Unprecedented floods sweep 1938 West Side
by Ron Swift | Patterson Irrigator
Feb 14, 2013 | 962 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was 75 years ago — in mid-February 1938 — that the West Side experienced flooding of record-setting proportions.

River levees broke, roadways were inundated and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded in the Crows Landing and Vernalis areas. The Patterson Colony suffered only minimal damage.

The river’s record-high water was caused by quick runoff into the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers after the previous weekend’s storm. As both rivers drain into the San Joaquin River, the latter’s water level was backed up and rose dramatically, causing levees to break and lowlands to flood.

The highest measurement on the Patterson Water Co.’s gauge was 18 feet, 9 inches. The previous high in records kept since 1910 was 17 feet, 10 inches, recorded in 1922.

Las Palmas Avenue was closed at the river when water rose over the roadway just east of the bridge.

To the north on the Burkhard and El Solyo ranches north of Grayson, about 2,000 acres quickly flooded when levees gave way Saturday night to the rising water. Nearly 30 laborers had to run for their lives. Acreages of broccoli, peas and onions all were lost.

In the Crows Landing area, water spread rapidly after a major levee broke on the river’s east side. The flood soon spread to within half a mile of the Mountain View School several miles to the northeast. A levee was then dynamited downstream to allow the floodwater to drain back into the river channel.

High water closed the river bridge east of Crows Landing, while the Hills Ferry bridge east of Newman remained open despite water over the roadway. That left Patterson-area residents who were traveling across the county the choice of using the Grayson bridge or driving to Newman.

Creeks were swollen by the weekend rains and flooded across the West Side Highway (now Highway 33) in at least a dozen places. However, the highway remained open to traffic.

Total rainfall for the 1937-38 season was 10.24 inches at the time of the flood. Normal to date is 7.03 inches.

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