Drones have changed the way we’re able to view the world around us. By strapping cameras onto these miniature flying machines, we can explore areas in nature that were previously unseen. One man in California was completely stunned when he made a discovery at a nearby lake using his drone. The story that follows feels like it came out of a movie. It also raised awareness of the very real danger that something like this presents.
An Unbelievable Sight
Lake Berryessa is the largest lake in Napa County, California. Local resident David Burgman was visiting the lake and using his drone when he made the most amazing accidental discovery.
Equipped with a camera on his drone, Burgman flew it over the lake when he saw something he couldn’t believe. In the middle of the lake was a hole that was slowly sucking in water. Where did this hole come from? What was it doing there?
A Swirling Vortex Of Mystery
From high above the hole, all Burgman could see was just that; a hole. It was clearly out of place and highly unusual. A curious man by nature, he couldn’t just leave this discovery alone.
Being so far up in the air, it was hard to see exactly what was going on. Burgman could tell the hole was creating a swirling vortex, but he had no idea why. He needed to get closer and nothing was going to stop him.
Coming In For A Closer Look
David moved his drone in for a closer look, unsure what to expect. As the drone approached the hole, the sheer size of it was jaw-dropping. Its power was an entirely different story.
Burgman couldn’t believe it as his drone started getting sucked into the swirling vortex below. The hole was strong, and didn’t seem to be taking kindly to its new visitor, “When I lowered the drone into the ‘Glory Hole,’ it became unstable and almost crashed into the side.”
Is The Reason More Logical Than We Thought?
Upon looking at the footage of the incredibly strong hole that was slowly pulling David Burgman’s drone into the abyss, it appeared that it could be a drainage system. Lake Berryessa is able to hold as much as 521 billion gallons of water.
When the lake reaches its maximum capacity, all that water has to go somewhere. Is this mysterious hole a way to keep the lake from overflowing? Also, what fate was ahead for Burgman’s drone as it fought a seemingly hopeless battle with gravity?
California’s Drought May Have Played A Part
California is almost always in a drought. The state is desperate for rain, and the last few years of minimal precipitation have only made things worse. By 2016, Lake Berryessa was only half full!
If that’s true, then another question must be answered; why was the lake suddenly bursting with water? Where was Lake Berryessa getting its water from? As David fought to keep control of his drone, we doubt these questions entered his mind. But we can’t help but wonder ourselves what was going on!
A Miracle From The Clouds
Maybe someone did a rain dance, or maybe it was a miracle, but it in early 2017 Northern California was hit with tons of rainfall. The rain that fell from the heavens was so much that it filled the lake.
Of course, it didn’t just fill the lake, it caused it to overflow. As the lake filled over it’s capacity, the hole began to take shape. It turned out the simple answer was the correct answer, it was drainage. How did it work, though?
A Gateway To Another Dimension?
Many people believe these holes, which occur in lakes around the world, are gateways to different dimensions. But in this case, it’s actually a drainage system was built underneath the lake near the Monticello Dam.
The vortex created is only dangerous if you get too close. It’s even more dangerous for drones, which can lose control against the suction power very easily. David Burgman was lucky to wrestle back control of his drone from the hole. Others who discovered the mystery through the same means weren’t as lucky!
How It Works
The way these drainage holes work is simple. When the lake reaches beyond its maximum capacity, a catalyst effect kicks into action. A huge hole opens up and acts like a plug. And the water begins draining. In the case of Lake Berryessa, so much water draining at once creates incredible force.
Now that you know these swirling holes aren’t supernatural occurrences, we suggest not getting too close. Drones aren’t cheap, and you won’t get a refund for having yours destroyed because you were too curious.
Just How Much Water Is Displaced?
At Lake Berryessa, an incredible amount of water is moved through the sinkhole at a mind-blowing rate. Over two million gallons of water are flushed through the hole every minute! For even more context, imagine you’re looking at four Olympic sized swimming pools.
Now imagine all that water swirling itself together and creating a giant vortex. In the blink of an eye, the vortex disappears as all the water drains away to somewhere else. That’s just how incredible these sinkholes are!
A Surprise Tourist Attraction
When David Burgman let the world know about his strange discovery, Lake Berryessa was swarmed with curious tourists. If we knew what was happening at the time we would have made the trip ourselves!
