Tag Archives: Climate

The Rainmaker in San Diego

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  Mark Twain made famous this quote by his writer friend Charles Dudley Warner.

According to an account in Wikipedia, the citizens of San Diego so appreciated Warner’s flattering description of their city in his book, Our Italy, that they named three consecutive streets in the Point Loma neighborhood after him: Charles Street, Dudley Street, and Warner Street.

Interestingly, San Diego leaders later proved Dudley’s quote wrong by actually hiring someone to change their weather.  In 1915, the San Diego area was suffering a drought.  They asked Charles Mallory Hatfield to produce rain to fill the Morena Dam Reservoir. Hatfield, who was from the San Diego area, had already achieved some acclaim for bringing rain to other areas, including Los Angeles. Hatfield was a “pluviculturist,” a fancy term for rainmaker.  By 1902, he had created a secret mixture of 23 chemicals in large galvanized evaporating tanks that, he claimed, attracted rain. (He took this recipe to the grave.) Hatfield called himself a “moisture accelerator.”

The Original Rainmaker, Charles Mallory Hatfield was hired to cure California's drought.

The Original Rainmaker, Charles Mallory Hatfield was hired to cure California’s drought.

A Kansas native, but raised in California, Hatfield traveled western North America promising to bring rain to areas suffering a drought.  One of his biggest “successes” was San Diego, although he didn’t get paid because he “created” too much rain and was lucky he didn’t have to pay for damages.  Hatfield was hired by the city to fill the reservoir, which was only a third full.  Not long after he set up his apparatus filled with his secret chemical connection, it began to rain, and eventually the reservoir was filled  to overflowing and other areas flooded.  At least 20 people were drowned.

It’s likely the rain wasn’t the result of Hatfield’s efforts, but it was certainly a coincidence that more rain fell than usual.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rain is most likely in November through March, with January, on average, measuring 2.28 inches.  NOAA didn’t mention January 1916 as being particularly rainy, though. When I visited my daughter in Huntington Beach, California, in January 2010, we had several days of perfect weather during which we watched a surfing competition and then a couple of days of really hard rain and high winds, something I’m no stranger to in Kansas, but golly, I came to California for the sun!  There was even a small tornado on the beach, which flipped over a car. (Click the link to my “Outgunned” post at the bottom of this post to see surfing competition photos.)

This car flipped over in a Long Beach, California, tornado in january 2010.

This car flipped over in a Long Beach, California, tornado in January 2010.

From the text associated with the YouTube video above about Charles Mallory Hatfield: “In 1915 the San Diego city council, pressured by the San Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club, approached Hatfield to produce rain to fill the Morena Dam reservoir. Hatfield offered to produce rain for free, then charge $1,000 per inch ($393.7 per centimetre) for between forty to fifty inches (1.02 to 1.27 m) and free again over fifty inches (1.27 m). The council voted four to one for a $10,000 fee, payable when the reservoir was filled. Hatfield, with his brother, built a 20-foot (6 m) tower beside Lake Morena and was ready early in the New Year.

On January 5, 1916 heavy rain began – and grew gradually heavier day by day. Dry riverbeds filled to the point of flooding. Worsening floods destroyed bridges, marooned trains and cut phone cables – not to mention flooding homes and farms. Two dams, Sweetwater Dam and one at Lower Otay Lake, overflowed. Rain stopped January 20 but resumed two days later. On January 27 Lower Otay Dam broke, increasing the devastation and reportedly causing about 20 deaths (accounts vary on the exact number).”

Despite Hatfield’s flood, San Diego is said to have one of the most ideal climates in the world.  When I learned that my paternal grandparents lived in the San Diego area in the 1920s, I took an interest in the area’s history.  My grandfather Jack Sherman was a civil engineer surveying projects there, including orchards. My grandparents left California when my father and his two sisters were still young, returning to the Sturgis, South Dakota, where my grandmother’s parents owned a hotel. My grandmother missed home and her mother was sick, but when I first heard about that, I thought, leave sunny southern California, hmmm?  They had good reasons to leave. In addition to my maternal great-grandmother’s poor health, my grandparents’ Escondido house had burned down after a worker knocked over a lantern, but the Black Hills of South Dakota are cold! Of course, had they stayed, my parents wouldn’t have met, and I wouldn’t be telling this story.
My blog post on the Surfing Competition called “Outgunned.” My lens envy.
Wikipedia History of Charles Mallory Hatfield.
San Diego History Journal Biography of Charles Mallory Hatfield.
Charles Hatfield is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.
Southern California Tornado in January 2010.


Filed under Environment, History, Journalism, Life

Sixth Annual Strawberry Photograph

These are the first strawberries to ripen in my garden this year (2013).  This is more than two weeks later than usual.

These are the first strawberries to ripen in my garden this year (2013). This is more than two weeks later than usual.

