Historic Photos Of El Niños Soaking SoCal Over The Last 80 Years

Among people who have lived in Southern California for decades, many are saying this is the rainiest winter season they can remember. So, we've taken a dive into the archives to surface pics from some of the most notable storms of the past.

Here's a look at the strongest and most significant El Niños to hit SoCal in the last 80 years.

1938

The rain began unremarkably on the night of Sunday, February 27. Then it kept raining. And pouring. For five straight days. Hillsides, saturated with 11 inches of rain, rushed toward the swelling Los Angeles River. Eight-square miles of Venice were flooded. A massive hunk of the Lankershim Bridge collapsed and was washed away. Train tracks were swamped. Phone lines were knocked out. When all was said and done, 144 people died in the disaster. It was, as the Los Angeles Times pointed out, L.A.'s first major flood since the population boom of the 1920s.

1938: People walk along the flooded L.A. River near the Dayton Avenue Bridge. In the background, a railroad bridge hangs in a twisted heap after one of the pilings has collapsed. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1938: A half-submerged house in the North Hollywood or Toluca Lake area, where 10 houses washed into the L.A. River when the Lankershim Bridge collapsed. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1938: Southern Pacific's Dayton Avenue railroad bridge, located near Elysian Park, collapsed when the banks of the L.A. River eroded after heavy rains. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1938: The rushing Arroyo Seco River, which flooded in the winter of 1938. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1938: The ruins of the Avenue 43 bridge, which spanned the Arroyo Seco between North Figueroa and Griffin Avenue, after it washed out. The original bridge was built in 1925. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1938: A hog barn in El Monte collapses into either the San Gabriel or the Rio Hondo river, both of which flooded in 1938. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1938: Highway crews work to get the Roosevelt Highway at Santa Monica Canyon into shape for traffic. Five feet of water poured over the roads, undermining the pavement. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1938: Cars covered in mud in a field after floods in San Bernardino. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1938: The cleanup of Channel Road in Santa Monica Canyon after tons of mud and silt were deposited from flood waters that raced down the canyon. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1938: A man and his dachshund walk across the remains of a crushed house in the North Hollywood or Toluca Lake area. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

1957-58

This was the year scientists made a major breakthrough in understanding El Niño. It only happened because of the International Geophysical Year of 1957−1958, a massive effort by scientists from 67 countries to survey various phenomena. Back then, "El Niños in Peru were still thought to be a local quirk," Bay Nature explains. When UCLA meteorologist Jacob Bjerknes and his cohort shared their data with other scientists, they were surprised to learn that the telltale current of warm water extended thousands of miles into the Pacific Ocean. That helped Bjerknes develop his hypothesis about the connections between trade wind circulation, tropical rains and ocean water.

1958: Officer August Curcio lifts a piece of rock from the Pasadena Freeway at Riverside Drive. Rock slides from Elysian Park caused the closing of the freeway to inbound traffic. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1958: Hank Pilgian is seen walking through waist-deep water after his car was swept away by flood waters at Sepulveda and Centinela. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
April 28, 1958: Fireman Gerald Bledsoe, left, keeps a rope handy as others pull Wilson Horsberger, 14, of Van Nuys, and Ronald Andrews, 14, of Pacoima from the Pacoima Wash where the boys were trapped after they tried to cross the deep rushing waters. Their broken bicycles were found two miles downstream. (Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1958: The Angelus Temple, located on Glendale Boulevard near Sunset Boulevard, as flood waters lap at its doorway and cars "sail" along to their destinations. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1958: Motorist drive through the flood waters on Pico Boulevard near Union Avenue. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1958: A stalled car sits idle in the middle of flooded Country Club Drive near Gramercy Drive. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
February 19, 1958: Herald Express reporter Frank Elmquist lends a helping hand to Eddie Boldetti, 15, after he tumbled in the flood waters near his home at 154th St. and Larch St. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
1958: A typical scene in North Hollywood during the winter of 1958. (Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
March 17, 1958: Tons of earth loosened by recent rains rumbled down a hillside and smashed into two homes on the 3400 block of De la Cumbre Ave. in Sherman Oaks. The landslide nearly buried a girl alive and pushed a man and his car into street. An arrow shows where the girl escaped. (Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

1965-66

This was a strange El Niño. Although it was a strong one, it brought only average rainfall to Southern California and less rain than average to other parts of the state. This winter also marked the release of "California Dreamin" by the Mamas and the Papas, a tune about a singer yearning to escape his grey and gloomy locale for the sunshine of the Golden State. The song eventually tied for the No. 1 record of 1966. Fitting or not? You be the judge.

