Imagine your driving by your local lake when you see something a bit out of the ordinary. What would you do? Do you hit the gas and drive away as quick as you can? Or do you grab your camera and head towards the action?
Well, in February 2017 when something unusual looking appeared in Lake Berryessa, hundreds of people flocked to the lake’s side to check it out. Armed with their smartphones and cameras people quickly snapped up pictures of the amazing sight they were seeing.
Some people, including a man named David Burgman, decided to take it one step further. They grabbed their drones and decided to use them to get shots of the lake from above, and boy did it pay off. As soon as David put his footage on the internet, people couldn’t believe their eyes.
In the middle of the lake, a giant swirling vortex had appeared in the water. The large hole was pulling the water quickly into its depths, and many had no idea what was happening. Where did this hole come from and how did it work? People had questions about this strange looking hole in the water, and we have the answers for you.
At first glance
One day, a man named David Burgman was out and about near Lake Berryessa in Napa County, California. He had his drone with him and was flying it around for some shots of the lake when he noticed something strange. It seemed there was a strange hole in the lake! He decided he needed a better look and wanted to investigate further. So, he started steering his drone towards the large hole to find out just what was happening. From the first glance it was hard to tell what it was. Was it a black hole? Was it a portal to another dimension? Was it some kind of natural phenomena? Was it dangerous to be around? David wasn’t sure, but he planned to find out.
The lake happens to be the largest lake within Napa County, California, and one of the biggest man made lakes in the state. It is part of a reservoir formed by the Monticello Dam by the Vaca Mountains. The dam is crucial for its role in providing water and hydroelectricity to parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. Lake Berryessa was not originally intended for public use, but people in the area kept flocking to it anyway. Today, many people come to the lake for swimming, fishing, water skiing, kayaking, biking, wildlife observations, hiking, and even picnicking. Due to government regulations, and safety concerns, only part of the lake is open for recreational activities.
The Monticello Dam is roughly 304 feet high and 1,023 feet long. It was built during the 1950’s, but the powerplant it operates wasn’t completed until 1983. The famous glory hole in the lake next to the dam is what has made the dam a popular location for tourists to explore. Experts have estimated that thanks to the dam both the local government and local residents have been saved from over five million dollars in damages because of the rain.
As David steered his drone towards the hole, what he saw was incredible. In the middle of Lake Berryessa, in the section near the Monticello Dam, there was a large hole of swirling water. It almost looked like a vortex, or maybe even a black hole. The water was being pulled in very fast and by a very powerful force. But David still didn’t understand what he was seeing, or what could possibly be causing this massive hole.
David decided to move his drone in even closer for a better look. The images he was able to get from the drone at the top of the hole were nothing short of amazing. But what David didn’t account for was that the force of the hole almost took away his drone. He later explained to people that as he was lowering the drone into the “Glory Hole” it nearly crashed into the side of it after becoming very unstable. Luckily, he was able to steer it out safely.
What is it?
Lake Berryessa can hold over 520 billion gallons of water, but when the water rises too high above sea level all the excess water has to go somewhere. Where natural lakes might flood and cause problems, this is a man made lake, and the engineers who built it already thought of this problem. They created a spillway, which many also refer to as a glory hole. It operates a lot like the drain in a bathtub, and brings the extra water out to Putah Creek on the other side of the dam.
Why does it happen?
If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of this before it’s because the last time we got to see the spillway like this was nearly 10 years ago! California had been suffering through a difficult drought, and the lake was nowhere near full for a long time. But in January and February of 2017 the area saw huge amounts of rain that had the water levels climbing quickly. Before you knew it the lake was filled to capacity, and the spillway had job to do.
About the spillway
The spillway used in Lake Berryessa is essentially a large concrete hole that functions as a funnel for the excess water. The type used at this lake is called a “bellmouth,” but many refer to it as a morning glory hole, glory hole, or plug hole. It’s also the largest spillway of its kind. It’s not as common in the world of spillways, but engineers find it to be highly effective in the way it handles massive amounts of water while staying in control.
Water, water, and more water
It’s crucial that the excess water not overflow in the lake or disaster could strike, and people could get hurt. So, the glory hole has to funnel out lots of water and do it quickly. The glory hole at Lake Berryessa can funnel out nearly two billion gallons of water per minute! To give you an idea of how much water that is, try to imagine four Olympic swimming pools worth of water. That much water at such a fast speed is exactly why we get that hypnotizing vortex look.
