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Great Bakersfield Dust Storm of 1977

The Great Bakersfield Dust Storm of 1977 (also known as the Southern San Joaquin Valley Dust Storm) was a severe dust storm in the Southern San Joaquin Valley, California. It started in the late evening on December 19, 1977 and ended in the afternoon of December 21. It resulted in 3 deaths and $40 million in damages (does not include subsequent agricultural losses).

Great Bakersfield Dust Storm of 1977
DateDecember 19 - December 21
LocationSouthern San Joaquin Valley
Also known asSouthern San Joaquin Valley Dust Storm
Outcome$40 million in damages
Deaths3

BackgroundEdit

December 19 started like most cold winter days. At 11:00 pm, temperature was 44 °F (7 °C) with a light northwestern wind. By 11:30 pm, the weather had started to change. The temperature began to warm up and the wind had shifted direction. It also started to grow in strength and dust started to restrict visibility. In the very early morning, the next day, power was sporadic throughout the city.[1] The wind was stronger, but people went to work and school was still in session. However, by 9:00 am, school was cancelled. Parents were requested to pick up their children because of the concern that high-profile buses could blow over.[2]

By late morning, the wind was blowing hard, and sounded like a loud roar. Enough dust was in the air that it blocked out the sun. Roads into and out of the southern valley were closed. Only one TV station and two or three AM radio stations continued to have power and were able to broadcast. Also, since Bakersfield did not have a direct feed to national news broadcast, no one outside of the area knew the severity of the situation.[1]

Wind continued to blow throughout the afternoon and evening. Swamp coolers were blown off the roofs of buildings. Windows were shattering and store signs were blowing in the wind. It was described as if a twister was unrolled and blew up the valley in a sheet. Farther north in the valley, Fresno was having a typical December rain. When the dust reached the rain, it turned into mud. It fell in sheets from the sky.[3]

People awoke the next morning to a dark sky. The wind had blown throughout the night and was continuing in the morning. Schools remained closed that day. By the afternoon, the wind began to subside, and the air started to clear.[1]

AftermathEdit

By the afternoon of December 21, people began to see the damage from the dust storm. The result was devastating. Trees, fences, and swamp coolers had blown down throughout the region. Below grade freeways, canals, and creeks were buried. Dirt had piled up on the south side of the buildings. Dust had seeped into cracks and crevices of buildings, filling the interior with a layer of dust.[4] After several days, the roads were reopened and news reports started leaving the valley. People also started digging out and cleaning up. By spring, not all of the canals and creeks were cleared. As a result, the rain caused them to flood.[1]

The storm resulted in three deaths and $40 million in damage. Over 25 million cubic feet of topsoil from grazing land alone was moved. Wind was measured at 192 miles per hour (309 km/h) in Arvin (southeast of Bakersfield).[5] In the foothills, the wind was measured at 189 miles per hour (304 km/h). In the mountain passes, it was 199 miles per hour (320 km/h).[6]

CauseEdit

The great dust storm was caused by many different events. There had been a drought in the region for several years, which caused the ground to be dry. Cotton had recently been plowed under (end of the season) but the winter crop had not taken root yet. This caused the soil to be loose.[1]

The high winds were also caused by a series of events. Over the Great Basin, which is located in Nevada and Idaho, was very cold and heavy air (high pressure). A very strong low pressure system was approaching the northwest coast of California. A mercury reading of 0.10 inches of pressure gradient force (difference of pressure between two points) is typically needed for a 10 to 12 miles per hour (16 to 19 km/h) northwestern wind. That day, the reading was 0.60 inches.[1]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f Boyd, Sean. 1977 Dust Storm: Indelible in my memory Archived 2011-07-25 at the Wayback Machine. The Bakersfield Californian. December 12, 2007. Accessed: 05-19-2011.
  2. ^ Maynard, John. Bakersfield: A Centennial Portrait. Cherbo Publishing Group. Encino, California: 1997. ISBN 1-882933-19-2. Pages 89-90.
  3. ^ Maynard, John. Bakersfield: A Centennial Portrait. Cherbo Publishing Group. Encino, California: 1997. ISBN 1-882933-19-2. Pages 90-92.
  4. ^ Maynard, John. Bakersfield: A Centennial Portrait. Cherbo Publishing Group. Encino, California: 1997. ISBN 1-882933-19-2. Pages 90-93.
  5. ^ California's Top 15 Weather Events of 1900s. National Weather Service. Accessed: 05-19-2011.
  6. ^ Maynard, John. Bakersfield: A Centennial Portrait. Cherbo Publishing Group. Encino, California: 1997. ISBN 1-882933-19-2. Page 93.