May 5, 1965: Actor Robert Stack checks the sky as he and his companions are rained out during the 31st annual Motion Picture Tournament at the Lake Encino Racquet Club. (Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
April 2, 1965: Flood waters on Wilbur Ave. north of Ventura Blvd. proved almost too much for this doughty little compact automobile. (Tom Kravitz/Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
April 1, 1965: A student at Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood looks like he could use another hand as he makes a mad dash to his classroom. (George Brich/Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
April 2, 1965: Burbank resident Mrs. Lucille Hanson rides on bulldozer to safety with operator A. K. Winkle. Earlier, she became stranded in her car along Country Club Drive in Burbank and had to be rescued by the city's assistant police chief, Robert Loranger. (Bob Martin/Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
April 9, 1965: Burbank's Country Club Drive became a scene of rushing flood waters and thick mud slides, requiring the use of bulldozers. Residents were ordered to evacuate. (Gordon Dean/Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
April 8, 1965: Workers place sandbags in an unfilled telephone cable ditch on Laurel Canyon Blvd. near Lookout Mountain Ave. after rains threatened to wash away portions of the street weakened by the excavation. (George Brich/Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
April 14, 1965: Rain water broke the pavement surface of a street in Burbank's Wildwood Canyon Park. Officials said the area would be closed until repairs could be made. (Gordon Dean/Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

1972-73

Labeled a Super El Niño (along with the events of 1982-83 and 1997-98), this rainy season is most famous for its devastation of Peru's anchovy fishing industry, which took years to recover. Southern California received 6.45 more inches of rainfall than it normally would, according to Los Angeles Almanac.

December 1, 1973: Topanga Canyon was closed due to a mudslide but adventurous residents set out to see how far they could go after the road had been partially cleared. (Bruce E. Howell/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

1982-83

This is the El Niño that snuck in like a lamb and roared out like a lion. The weather phenomenon wasn't a blip on the radar of most Californians back then. Even meteorologists weren't talking much about it. Why? There were a few reasons, as the Washington Post explains. The eruption of a volcano in Mexico obscured then-new satellite views and little attention was paid to measurements that mark the early stages of an El Niño. Then, severe storms began to hit the state. On March 1, 1983, there was even a rare tornado that "cut a three-mile scar of destruction, damaging about 100 homes and a hospital, tossing cars around and taking off part of the roof of the Los Angeles Convention Center," reports the New York Times. After that winter, 70 buoys tracking sea-surface and underwater temperatures (as well as other data) were moored in the Pacific Ocean to measure signs that help predict El Niños.

April 11, 1982: A cloudy day in Santa Monica found some Burbank teenagers huddled under a lifeguard tower. (Mike Mullen/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
Sep. 16, 1982: Orange County bulldozer crews were on the beach, building up the eroding beachwall in front of the Surfside Apartments in Seal Beach. Storm waves have been responsible for pulling sand off the beach, threatening to wash these apartments off their foundations (Michael Edwards/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
November 13, 1983: Police officers on horseback monitor march along Wilshire Blvd. on a rainy day as 4,000 demonstrators protest U.S. involvement in El Salvador (Paul Chinn/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
March 8, 1983: City Hall is reflected in pool of rainwater as L.A. enjoys rain-free days. (Chris Gulker/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
March 19, 1983: "Seems like Hollywood is just a dark old gloomy hillside in these winter months, as citizens hunker down indoors and wait for spring." (Mike Mullen/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
May 13, 1982: Buena Park residents huddle around drainage outlet in hopes of glimpsing the beast dubbed Buena Foot. (Rob Brown/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

1997-98

By the 1990s, the culture had hit full "Niñomania," according to the LA Times. Weather watchers had plenty to report on during this season of freak weather. Winds reached near-hurricane speeds. 18-foot high waves destroyed a 400-foot section of the Santa Monica Pier. And there was rain. Tons of it. If you lived in Southern California at the time, you probably remember the flooded roads, freeways and creeks that were common during one of the most severe El Niños in modern memory.

March 19, 1998: A luxury home in Laguna Niguel slipped down a hillside eroded by heavy El Nino rains earlier in the month. Two homes and seven condos were destroyed in the slide and several more are threatened with destruction. (Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)
March 19, 1998: Inspectors survey the damage to luxury condominiums in Laguna Niguel that slipped down a hillside eroded by heavy El Niño rains earlier in the month. Two homes and seven condos were destroyed in the slide and several more are threatened with destruction. (Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)
February 13, 1998: Workers inspect damage to homes in Canoga Park after heavy El Niño-generated rains caused landslides and flooding. (MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
February 13, 1998: Workers labor to shore up mudslide damage to homes in Canoga Park where some houses are in danger of sliding down the hillside. Heavy El Niño rains have caused landslides and flooding in California and Mexico. (MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
February 8, 1998: Fans take cover from the rain during a match between Brazil and El Salvador in the CONCACAF Gold Cup at the Los Angeles Coliseum. (Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
December 5, 1997: Large waves pound the beach in Santa Monica as a couple makes their way past an unmanned lifeguard station through an opening in the 15-foot sand berms that line the coast. Beaches were empty as the first storm front hit Southern California. (MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
January 16, 1998: A surfer rides a wave off the coast of Manhattan Beach where El Niño has created large waves. In the background is an anchored cargo ship. (MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
December 5, 1997: A bulldozer works to reinforce a 15-foot sand berm along Venice Beach as the first El Niño-related storm hits the west coast of the U.S. Sand berms along the coast of Los Angeles have been strengthened to prevent storm surges due to elevated sea levels created by El Niño. (MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
February 14, 1998: Two couples take cover from the rain as they queue outside the Hollywood Paladium for a wedding ceremony. Some 500 couples were expected to attend the ceremony organized by KLVE, a Spanish-speaking radio station. (HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)


A version of this story originally ran on SCPR during a not very wet year.