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Historic Floods of Kansas

At least one Kansas stream has severe flooding during an average year. Although flooding generally is confined to an area of less than 2,500 square miles, several severe floods have affected much larger areas of the State. Flora (1948, p. 279) documented a severe flood in June 1844 that resulted from a large storm and affected most of the north-central and northeast parts of the State.

Numerous floods on Kansas streams have resulted from storms either entirely or partly outside the State. The floods of May 28-June 6, 1935, followed an intense storm in northeastern Colorado, northwestern Kansas, and southwestern Nebraska. Additional intense precipitation fell over the Smoky Hill and Solomon River Basins in western Kansas and the Big Blue River Basin in Nebraska and Kansas (Follansbee and Spiegel, 1937).

The flood of July 10-13, 1951, extended over about one-half of the State, including the north-central, northeastern, east-central, and southeastern parts, and along the Missouri and Osage Rivers in western Missouri (U.S. Geological Survey, 1952, p. 39-40). The flood was caused by storms that originated at the convergence of warm, moist, tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico and a frontal system that was centered in east-central Kansas. The resulting precipitation, which for the 4 days ranged from 6 to 17.5 inches, fell during three periods about 24 hours apart starting during the evening of July 9. Precipitation totals for May and June had been much greater than normal, and precipitation during the first 8 days of July had been light to moderate. Because the soil was saturated, virtually all precipitation that fell during July 10-13 was available for runoff.

Severe flooding occurred along the Arkansas River upstream from Great Bend during June 17-25, 1965, as a result of storms in the foothills and plains east of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and New Mexico (Snipes and others, 1974, p. D4). Because the main storm did not affect Kansas, local flooding was minimal, but the Arkansas River overflowed from the western State line downstream to Great Bend.

In 1973, a series of severe floods occurred on streams throughout the central and east-central parts of the State during 3 weeks from late September to mid-October. Abundant precipitation preceded the floods of September 26-28 (water year 1973), when as much as 11 inches fell during the 4 days of September 25-28. Several locations reported precipitation in excess of 7 inches on September 26. The flooding was most severe in Rattlesnake and Cow Creeks in the south-central part of the State and in the Smoky Hill River, its tributaries, and tributaries of the Republican River in the north-central part.

Flooding was severe in the downstream reaches of the Verdigris River Basin during July 2-4, 1976, as a result of an intense storm over the southeastern part of the State. The storm produced 24-hour precipitation that totaled about 6-13 inches and 2-day precipitation of as much as 16 inches. Generally, precipitation ended during the late afternoon on July 3; however, runoff continued to cause flooding on July 4. The most severe flooding was confined to the main stem and tributaries of the Elk River and tributaries of the Fall and lower Verdigris Rivers.

Occasionally, intense local storms of short duration produce extremely large quantities of runoff. On the afternoon of June 14, 1981, a series of intense thunderstorms along the forward edge of a stalled cold front produced from 5 to 20 inches of precipitation in about 12 hours near Great Bend (Clement and Johnson, 1982). The storm affected about 300 square miles of tributaties to the Arkansas River upstream from Great Bend. A similar storm occurred in the Kansas City, Kansas-Missouri, metropolitan area on September 12-13, 1977 (Hauth and Carswell, 1978). As much as 11 inches of precipitation in 24 hours resulted in peak discharges having recurrence intervals greater than 100 years on most streams that flow through the metropolitan area.

In October of 1986 significant flooding occurred in the southeast part of the State during the first week in October. These floods are tabulated in "Summary of Floods in the United States during 1970-89", U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2474.

During the spring and summer of 1993 widespread reoccurring rainstorms over the upper Mississippi and Missouri River Basins caused flash flooding and extensive regional flooding. In Kansas, the northeastern half of the State had the worst flooding; however, flood-control reservoirs in Kansas reduced the level of flooding significantly (Perry, 1994). Floods in Kansas during 1993 are documented in "Summary of Floods in the United States, January 1992 through September 1993" (Perry and Combs, 1998).

During the Halloween Floods of 1998, the worst of the flooding occurred in south-central Kansas. Flood discharges on the Walnut River at Winfield were the second highest in more than 100 years of record. Several smaller basins had peaks of record during the flood.

Chronology of major and other memorable floods in Kansas, 1844-1999

Date Area affected Recurrence
June 1844 Kansas and Marais des Cygnes River Basins Unknown Called the "Big Water" in Indian legend. Recurrence interval probably much greater than 100 years.
May-June 1903 Republican and Kansas River Basins >50 Discharge greater than any flood since 1844.
May 28-June 6, 1935 Republican River Basin 25 to >50 Storms in northeastern Colorado, northwestern Kansas, and southwestern Nebraska. Lives lost, 10.
July 10-13, 1951 Solomon, Kansas, Marais des Cygnes, and Neosho River Basins 25 to >100 Storms affected most of eastern Kansas and were preceded by greater than normal rainfall. Lives lost, 15; damage, $800 million.
June 1965 Arkansas, Little Arkansas, Solomon, Marais des Cygnes, and Big Blue River Basins 25 to >50 Storm on plains east of Rocky Mountains. Damage, $16 million, mostly to cropland.
Sept.-Oct. 1973 Solomon, Smoky Hill, and Big Blue River Basins >25 to >50 Caused by rainfall in north-central Kansas.
July 2-4, 1976 Verdigris River Basin 25 to >100 Intense storms near headwaters.
Sept. 12-13, 1977 Kansas City area >100 Two severe storms on successive days. Lives lost, 25; damage, $50 million.
June 15, 1981 Arkansas River tributaries at Great Bend >100 Intense thunderstorms produced 5 to 20 inches of rainfall over 300 square miles. Damage, $42 million.
June 9, 1984 Kansas City suburbs >100 Most severe flooding in southwestern part of metropolitan area.
October 1986 Marmaton, Little Osage, Marais des Cygnes, Neosho River Basins 10- to >100-year Southeast Kansas.
May-July 1993 Kansas and Neosho River Basins 25- to >100-year Eastern two-thirds of State.
October-November 1998 Marais des Cygnes, Marmaton, Little Osage, Neosho, and Arkansas River Basins 10- to >100-year Flash flooding in and near Wichita.

(Modified from Clement, R.W., 1991, Kansas floods and droughts, in Paulson, R.W., Chase, E.B., Roberts, R.S., and Moody, D.W., compilers, National water summary 1988-89 -- Hydrologic events and floods and droughts: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2375, p. 287-294.)

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Page Last Modified: 2015-10-28 13:42:47 CDT