Flooding in Indiana Breaks Records Set in Great Flood of 1913

June 11, 2008

Flooding that’s swamped cities across central and southern Indiana is breaking records set during the state’s most devastating flood in modern times, a deluge that became known as The Great Flood of 1913.

That March 1913 flood inundated dozens of Indiana communities along the state’s major rivers, causing widespread destruction. Floodwaters even swamped parts of Indianapolis, destroying bridges over the White River and homes in some of the capital city’s neighborhoods.

Nearly a century later, the highest notch on many of Indiana’s flood markers remain those set by that “landmark” flood, said Scott Morlock, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Indiana.

But the latest wave of flooding had already set eight new flood depth or water volume records by June 9. Of particular interest to emergency management officials that day was a record flood level set on the White River at Newberry about 100 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

That site is just north of Elnora, where Indiana National Guardsmen and Marines were sandbagging to protect homes and businesses against rising floodwaters.

At Newberry, the White River rose to 28.04 feet on June 9, a level about 15 feet above flood stage that tops the previous record of 27.50 feet set in 1913.

Morlock said about 748,000 gallons of water were rushing by that point each second Monday as runoff from Saturday’s 10-inch rainfall continued pushing downstream.

“Obviously this is a major flood, a record flood,” he said.

Even at those sites where flooding hasn’t eclipsed records set in 1913, Morlock said the current flooding ranks along with other flood years in 1937, 1982, 1991 and 2005.

He said the Geological Survey monitors the state’s rivers with 175 solar-powered water gauges that transmit data in real-time to give forecasters the latest changes in the rivers.

Those readings are made every 15 minutes and transmitted once an hour to help National Weather Service forecasters decide where and when to issue flood warnings, he said.

To supplement those readings, Morlock said U.S Geological Survey crews traveled Monday to Columbus and Newberry to verify not just the river depth readings but also the volume of water rushing down the East Fork of the White River and the White River.

More heavy rain moved into Indiana on June 9 ahead of a cold front that’s expected to bring one inch of rain primarily to central Indiana with isolated amounts of up to 3 inches, said Jason Puma, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Indianapolis office.

“Nobody wants any more rain at this point. They just want to see these waters come back down. Any sort of rain could make the flooding a little bit worse,” he said.

Puma said the roughly 10 inches of rain that fell on Saturday, June 7, on south-central Indiana is the amount of rain that would typically fall over a two-month period in the summer.

“To get two months’ worth of rain in 12 hours, that’s a huge amount of rainfall,” he said.

Real-time flooding data: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/in/nwis/rt

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