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Kansas Water Science Center

Water-Supply Paper 2502

Summary of Significant Floods in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, 1970 Through 1989

Summary of Significant Floods, 1970 Through 1989, by Year

This section includes brief descriptions of selected signficant interstate and intra-state floods in yearly accounts. Floods described in this section were those with excessive loss of life, excessive damage, extreme discharge or gage height, or those regional in extent. References are provided for these as well as other selected significant floods that occurred during the year. Figures 3-22 in this section depict widespread regional flooding by giving the percentage of streamflow-gaging stations in each State or territory recording greater than the approximate 20-year recurrence-interval flooding during the calendar year.

1978

The first significant flood of 1978 resulted from the February 6 and 7 "Blizzard of 1978." This storm formed in the Carolinas and moved northward along the Atlantic seaboard. The storm produced record amounts of snow and hurricane-force winds. Record tidal flooding occurred from Boston, Massachusetts, northward to Portland, Maine (fig. 11). Total economic losses from the storm, including damages directly caused by the storm and costs of snow removal, approached $1 billion (Platt and McMullen, 1978).

Spring floods accompanied melting of a large snowpack in the Red River of the North Basin and the Missouri River Basin in the North-Central States. Flooding in different areas continued through the spring months. Above-average precipitation had produced a large, wet snowpack over much of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, eastern Montana, and parts of northern Nebraska and western Iowa. Much of the ground in the Missouri River Basin froze earlier than normal during the winter season when the ground had a high-moisture content, and the frozen ground would not absorb the snowmelt. Consistently warm temperatures and rains on March 11-12 caused rapid snowmelt throughout the basin and flooding conditions within a few days. A maximum discharge of record was recorded on the Wild Rice River at Hendrum, Minnesota (station 05064000, table 24).

Flooding occurred in Wyoming and southern Montana as the result of intense rains that began the evening of May 16 and continued through the morning of May 19. Before the rain, the streams in the area were already flowing at or near bankfull because of snowmelt and above-average precipitation earlier in the spring. Fourteen streamflow-gaging stations in Montana recorded discharges at or above the 100-year recurrence interval, and about one-fifth of the 164 stations in Montana recorded maximums of record due to this flood.

June and July were very wet months for Minnesota and Wisconsin. Storms caused flash flooding on many different occasions throughout the 2 months in both States. Flooding on July 1-3 was particularly severe in the Kickapoo River Basin of southwestern Wisconsin. The flood caused discharges that are the maximums of record at 11 gaging stations with recurrence intervals of 100 years or greater. On July 5 and 6, Rochester, Minnesota, received intense rains. The National Weather Service rain gage at the airport recorded 4.99 in. of rain over a 3-hour period (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1978). The total rainfall far exceeded the amount of a 100-year recurrence interval for that time period. The floods caused by the storm were the largest of record since 1888 on Bear and Silver Creeks and the largest of record on the South Fork Zumbro River since 1855. At the headwaters of the Cedar River, a record-setting flash flood occurred on July 16 and 17, which was the second flash flood in 11 days.

On June 18, the U.S. Geological Survey made a measurement of an extremely high discharge of 3,250 ft³/s for a 1.71-mi² drainage area in the headwaters of a small tributary for Honey Creek in central Ohio. The 100-year recurrence-interval discharge for this site is slightly more than 1,000 ft³/s. Rainfall of 7 to 8 in. in 2 hours caused this significantly large flood. This amount of rain is well above the 3 in. calculated for the 2-hour, 100-year rainfall in the area (Webber and Mayo, 1980).

Tropical Storm Amelia brought extremely intense rains to central Texas on August 1-4. Rainfall of more than 48 in. in 72 hours occurred northwest of the town of Medina. More than 30 of the 48 in. occurred on August 2 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1978), setting a point rainfall record for the United States. In response to the large rainfall, significant flooding occurred in the Medina River Basin. The upstream reaches of the Guadalupe and Medina Rivers had the highest floods recorded since records began for each station in 1848 and 1880, respectively. Thirty-three deaths occurred, and the damage totals for the area were estimated at $110 million (Paulson and others, 1991).

Significant floods occurred from Michigan to Texas between September 11 and 14. Many areas had flash flooding as a result of storms moving through the area. Some areas received as much as 10 in. of rainfall (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1978). The hardest hit areas were central Arkansas and northern Louisiana, and Federal disaster declarations were made for two counties in each area. Little Rock, Arkansas, received 10 to 13 in. of rain the morning of September 13 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1978). At several stations the 6-hour rainfall total was well above the 100-year recurrence interval.

