The Great Los Angeles Flood of 1938: What Caused It?

The Great Los Angeles Flood of 1938 was a devastating event that caused widespread destruction in the area. According to reports, the lower reaches of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers could have overflowed and turned sections of Long Beach, Carson, Lakewood, Compton, Downey and West Covina into flood zones. Coastal flooding could have flooded areas such as Belmont Shore, Naples and Seal Beach and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. In Los Angeles County, flood control officials said an urgent priority was to empty the mud and debris deposits that protect urban communities from floods and debris that move rapidly from the San Gabriel Mountains.The cause of the flood was a storm from the Pacific Ocean that moved inland into the Los Angeles Basin between February 27 and 28, 1938.This storm ran east to the San Gabriel Mountains, causing orographic rainfall that resulted in flash floods.

The San Fernando Valley was one of the most affected areas, as many communities had been built during the economic boom of the 1920s in low-lying areas that were once used for agriculture. Downtown Los Angeles was also flooded, as well as residential, industrial and commercial districts.The Great Flood of 1862 was another major flood event in the area. This flood occurred in a series of storms that lasted only 45 days and plunged most of the Central Valley and the Los Angeles Basin under water. The Los Angeles Times chartered a United Air Lines passenger plane to provide them with an aerial view of the damage caused by the floods.Flood control structures prevented more destruction in Los Angeles County, while Orange and Riverside Counties suffered more damage.

The main impetus to channel the Los Angeles River in particular was this 1938 flood, accelerating the flow of flood waters to the sea.

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