Dust storm memory
By: JOE FONTAINE
Topics: dust storm of 1977
, local history
Posted by citizenjournalist
Mon Dec 10, 2007 14:09:26 PST
The dust storm of December 20 1977 started very early. That morning on my way from Tehachapi to Foothill High School where I taught, the dust clouds and winds were already treacherous. School didn’t last long that day. We sent the students home as soon as we could and I headed back home to my home in Tehachapi. The phones were out and power was failing all over Bakersfield. I was worried about my wife and three year old son and had visions of them huddling in a closet with the windows in our house all blown out. As I headed east past Edison I saw 4x8 sheets of corrugated iron hurtling through the air as roofs were being torn off buildings.
The wind and dust got worse the closer I got to the mountains. Finally as some of my car windows began to blow out I encountered sand dunes blocking the road so I had to turn around and head back to Bakersfield. As I was turning around two men and a woman carrying a baby asked if they could get in my car since all of their windows were gone and their car was filling up with sand. After they jumped in and we headed back to town the rest of my windows blew out, except for my windshield which was so pitted that I had to stick my head out of my missing door window to see where I was going. By following the white line, frequently wiping sand and dust out of my eyes so I could see, I finally got out of the worst of the storm and made it to Bakersfield.
Even though the winds were not as fierce in Bakersfield, it was almost dark in town because of the dense dust clouds. After dropping off my bedraggled passengers I headed for a friend’s home to find shelter for the night. I must have looked like some kind of freak because when she opened the door I experienced the unkindest cut of all; their dog ran out and bit me. Some reward for a good Samaritan.
The next day I hitched a ride to Tehachapi with a friend. From the foothills, where I had to turn around the day before, all the way to the Arvin cut-off at Highway 223, there were eighteen wheelers and cars abandoned by the side of the road. The sand dunes had been cleared but all of the trucks and cars had their windows blown out and were filled with sand door to door.
That storm marked the end of several years of severe drought. The grass had been grazed down to the dirt in the foothills along Highway 58 and the fierce wind was picking up small stones along with sand, hence all of the blown out windows in the cars and trucks. So much topsoil and grass seed was lost, that even today, in those foothills, which used to have spectacular wildflowers in good years, there are still only mediocre wildflower displays. There was one report of an anemometer registering winds of 125 mph before it was blown away. A few days later a heavy rainstorm wet everything down marking the end of the drought. A few months later I toured the area with a friend who was a geologist with the United States Geological Survey. By comparing the grooves cut in rock outcrops along Highway 58 by the blowing sand and rocks with older grooves from previous storms, he estimated that it was a 500 year wind event, one I hope is never repeated in my lifetime.