The 1982-83 El Nino wreaks havoc

elnino82webThis El Nino was considered the strongest and most destructive in history (until the 1997 El Nino) and Kern County was hit hard. Bakersfield and the surrounding area is not built for rain, and the unrelenting downpours from the El Nino wreaked havoc all over the county, especially in the more rural areas. The town of Lamont, just a few miles southeast of Bakersfield, was especially hard hit. Given the current drought we are experiencing and our excitement over even a few drops of rain, it’s hard to fathom the amount – and duration – of rain that fell during these El Nino storms. I shot this photo working an El Nino storm in the Lamont area, and almost lost a Bakersfield Californian photo car getting the shot. I saw the water rushing over Highway 184. I pulled onto a side street, found dry ground and parked. I then got out and began shooting in the area, trying as best as I could to keep my cameras, and myself, dry. I shot for about a half hour. When I returned to the car, it was no longer parked on dry ground. The car was fender-deep in water, and the water was rising. I got into the car, and a substantial amount of water joined me, covering the floorboard and the gas and brake pedals. The car started, and I drove away. I don’t think the newspaper would have been happy with a phone call letting them know that one of their cars was under water! One more odd thing would happen. Minutes after getting back to the newsroom, I set my Nikon F3 camera on my desk, and it started firing. And firing. It just kept shooting and I couldn’t turn it off! It was either suddenly possessed or, more likely, had been shorted out by all the water. (Yes, I tried to keep it dry, it was impossible.) A young electronics whiz named Gaylord had set up a camera repair shop in Bakersfield, and was our go-to guy for keeping our gear in tip-top shape. I took the camera to him, and he told me it would be fixed in two weeks. He would disassembled the camera, hundreds of pieces, tiny wires, coils, electronic chips, springs, things you take for granted that make a camera, and laid them out on a towel. He would reassemble the camera when all the parts dried out. I was skeptical. This camera was done, I thought. Gaylord, however, was pretty damn good. He returned the camera to me two weeks later, and it worked – like a brand new camera – for years afterward.