The Most Devastating Flash Floods in Recent US History

Flash floods are a scary, sudden, and forceful act of nature. One minute everything is calm, and the next you are being swept away by the powerful force of water. Throughout US history, there have been hundreds of lives lost and millions of dollars in damage done because of these floods. Here are the 10 worst flash floods since 1950 in chronological order:

February 26, 1972
Buffalo Creek, West Virginia

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One day in February 1972, 12 coal mining towns in Logan County, West Virginia experienced heavy storms and rainfall. The storms were so forceful and brought so much water that the dams eroded away. The 130 million gallons of water that burst through the dams had picked up sediments from the coal mines, making the water turn into a dark black sludge. It devastated the towns surrounding Buffalo Creek, and 125 people died, 1100 were injured, and 5000 were left homeless.

June 9, 1972
Rapid City, South Dakota

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Rapid City experienced excessive rainfall one June day in 1972. The area received 15 inches of rain in a matter of hours. Every lake, creek, and dam began to flood, including Rapid Creek, which rose an astonishing 12 feet in 2 hours. The dam spillways became clogged by so much debris that it eventually broke through and flooded the town. The worst part about this flood is that it happened at midnight, so nobody knew what was coming until it was too late. 238 lives were lost, 1300 homes were swept away, and the town was left with $160 million in damage.

July 31, 1976
Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado

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During a summer day in Colorado 1976, a thunderstorm made it’s way to Big Thompson Canyon. This storm dumped 12-14 inches in the popular camping area in a 4 hour period. The winds in the area usually push away any storms, but on July 31st, this was not the case. Unfortunately, the storm remained over Big Thompson Canyon for more than three hours and picked up thick mud and boulders in the process. The deadly waters raced down the canyon and into the valley below at 35-50 miles per hour. This flash flood killed 144 people, destroyed 418 homes, and resulted in over $40 million in damages.

July 19, 1977
Johnstown, Pennsylvania

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Johnstown, PA is no stranger to floods. It sits on the bottom of a steep valley and has many banks that flow through the area. The town had a massive flash flood in 1889 that hailed 35 foot high water moving at 40 miles per hour. 2200 people died, making it the deadliest flash flood in the history of the US. Imagine the horror in 1977, when they are flooded once again by a storm that brings 12 inches of rain in 10 hours. Since the 1889 flood, they had built a series of dams to ensure they would be safe from potential floods, but the dams failed. 100 million gallons of debris-filled water rushed over the town once more, and 85 people were swept away and never seen again.

June 14, 1990
Shadyside, Ohio

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The town of Shadyside, Ohio was already a town that received plenty of rainfall, but on June 14, 1990 when a thunderstorm formed over the town, it became even more saturated. In a matter of 75 minutes, Shadyside had gotten 3-4 inches of rain from the thunderstorm, causing two creeks to turn into raging torrents. Heavy dirt and debris caused a blockage against a bridge in the town, until it gave in to the strong force. 26 people lost their lives and 250 homes were completely damaged.

October 17, 1998
Texas

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Texas is sometimes referred to as “Flood Alley”, and in October 1998 it sadly lived up to the name. Areas all over Texas were hit with torrential rain, some places receiving up to 22 inches. 12 cities broke their record of rainfall, some of which were 100 year old records. The 31 deaths that resulted from this flood were largely due to people attempting to drive out of the flood. They were trapped in their vehicles and were overtaken by the powerful waters.

June 11, 2010
Albert Pike Campground, Arkansas

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The Albert Pike Campground was a place where families and friends liked to explore the outdoors and camp out. Unfortunately, this area is a flash flood zone. In 2010 at midnight, the campground experienced a heavy thunderstorm. The nearby river flooded at such a rapid rate that it caught most campers off guard. RV’s were washed away, campsites were destroyed, and the asphalt on the road was torn up. 20 people were not able to escape the dangerous, rising waters and 60 people were rescued. Now the area no longer allows camping.

May 1, 2012
Nashville, Tennessee

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In May of 2012, the musical town of Nashville, TN was the target for a nasty flash flood. The Cumberland river that runs through the town is normally 25 feet deep, but on this fateful day it ended up being 60 feet deep. People were unprepared for the flood and soon became trapped in their houses because of the water pushing against their doors. Neighborhoods, landmarks, and the Grand Ole Opry all faced destruction from the floods, and 26 people died.

September 14, 2015
Utah/Arizona Border

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The Utah/Arizona border flood of 2015 resulted in the deaths of 20 people, 13 of which were in vehicles that were swept away in the waters, and 7 of which were hiking at Zion National Park. The intense flash flood brought 1.5 inches of rain in just 30 minutes. The muddy water barreled down a canyon near the border and came so quickly that everyone was caught off-guard.

June 23, 2016
West Virginia

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Just a mere 3 months ago, the US experienced one of the worst flash floods in it’s recent history. A series of multiple thunderstorms brought 10 inches of rain to 44 counties in West Virginia, flooding the creeks, rivers, and eventually the river valleys. Bridges and roads were washed away completely, and many weren’t able to react quick enough. 23 people died and 1200 houses were damaged or destroyed.

Want to hear firsthand stories from the survivors of each of these floods? Be sure to check out Top 10: Worst Flash Floods on The Weather Channel this Sunday night at 9/8c.


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9 Comments


  1. 2016 Baton Rouge was dang sure a Flash Flood. Just ask the OVER 150,000 home and business owners that took on water in areas that historically never flooded. O mean….32 inches of rain in approx 42 hours….That’s FLASH FLOODING

  2. I remember the flood in Elmira, NY in 1947. After record ice build up on the river, the jam was released as heavy rains hit the area. The dike gave way and we left our house in a row boat. Floods are a terrifying experience.