Two storms, the first from December 3 to 5 and the second from December 7 to 10, caused record flooding in Kentucky and West Virginia. Flooding was most severe in the Licking, Kentucky, Salt, and Green River Basins, and along the Ohio River. Maximum discharges of record were recorded at many stations in the Tygarts Creek, Kentucky River, and Salt River Basins. In West Virginia, discharges with recurrence intervals greater than 100 years were recorded in the Twelvepole Creek Basin. Total damages for the flood were estimated to be greater than $100 million in Kentucky and $12 million in West Virginia (Sullivan and others, 1979).

The Southwest experienced recurrent flooding from November through the end of the year as a result of a persistent series of upper-level low-pressure systems that developed off the southwest coast of California. These low-pressure systems caused frequent periods of widespread and above-average precipitation in Arizona and New Mexico. Floods with recurrence intervals greater than 50 years occurred in the Gila River Basin.

Selected References for 1978

Aldridge, B.N., 1982, Hydrology of the floods of March 1978 through February 1980 in the Phoenix area, Arizona, in Storms, floods, and debris flows in southern California and Arizona 1978 and 1980, Proceedings of Symposium, September 17-18, 1980, California Institute of Technology: Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 87-100.

Aldridge, B.N., and Eychaner, J.H., 1984, Floods of October 1977 in southern Arizona and March 1978 in central Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2223, 143 p.

Aldridge, B.N., and Hales, T.A., 1984, Floods of November 1978 to March 1979 in Arizona and west-central New Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2241, 149 p.

Armstrong, G.A, 1982, Coastal winter storm damage, Malibu, Los Angeles County, winter 1977-78, in Storms, floods, and debris flows in southern California and Arizona 1978 and 1980, Proceedings of Symposium, September 17-18, 1980, California Institute of Technology: Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 423-426.

Bartfield, Ira, and Taylor, D.B., 1982, A case study of a real-time flood warning system on Sespe Creek, Ventura County, California, in Storms, floods, and debris flows in southern California and Arizona 1978 and 1980, Proceedings of Symposium, September 17-18, 1980, California Institute of Technology: Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 165-176.

Boston Herald American, February 9, 1978, Storm souvenir edition-pictorial account of the worst storm ever to hit Massachusetts: Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Herald American, 16 p.

Boston State College, 1978, The blizzard of 1978, it's effects on the coastal environments of southeastern New England: Boston, Massachusetts, Proceedings of conference of May 12, 1978, 115 p.

Brooks, N.H, 1982, Overview and summary, in Storms, floods, and debris flows in southern California and Arizona 1978 and 1980, Proceedings of Symposium, September 17-18, 1980, California Institute of Technology: Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 1-24.

Chin, E.G., Aldridge B.N., and Longfield, R.J, 1991, Floods of February 1980 in southern California and central Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1494, 126 p.

Davis, J.D., 1982, Rare and unusual flood events experienced in Los Angeles County during 1978 and 1980, in Storms, floods, and debris flows in southern California and Arizona 1978 and 1980, Proceedings of Symposium, September 17-18, 1980, California Institute of Technology: Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 243-256.

Gadoury, R.A., 1979, Coastal flood of February 7, 1978, in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations 79-61, 57 p., 2 pl.

Hershfield, D.M., 1961, Rainfall frequency atlas of the United States: U.S. Department of Commerce, Weather Bureau Technical Paper 40, 115 p.

Hoggatt, R.E., 1981, Floods of March 1978 in the Maumee River basin in northeastern Indiana: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 81-695, 18 p.

Hughes, P.E., Hannuksela, J.S., and Danchuk, W.J., 1981, Flood of July 1-5, 1978, on the Kickapoo River, southwestern Wisconsin: U.S. Geological Survey Hydrologic Investigations Atlas HA-653, 7 sheets, scale 1:500,000.

Kuehnast, E.L., Zandlo, J.A., and Baker, D.G., 1988, Sixteen-year study of Minnesota flash floods: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Waters and University of Minnesota, Soil Science Department, 72 p.

Latkovich, V.J., 1979a, Hydrologic data for floods of July 1978 in southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 79-1166, 29 p.

____1979b, Flood of July 5-7, 1978, on the South Fork Zumbro River at Rochester, Minnesota: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations 79-1583, 1 sheet.

Mann, L.J., and Rohne, P.B., Jr., 1983, Streamflow losses and changes in ground-water levels along the Salt and Gila Rivers near Phoenix, Arizona, February 1978 to June 1980: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 83-4043, 11 p.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 1978, Climatological data (by State): Ashville, North Carolina, National Climatic Data Center, (various months).

____1979, The disasterous Texas flash floods of August 1-4, 1978: National Disaster Survey Report 79-1, 119 p.

Nelson, G.H., and Bowman, L.R., 1979, Flood of May 9, 1978, in Montgomery, Alabama: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 79-218, 9 sheets.

New England River Basins Commission, 1978, Summary of workshop on the 1978 coastal flood disaster in New England, March 30, 1978: Boston, Massachusetts, 13 p.

