Santa Cruz County History - Disasters & Calamities

Table of Floods: Recorded floods on the San Lorenzo River in the City Santa Cruz
by Daniel McMahon

Year Date Extent
1852 unknown Said to be 3 feet lower than 1862 flood.
1862 Jan. 11 est. 16 ft. above sea level at Water St. Said to be equal to the height of the 1871 flood, though more destructive due to erosion.
1871 Dec. 23 16.03 ft. at the Water St. bridge.
1878 Feb. 14 14.61 ft.
1880 Apr. 21 15.11 ft.
1881 Jan. 29 15.41 ft.
1889 Dec. 8 14.31 ft.
1890 Jan. 25 16.35 ft.
1895 Jan. 4 16.00 ft. (est.)
1907 Mar. 27 15.74 ft.
1911 Jan. 14 14.69 ft. at Water St.
1931 Dec. 28 Unknown. Sand island in river submerged.
1938 Jan. 31 Unknown. Called "Worst Flood in 15 Years."
1940 Feb. 27 17.41 ft. at Water St., 24,000 c.f.s. at Felton.
1941 Feb. 9 15.30 ft. at Water St., 15,500 c.f.s. at Felton
1945 Feb. 1 15.70 ft. at Water St.
1955 Dec. 23 20.8 ft. at Water St., initially reported as 28,800 c.f.s. at Felton, later reported as 30,400 c.f.s. Estimated at 39,000 c.f.s. below Branciforte Creek in Santa Cruz, where 3/4 of 100-year flood plain (410 acres) inundated.
1958 Apr. 2 "...past the 14 foot flood stage" at Water St., 17,200 c.f.s. Felton, 18,500 c.f.s. Santa Cruz.
1982 Jan. 4 18.0 ft. at Water St., 29,700 c.f.s at Felton, 33,000 c.f.s. in Santa Cruz, below Branciforte Creek.

Notes on the table of floods:

The primary sources for this table are contemporary newspaper accounts and figures in city, county, state and federal literature on the river, floods, and flood control.

It is difficult to compare flood levels and volumes from year to year; measurements have not always been taken in the same places, and are often reported incorrectly after several years. Traditionally, the elevation figures for floods are taken at the Water Street bridge, and expressed in feet above sea level. Measurements of the volume of water in the river (in cubic feet per second, or c.f.s.) have been taken near Big Trees in Felton since 1937. Some flow measurements have been taken in the city in the last 40 years, but generally the flow figures for Santa Cruz are estimates.

For more information on the history of floods, flood control, and citations to sources of information, see :

© 1997 Daniel McMahon. Reproduced by permission of the author.

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floods, San Lorenzo River


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