This year’s (2013) first strawberries to ripen were the latest since I planted them more than six years ago. This year, I picked my first strawberries on June 6th. Usually I start picking in mid-May and by the end of the first week of June, the strawberries are done. In the Kansas City area, we had a cold, wet winter, and it’s wet and cool now. In May, we got 8.70 inches of rain. The average is 5.41 inches.

The rain has really helped to produce lush foliage, even if all of the plants are late to develop. Our neighborhood butterfly garden is prospering. Now, all we need are butterflies!

Click here to see last year’s post, a photograph and recipe for a strawberry walnut and blue cheese salad with balsamic vinegar dressing. Fifth Annual Strawberry Photograph.


Filed under Gardening, Photography

Glacial Speed

Margerie Glacier, Alaska Postcard postcard

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

We experienced a very hot summer in the Kansas City area with temperatures in the upper 90s and even into the 100s. Now, that it’s September, we’re finally getting some nice weather.  I was lucky enough to escape the heat for a week in July when I visited Alaska, where the locals jokingly complained about a heat wave in the 70s.

To cool myself upon my return to sweltering temperatures, I enjoyed some of my photographs of Alaskan glaciers.  Margerie Glacier (in photo above) is one of several glaciers remaining in what was once a single vast ice sheet covering the Glacier Bay area of Alaska. We often hear of the rapid retreat of glaciers, particularly in the past few decades. I haven’t thought of the rapid advance of glaciers being part of relatively recent history, but Glacier Bay, which is at the top of the Alaskan panhandle, is only about 250 years old. It was carved in the early to mid 1700s when a relatively dormant glacier began to move rapidly. Its movement was described as being “as fast as a dog could run,” according to the National Park Service rangers stationed in Glacier Bay National Park. Glacier Bay is the result of the climate in the Little Ice Age, which reached its maximum extent in 1750.

Click on this map of Glacier Bay National Park to see a larger view.

I’d always thought that glaciers moved slowly and steadily slow. The glacier scours the earth as the massive ice field moves forward inch by inch and then slowly retreats, leaving debris in its wake and in mountainous coastal areas a glacier carves a deep bay or a fjord, such as Glacier Bay.   I won’t be using the cliche “glacial speed” any more now that I know how quickly glaciers can Advance.

Margerie Glacier is stable. Johns Hopkins Glacier is actually advancing. Both are remnants of a much larger glacier.

The Tlingit people who lived in Glacier Bay before it was a bay had to leave the valley as that glacier quickly advanced. According to the National Park Service, the Tlingit’s landscape “is very different from today’s marine bay — it was a grassy valley coursing with salmon-rich streams and scattered forests. Looming in the distance, a great glacier sits dormant, pausing before the cataclysmic advance that will force these people from their homes around 1750.”

This section of a U.S. National Park Service brochure, shows the advance and retreat of the glacier that carved Glacier Bay in Alaska. Click on the photograph to get a larger view.


Filed under Environment, Life, Science, Travel

In Search Of….Narrated by Leonard Nimoy

I loved this series, narrated by Leonard Nimoy from 1976 to 1982.  Note the disclaimer in the beginning, including the words “theories and conjecture. ” As many of us shiver this very cold winter, we can think back to some very cold winters in the 1970s when we were warned of a coming Ice Age. 

An update.   Baffin Island Midge Study – debunked for a 3rd time – nearby weather station shows no warming

Here’s my post on a dig of Ice Age mammals, which I visited in the mid-1970s. Hey, I’m not above giving my old posts a plug! The Natural Trap.


Filed under Uncategorized

I Forecast a Dismal Year for Forecasters

Wouldn’t it be great if journalists in the United States would grill our politicians and bureacrats like this!   This interview reminded me of a Monty Python skit on steroids.  Despite the pathetic John Hirst in this video, Great Britain has contributed mightily to the world of meterology and travel. 

English clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776) invented the marine chronometer, a long-sought and critically-needed key piece in solving the problem of accurately establishing the East-West position, or longitude, of a ship at sea, thus revolutionizing and making long distance sea travel more safe, according to Wikipedia.  Read the fascinating book about this by Dava Sobel, link below. 

Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy of the Royal Navy(1805 – 1865) the captain of  the HMS Beagle during Charles Darwin’s famous voyage, was a pioneering meteorologist who made accurate weather forecasting a reality, according to Wikipedia.  Wikipedia isn’t always reliable, but I think we’re safe here.

Dava Sobel’s website.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (Paperback)

I found the viedo above, thanks to a commenter on the meteorology blog “Watts Up With That?” which you can find in my blogroll.

Also, a site I recently discovered about journalism is “Big Journalism.”  I’ve added it to my blogroll. Check it out.


Filed under History, Humor, Politics, Science, Travel