Parrett, Charles, 1978, Floods of May 1978 in southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 78-985, 16 p.

Parrett, Charles, Carlson, D.D., Craig, G.S., Jr., and Chin, E.H., 1984, Floods of May 1978 in southwestern Montana and northwestern Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1244, 74 p.

Paulson, R.W., Chase, E.B., Roberts, R.S., and Moody, D.W., compilers, 1991, National water summary, 1988-89-Hydrologic events and floods and droughts: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2375, 591 p.

Platt, R.H., and McMullen, George, 1978, Coastal flooding in Massachusetts, February 6-7, 1978-some preliminary data: Amherst, University of Massachusetts, 9 p.

Pyke, Charles, 1982, Return periods of 1977-80 precipitation in southern California and Arizona, in Storms, floods, and debris flows in southern California and Arizona 1978 and 1980, Proceedings of Symposium, September 17-18, 1980, California Institute of Technology: Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 77-86.

Schroeder, E.E., Massey, B.C., and Chin, E.H, 1987, Floods in central Texas, August 1-4, 1978: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1332, 39 p.

Schroeder, E.E., Massey, B.C., and Waddell, K.M., 1979, Floods in central Texas, August 1978: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 79-682, 128 p.

Slosson, J.E., and Krohn, J.P., 1982, Southern California landslide of 1978 and 1980, in Storms, floods, and debris flows in southern California and Arizona 1978 and 1980, Proceedings of Symposium, Septem-ber 17-18, 1980, California Institute of Technology: Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 291-320.

Sullivan, I.N., Quinones, F., and Flint, R.F., 1979, Floods of December 1978 in Kentucky: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 79-977, 33 p.

The Boston Globe, 1978, Special section on blizzard '78: Boston, Massachusetts, The Boston Sunday Globe, February 19, 1978, 24 p.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1978a, Flood report of March 14-16, 1978, Chagrin and Grand Rivers, Ohio: Buffalo District, New York, 36 p.

____1978b, Flood report, flood of 19 August, 1978, White Sands, New Mexico: Albuquerque District, New Mexico, 18 p.

____1978c, Red River of the North, post flood report: St. Paul District, Minnesota, 60 p.

____1978d, Report on floods of February and March 1978 in southern California: Los Angeles District, California, 105 p.

____1979a, Blizzard of '78, coastal storm damage study: Waltham, Massachusetts, New England Division, Massachusetts, 161 p.

____1979b, Flood damage report on storm and floods in Maricopa County, 28 February-6 March, 1978: Los Angeles District, California, 38 p.

____1979c, Flood damage report, Phoenix metropolitan area, December 1978 flood: Los Angeles District, California, 41 p.

____1979d, Flood of December 17-19, 1978, southwest New Mexico: Albuquerque District, New Mexico, 18 p.

____1979e, Flood report of 24 September, 1978, Presidio, Texas: Albuquerque District, New Mexico, 10 p.

____1979f, Flood report of November 1978, Sanderson, Texas: Albuquerque District, New Mexico, 11 p.

____1979g, Fourche Creek Basin, post disaster report, September 1978: Little Rock District, Arkansas, 14 p.

____1979h, Report on the 1978 rain and snowmelt floods, San Joaquin Valley, California: Sacramento District, California, 55 p., 11 pl.

____1980, Flood damage report, south-central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, December 1978 flood: Los Angeles District, California, 39 p.

____1981, Flood damage report for Frankfort, Kentucky: Louisville District, Kentucky, 83 p.

Vanoni, V.A., Born, R.H., and Nouri, H.M., 1982, Erosion and deposition at a sand and gravel mining operation in San Juan Creek, Orange County, California, in Storms, floods, and debris flows in southern California and Arizona 1978 and 1980, Proceedings of Symposium, September 17-18, 1980, California Institute of Technology: Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 271-290.

Vickers, A.A., 1980, Flood of August 31-September 1, 1978, in Crosswicks Creek basin and vicinity, central New Jersey: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations 80-115, 43 p.

Webber, E.E., and Mayo, R.I., 1980, Flood of June 18, 1978, on Honey Creek tributary at Thornville, Ohio: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 80-16, 7 p.

Weber, F.H., Jr., Treiman, J.A., Tan, S.S., and Miller, R.V., 1979, Landslides in the Los Angeles region, California-effects of February-March 1978 rains: Sacramento, California Division of Mines and Geology Open-File Report 79-4 LA, 265 p.

Wells, W.G., II, 1982, The storms of 1978 and 1980 and their effect on sediment movement in the eastern San Gabriel Front, in Storms, floods, and debris flows in southern California and Arizona 1978 and 1980, Proceedings of Symposium, September 17-18, 1980, California Institute of Technology: Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 229-242.


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