With so many new people visiting the area desperate to see the sinkhole a new problem arose. The hole was not designed to be a tourist attraction and it wasn’t a safe environment for the number of people who had shown up to witness it firsthand. There was a real chance things were about to get a whole lot worse.
A Social Network Sensation
The hole was beginning to get a lot of attention on social media attention, which drew even more people to the lake in Napa County. It was a viral sensation on Facebook and was slowly taking over other social media platforms as well.
As we said, the more widespread the news of the hole went, the more dangerous it became for people looking for a photo opportunity. Facebook wasn’t the only social media doing more damage than good, though. Once something goes viral, it creates a suction just as powerful as the sinkhole itself!
The Perfect Instagram Opportunity
With such an amazing photo opportunity, people made the trip to be able to claim a photo for their own social media- they didn’t want to miss out!
More than any other social media website, Instagram was the most used by visitors looking to capture their visit to the strange “Glory Hole.” Of course, that nickname wound up creating another controversy. Just what was so wrong with the nickname that the internet community couldn’t get enough of?
An Adult Subtext Created A Problem
The internet was quick to notice that the sinkhole had been given the nickname “Glory Hole.” Without going into any detail, let’s just say there is a very “adult” connotation to the term that made searching a for it online a risky venture.
The news spread so far that Lake Berryessa’s official Twitter was forced to let everyone know that not to search the term “Glory Hole” and instead search “Lake Berryessa” and find the news that way.
The History Of Lake Berryessa
Lake Berryessa is not a natural lake. When it was originally built, the sinkhole function was added in to help prevent over-filling. It is currently the seventh largest man-made lake in California and was filled for the first time in the 1950s after the completion of the Monticello Dam.
The dam stands over 300 feet tall and is vital in supplying water and power to the residents of Northern California. Over 600,000 people rely on it.
The Lake Has A Tragic Past
In 1997, Emily Schwalek was the victim of a terrible accident at Monticello Dam. Walking across the structure, she lost her balance and fell over the over the edge. For the next 20 minutes, she hung on for dear life.
Tragically, Emily wasn’t able to hold on long enough for help to come. She fell and tragically passed away. This sad fact is important to know as visitors flocked to the lake to see the hole that had everyone’s attention.
Finding Beauty In The Necessary
Sinkholes, or spillways, like the one in Lake Berryessa have long been considered a necessity of engineering for man-made lakes. Without these drainage systems, the effects of over-filling could be disastrous on the surrounding area.
Thanks to drone operators like David Burgman, these spillways are now being seen not just for their necessity, but for their unique beauty, too. The vortex of water that appears out of thin air is captivating and hypnotizing all at the same time.
The Danger Of The Dam
As beautiful as the Lake Berryessa spillway is, it also serves a critical purpose for the Monticello Dam. California won’t always be in a drought, and the next time heavy rains fall, the damage done would be horrific if not for the protection Monticello provides.
If the rains are too heavy, the dam faces its own dangers as well. That may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s the exact reason the spillway was installed so close to the wall of the dam itself.
What Happens If The Spillway Or Drainage Hole Fails?
Wondering what happens if a spillway fails? A scenario just like it happened at the Oroville Spillway. The malfunction created a tidal wave, forcing the evacuation of 200,000 people. The accident was the result of a 30-foot deep hole that developed in the spillway.
The Oroville spillway was different than the Lake Berryessa drainage hole, however. It was used as a path for surplus water to travel in case of overflow. In the instance of the Oroville Spillway, everyone’s worst fears came true.
Oroville Became National News
When word of the Oroville disaster hit the airwaves, it became national news. People were glued to their television as hundreds of thousands of Californians were forced to evacuate as quickly as possible.
The Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in the United States and serves a crucial service to anyone living in the Sacramento area. When workers discovered severe damage to the spillways, they knew right away it was a critical issue that could not be taken lightly.
Fast Rising Water
Because the hole was discovered on Oroville’s main spillway, when water flooded the area it rose at an extremely fast rate. Amazingly, this was the first time an accident like this had ever happened.
