 10, 1862 in Step by Step Development of Peak Flow Estimate on the American River @ Folsom for Record Flood: 1/10/1862 [PDF, 273 KB] (2011).