Tag Archives: Flooding

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

Swept Away

Before the flood, beautiful plants, planted by one of the stylists at his own expense, always adorned the front of the salon during the warm months. Because of the flood damage, the Salon is now closed forever.

Periodically, floods sweep through Kansas City.  In early June, 2010, five feet of water surged into the hair salon where I’ve been going for more than fifteen years, destroying it.  It destroyed more than furniture and equipment. It wrecked a home.  The Salon, like a lot of similar salons, was a little community center.  

M., the owner and my stylist, had created a lovely ambiance with art on the wall, plenty to read, coffee and treats. From time to time, she would host craft sales and other events in the space.  People lingered at the Salon, chatted, got to know every one. The salon was the center of M.’s many fund-raising activities for a host of charities.  M. featured the work of many local artists and photographers.  

When this photograph was taken, water had already receded quite a bit from the strip mall where the Salon was located.

 M. was a stylist at the Salon for eighteen years, owning it for most of that.  She couldn’t get flood insurance, so everything that was damaged is a loss.  In the middle of the night, a wall of water broke through the windows, knocking everything around.  For hours, the cabinets and chairs and other furnishings steeped in the shoulder-high angry, filthy water.  Bottles of shampoo and conditioner swirled in the torrent, ending up in front of a restaurant at the end of the strip mall.  When the water finally receded, not much could be salvaged.  

The physical losses are painful, but what M. says she misses the most is the camaraderie of the other stylists and their clients.  She and four stylists have found a temporary home in another salon. It’s a lovely place, but the stations are all cubicles, so you don’t see much of the other stylists or patrons. The other half of the stylists from the Salon found spots in another salon far away. 

Flowers every day all year at the Salon!

“That salon was my life,” M. says.  She did have a premonition that it all might end, though.  A minor flood two years ago left her feeling anxious at every heavy rain, so in March she didn’t renew her long-term lease.  Instead, she renewed her lease on a  month to month basis, so she’s now not obligated for another three years.  That’s the main bright spot, if you can call it that.  For now, she’s just going to style hair and not worry about running a business.  She’ll re-group and then decide what to do. 

It’s tough being a small business owner. They keep the country going, taking on risk and are often under a lot of stress, not just for themselves but for the many others relying on them for their livelihood. 

M. will bounce back.  She’s one of the most positive people I know. She has a huge circle of devoted friends.  

More flowers outside the Salon.




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Filed under Business, Commerce, Friendship, Kansas City, Life