But since this had never happened before, there was no emergency plan in place. That might seem like poor planning from the beginning, but spillways are usually heavily maintained. There may not have been an emergency plan before, but there was no time like the present to come up with one.
A Bad Situation Only Got Worse
As the situation continued in Oroville, everything began to snowball as the dam workers set out to repair it. Once the spillway damage was discovered, they found that it had suffered from damage due to erosion, too. Instead of things getting better, they were somehow getting worse.
Without the erosion damage, the situation probably could have been contained without a county-wide evacuation. But with the damage to the spillway being so bad, there was no hope to keep people in their homes. Officials in the area described the scene as “manic.”
A Return To Monticello
Now that you know the dangers associated with spillway damage, let’s return to Lake Berryessa where our story began. David Burgman’s footage had gone viral, and hundreds of drone operators had flocked to the area.
Kevin King, the operations manager for the Solano Irrigation District said, “I went up there the other day and there were about 15 drones flying around and people taking videos… It’s really dramatic to watch.” At the time of his remarks, no one was in danger and the spillway was working perfectly.
Spillways Come In All Shapes And Sizes
Spillways come in several shapes and sizes. The one at the Oroville Dam is a straight path. With this design, the over-flowed water can travel. The spillway at Monticello, on the other hand, is a giant drainage hole. The drainage hole is referred to as a ‘bellmouth.’
Amazingly, a bellmouth works exactly like a bathtub drain. If you’ve ever watched the water drain out of a bathtub, you’ve witnessed the science behind the Lake Berryessa hole on a much smaller and less powerful scale.
Disaster Caught In Action
If you’re curious about what an accident like the Oroville incident might look like, look no further than the image above. Someone uploaded this picture to Instagram showing the dam unloading tons of water down its auxiliary spillway.
Now imagine if this water was not contained to traveling in one direction. Destruction of the natural habitats around it would be devastating. This water, luckily, left the area damage-free as it flowed into the Feather River.
Praying For A Miracle
Some local people believe in the power of prayer to save their town from disaster. The person who took this picture wrote, “my family likes to visit Oroville when the towns getting evacuated just so we can drink beer by the Dam and pray it doesn’t break.”
That… doesn’t seem safe. One person in the comments, which are mostly NSFW, warned the person the dam was supposed to break within an hour. We don’t know what ended up happening, but hope everyone was okay.
Not A Job To Be Taken Lightly
Workers who were tasked with fixing the dam needed to work around the clock. The danger was real, and every second the damage wasn’t fixed was another second that could result in a home being lost or person to disappear.
These brave men and women deserve our utmost respect as they work one of the hardest jobs in the country. This is one job that must be taken seriously with a lot of attention being paid as they work quickly.
A Few Years Can Make A Big Difference
As we’ve already said, California is almost always suffering from being in a drought. The image above shows the terrible impact a few rainless years can make on the region.
Three years before this picture was taken, Lake Oroville was filled with water. With California facing a terrible drought, the lake is now almost completely empty here. Without rain, families in Butte County were forced to ration that amount of water they could use, with no end in sight.
The Rise In Water Brings Another Problem With It
Over 100,000 people were forced to evacuate shortly after the spillway broke at Oroville. During that time, the number of burglaries in the area rose exponentially. As disheartening as that is to know, it makes some sense.
During times of chaos “looters” spring into action. Authorities reported looting began to take place as soon as the evacuations were ordered. The best way to prevent looting at your house is the have the proper security measures in place.
Fixing The Dam
In this picture, you can see the work that went into repairing the Oroville Dam. The helicopters above are bringing sand and rocks into the area to complete the needed repairs. Not only did workers need materials brought in from outside of the area, but they also needed destroyed material removed from the site.
When the helicopters would give workers supplies, they would likely be reloaded with debris from the nearby hydroelectric plant. This was not a small job, and now you can see just how big it really was.
Why Evacuations Are Needed
This image is terrifying in the sheer horror is shows. Water seems harmless until its barreling down at you, tons at a time. Here is the full terror produced by the broken spillway. This is why evacuations are required when disaster strikes.
Nature can strike at any time, so you should always have a plan in place in case of an emergency. It could be a dam breaking, a wildfire, or one hundred other possibilities. No matter what might arise, make sure you’re ready for it.