Stuck at a standstill between blaring horns on a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway through Long Beach, Calif., my 9-year-old self felt pretty sure our car was about to get swept away by the torrent of water pouring from the sky. “Mom, what’s going on?” I asked.
“It’s El Niño,” she growled.
Whoever this El Niño was, I could tell that should he and my mom ever meet face to face, it’d be best to get out of their way.
Many people who lived in California between December 1997 and May 1998 probably had similar feelings. It rained nearly continuously for the whole of February. Precipitation records were set in at least 19 stations in the state that month; Santa Barbara smashed its old high by 4.41 inches. Widespread flooding and mudslides did at least $550 million worth of damage statewide.
The first two months of 1998 were the
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