Why a good spillway matters
n February 2017, California residents were reminded how much a good spillway matters when an incident with the Oroville Dam put local residents in potential danger. The dam’s main concrete spillway was found to have sustained damage, so the water had to be diverted to an emergency spillway, but even that threatened to collapse under all the water. There was a major fear that the Feather River nearby would flood and nearly 180,000 local residents were forced to evacuate for safety. Thankfully, Lake Berryessa’s spillway is still structurally sound.
Tragedy at Morning Glory
According to the New York Times, it is unlikely that you would get pulled into the glory hole and it’s really not as dangerous as it looks. Nevertheless, there are safety measure in place to prevent people from swimming near the hole. Sadly, in 1997 a young woman was swimming near the hole and got sucked in. Unable to get out, she tragically died in the accident, making the safety measures all the more important.
Without the water
It was exciting to see the glory hole make a proper appearance after nearly a decade. But on a normal basis it really looks quite different. Without the water it’s mostly just a large cement circle sitting on top of a lake. California had been going through a particular rough drought before the storms in 2017, and the effects of it really show on the glory hole. Tourism at the lake and dam took a big hit as people just weren’t as interested in seeing cement hole without the water.
David Burgman’s up close and personal drone footage of the glory hole instantly captured the Internet’s attention. People couldn’t believe what they were seeing and his pictures and video soon went viral. Many publications picked up the images and redistributed them all over the Internet. They can now be found on Pintrest, Eternal Lifestyle, 4 All Minds And Bodies, NewsD, YouTube, and more. David’s footage was just so awe inspiring that it’s hard to look away.
David’s pictures weren’t the only ones to make a splash on the Internet. The amazing sight of the swirling vortex of water caused by the glory hole drew in hundreds of visitors, and many brought drones and cameras of their own. One operations manager described the whole event as “really dramatic to watch.” Tons of people were uploading their pictures on to social media platforms like Instagram, where the event was shared and re-shared with numerous users.
Around the world
As previously mentioned, the type of spillway used at Lake Berryessa is not a typical design when it comes to spillways and dams. Many veer away from the glory hole, which might not always be best considering the recent problems at the Oroville Dam. But Lake Berryessa is not alone. Similar spillways using the bellmouth/glory hole style can be found around the world at places such as the Hungry Horse Dam in Montana, the Ladybower Reservoir in England, the Shing Mun Reservoir in Hong Kong, and the Nekogahara Pond in Japan.
While the spillway at Lake Berryessa has been known to locals as the glory hole for decades, for the rest of the world the term brought up some other connotations that had people a bit confused.The term can be used to refer to certain acts that tend to happen in the adult film industry, definitely not related at all to this beautiful lake! Twitter users had to be reminded to use the correct hashtag for the lake so as not to lead any others astray.
Difference a year makes
Over a year after the epic rainfalls of January and February 2017 things look a bit different. The glory hole is no longer needed to funnel out tons of water, as this winter didn’t see as much rain. As of April 30, 2018 the region had received 14.84 inches of rain, whereas by this point in the previous year they had received 47.1 inches of rain, and the water still covered the glory hole. Given the decrease in rain, who knows the next time we’ll see morning glory in action.
When science meets beauty
It’s a man made lake, and the spillway was a feat of engineering made with the expressed purpose of preventing flooding. No one at the time of its creation was thinking about the aesthetics or how it might look to passerbyers. The public wasn’t even supposed to be allowed at the lake in the first place. But nevertheless, the engineers have created something truly remarkable and beautiful to see. Both the lake and spillway are sights to behold.
The lake’s environment
Despite being considered a man made lake, Lake Berryessa is not harmful to the local environment, and some would argue it even enhances it. It has become home to both warm water and cold water fish, and many varieties of flora and fauna grow along the edges of the lake taking advantage of the rich soil. There are also many protected wildlife species in the nearby area who use the lake, and the water that comes from it, as their water source.
The hidden history
Before the lake existed, in its place was the town of Monticello. The gold rush brought lots of people to the region, and by the 1940s the population had expanded. The government needed a way to get them water so they decided to create the reservoir and lake. The town of Monticello was completely cleared out and over 250 residents were forced to find new homes. During the drought when the waters were low, visitors were able to catch a glimpse of the remains of the forgotten town beneath the water.