Thankfully, it’s been raining today, Thursday, March 1. And it’s expected to rain for several more days. We need it.
Earlier today, I sent an email to Betty Rhodes, our Senior Corner columnist, and I said, “I hope you’re enjoying this rainy weather.” She replied: “I’m loving it! Ordinarily, I’m strictly a sunshine gal, but oh boy, do we ever need this lovely wet stuff.”
A few days ago, I was remembering the rainy Februaries that we’ve had – our weather records indicate that the driest February, 0.07 inches, was in 1953 and our wettest February was in 1986, when 25.60 inches of rain fell.
This year, an anemic 0.44 inches of rain fell in St. Helena in February.
Anyway, I’m sure you may remember February 1986. From my newspaper job in Middletown, in Lake County, there were two big rainy Februaries: 1983 and 1986.
I’m just going to talk about 1986. My wife Joni and I were living in Hidden Valley Lake and one of the largest rainstorms was on President’s Day weekend. That was the only time when our two nieces, Amy and Lynnea Dabney, twins and both about 10 years old, came to visit. Joni drove her white 1967 Mustang down to Napa to get the twins from their parents and after picking them up, she ran out of gas on Silverado Trail.
She remembers a CHP officer stopping to help her when the water was up to the bottom of the door of her car. Somehow, she got gas and brought the two girls to our house.
Our adventures weren’t over yet, as our electricity went out that Saturday night and we enjoyed an evening with light from candles and heat from a woodstove.
Eventually, the weather calmed down and on Sunday, the girls’ parents came to get their daughters. It was an eventful weekend – and is it any wonder that they’ve never been back to visit?
I wanted to see what the St. Helena Star had to say about these two rainy and wet Februaries, so I went to the St. Helena Public Library website,shpl.org, and found the digital reels for the St. Helena Star, where every edition from 1874 to 2014 has been copied and is available online.
Jim Gordon reported on the February 1983 storms in the edition of March 3, 1983. “Six days of almost constant rain culminated in a 3.3-inch downpour on Monday and Tuesday morning, closing most low-lying roads in the upper valley.
“The soaking brought St. Helena’s rainfall total for February to 16.98 inches, making it the wettest February since 1915 and the second wettest in February.”
The lead story went on to talk about power outages caused by falling trees, limbs and a car that plowed into a power pole; the evacuation of three houses on Calistoga’s Foothill Boulevard, when a mud slide “rudely awakened” the homeowner at about 6:30 p.m. Monday, according to Richard Avey, the city’s public works director; and numerous slides closed many cross-valley roads and hampered traffic on Silverado Trail.
St. Helena Police Chief Andy Angel said the Napa River crested at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18. He said the Pratt Avenue bridge is used as a measuring stick, with lines marking the previous high water levels. Angel reported the 1983 storm came to within six inches of the previous high mark, which was in 1955.
The lead headline in the Feb. 20, 1986 edition of the St. Helena Star summed up the storm: “St. Helena survives a wet one.”
Storms since Feb. 11 had dropped 22.63 inches of rain in town, “flooding Main Street and causing the evacuation of 500 residents and the deaths of two others.” Overall 17 people died in Northern California storms, including two St. Helenans: 17-year-old Kevin Bailey, a St. Helena High School student who drowned on Feb. 15 while rafting on Sulphur Creek; and 86-year-old Thor Emil Sanders, who died Feb. 17 when his car plunged into 12 feet of water near Hoffman Lane south of Yountville.
Marilee Talley reported that residents from Vineyard Valley and Ogletree Apartments, both located on Pope Street, were told to leave their homes on Feb. 17 when the banks of the Napa River and Sulphur Creek threatened to break.
“Most of the residents had only a moment’s notice to take what they could,” Talley reported. Vineyard Valley resident Jeanne Spence and her sister, Mildred Newlands, left everything behind. Spence said, “We were told if we didn’t get out in 10 minutes, we wouldn’t be able to get out.”
By 10 a.m., the Napa River had risen to 27.4 feet in Napa and 17.6 feet in St. Helena, higher than the flood stage of 13 feet. By late afternoon, a lone police officer was using a boat to patrol Vineyard Valley, which was covered by four to eight feet of water. Evacuees were at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School.
In the Feb. 27 edition of the Star, damage from the floods was estimated at $60 million countywide and $14 million in St. Helena, with most of the damage in Vineyard Valley, where more than 190 of the 233 mobile homes were damaged. Two pumping contractors worked around the clock for nearly four days to empty the park of water.
After that flood, the City of St. Helena constructed a levee and flood wall to protect the residents of Vineyard Valley from flooding in the future.
So far, in March 2018, the rain has fallen gently. May it continue to do so. None of us need a repeat of 1983 or 1986.