Conjuring ghosts of epic rainfalls past

Is Charles Hatfield warm and toasty somewhere having a laugh?

The gentleman and rainmaker is often cited—some might say blamed—as the main protagonist in one of the more devastating dramas to befall South County.

Almost 109 years ago, in the waning moments of 1915, the 30-something Hatfield entered into an agreement with the city of San Diego to make it rain in this arid county. The hope was to generate enough precipitation to fill the Morena reservoir which had yet to be near capacity in its then short existence.

In January 1916 Hatfield dragged his potions and doohickeys to Lake Morena and commenced with sending a concoction of unknown ingredients into the atmosphere to coalesce with some clouds that may have been blowing in as the vanguard of a storm headed toward San Diego. A day or so later it started to rain.

And rain.

And rain some more.

The Jan. 22, 1916 edition of The National City News reported it this way: “The storm that started Thursday evening of last week and continued until Wednesday noon of this week brought 4.23 inches of rain to the Bay Region…”

It was no ordinary storm. The deluge brought enough rain to flood riverbeds, streams, creeks and streets, and send water gushing over Sweetwater Dam. The Otay Dam was significantly damaged. Railways were washed out, farms were flattened and lives lost.

“About two o’clock yesterday afternoon an arm was seen protruding from the flotsam in the bay off Thirteenth street and investigation revealed the body of a man which had not been identified at last reports,” was the lede paragraph in the following week’s paper.
It would take weeks for the South County to recover from the physical devastation of the 1916 storm and flood.

Meanwhile officials reneged on their deal to pay Hatfield $10,000 and the matter ended up in court where it was determined the storm and ensuing damage was an act of God.

The recent 100-year storm and atmospheric rivers to blow through the region are no doubt “acts of God.” But one can’t help but wonder if somehwere , somehow Charlie Hatfield sent along a reminder that he was owed money.