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Flash Floods in Texas

By Jonathan Burnett

Publication Year: 2008

How many times have you heard the television or radio alert, “We are now under a flash flood watch”? While the destructive force of flash flooding is a regular occurrence in the state and has caused a tremendous amount of damage and heartache over the years, no one until now has recorded in a single book the history of flash floods in Texas. After combing libraries and archives, grilling county historians, trekking to flood sites, and collecting scores of graphic photographs, Jonathan Burnett chose twenty-eight floods from around the state to create this narrative of a century of disastrous events. Beginning with the famous Austin dam break of 1900 and ending with the historic 2002 flooding in the Hill Country, Burnett chronicles the causes and courses of these catastrophic floods as well as their costs in material damage and human lives. Dramatic photographs of each event enhance the harrowing accounts of danger spawned by nature on a rampage. Together, the stories and the pictures give readers a vivid and lasting image of the power and unpredictability of flash floods in Texas.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: River Books Series, sponsored by The River Systems Institute at Texas State University

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Series Editor’s Foreword

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pp. ix

People who monitor the weather around the country know that Texas experiences the most extreme weather conditions and most rapid weather changes of any state. In this volume of our series River Books, Jonathan Burnett portrays some of the most...

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pp. xi-xii

A book of this type cannot be written and published without help from many sources. There are more than twenty sources for photographs alone and dozens of sources from newspapers and libraries throughout Texas. Initially, I was driven by the research of...

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pp. xiii-xv

Texans enjoy being number one in many fields. Unfortunately, one area in which Texas is consistently foremost in the United States is the number of deaths attributed to flooding. From 1995 to 2004, Texas topped this list in seven of these ten...

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April 1900: Austin Dam Break

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pp. 1-9

Since the earliest days of Austin, the immense power of the Colorado River has motivated citizens and community leaders to take action to protect the city’s residents. Aft er decades of talk and inaction, in 1889 the city of Austin held an election to decide...

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December 1913: Nolan Creek and Brazos River Floods

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pp. 10-21

Flash floods are usually associated with springtime storms and summertime hurricanes or tropical systems. In the last fifteen years, however, several large rain events have hit Central Texas in November and December (e.g., the storms of December...

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April 1915: Floods on Shoal and Waller Creeks

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pp. 22-27

The April 1915 flash flood that hit Austin, Texas, is an example of a relatively small storm dropping intense rain on vulnerable locations to produce a raging flash flood. Downtown and central Austin are flanked by two creeks: Shoal Creek to the west and...

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September 1921: Downtown San Antonio Flood

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pp. 28-36

Prior to his tenure as superintendent of Central Park in New York City, Frederick Law Olmsted toured Texas and subsequently wrote Journey through Texas, or, A Saddle-trip on the Southwestern Frontier. The beauty of the San Antonio River...

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September 1921: Thrall Record Rainfall and Little River Flood

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pp. 37-49

The rainstorm that struck Central Texas on September 9 and 10, 1921, is one of the greatest downpours in the recorded history of the United States. The storm dropped more than 38 inches east of Taylor, Texas, near Thrall. The official rainfall total...

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July 1932: Guadalupe River Basin Flood

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pp. 50-57

In the summer of 1932 Franklin Roosevelt selected Uvalde’s John Garner as his running mate, and in early July Garner’s nomination was the lead story in newspapers across the Lone Star State. But in Garner’s hometown of Uvalde, that announcement...

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September 1932: Devil’s River and Rio Grande River Floods

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pp. 58-65

The flash floods of September 1932 were part of a large-scale rain and flood event throughout the Rio Grande River Basin that lasted for almost two months (from late August into October). Th at year, the September flash floods in the United...

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May 1935: D’Hanis Flash Flood

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pp. 66-71

The may 1935 flash flood in D’Hanis is a classic in the Texas Hill Country. During this event, the monumental rainfall total was measured not in inches but in feet. The runoff tore down the streambeds and adjoining floodplains into a town built near...

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June 1935: Llano and Nueces Rivers Floods

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pp. 72-85

Following the record deluge at D’Hanis in May 1935, more heavy rain continued to fall in the Hill Country. Less than a month after the inundation in D’Hanis, another storm triggered multiple flash floods in the Hill Country. In June 1935 the...

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December 1935: Downtown Houston Flood

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pp. 86-93

For Texas weather, one of the wildest years ever was 1935. That spring, dust storms wreaked havoc on much of the state. A U.S.- record-intensity rainfall hit D’Hanis in May; the Colorado River Basin experienced record floods in June; and West Texas received...

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September 1936: Concho River Flood

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pp. 94-110

There are those who might say that San Angelo owes some of its prosperity to a flash flood. In 1875 San Angelo was not chosen as county seat for Tom Green County. Instead, the smaller community of Ben Ficklin, five miles to the south along the South Concho...

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July 1938: Brady Creek and San Saba River Floods

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pp. 111-128

The flash floods of 1938 provided several tests for the flood-control efforts of the 1930s. Brady Creek presented another challenge to Brady and its low-lying downtown and courthouse. The San Saba River, into which Brady Creek flows, also rose quickly...

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May 1949: Downtown Fort Worth Flood

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pp. 129-135

By 1949 the city of Fort Worth had been battling the Trinity River for decades. One of the most severe floods on that river ripped through Fort Worth in 1922. Twenty-five years after the event, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article noted that, by improving...

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September 1952: Pedernales River Flood

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pp. 136-150

The early-to-mid-1950s in Texas are known for an oppressive and extreme drought. Even during this period, however, torrential rainfalls and flash floods did not cease in the Lone Star State. One of the most extreme flash floods in the history of...

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June 1954: Pecos River’s Eighty-Six-Foot Wall of Water

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pp. 151-161

The June 1954 flash floods included one of the largest-scale inundations in Texas history. The heavy rains produced ferocious flash floods on West Texas creeks and draws, including Independence Creek and Johnson and Howard draws. These flood...

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May 1957: Lampasas Mother’s Day Flood

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pp. 162-172

The spring of 1957 marked perhaps the most dramatic shift in Texas weather in the 1900s. The oppressive and unrelenting weather pattern that marked the 1950s as the drought years finally broke in April of 1957. As hallmark springs such as Comal Springs...

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June 1965: Sanderson Flash Flood

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pp. 173-185

The image of a West Texas flash flood is that of a wall of water thundering down a dry gulch. In 1965, just such a wall of water propelled the powerful flash flood that decimated much of Sanderson...

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May 1966: Dallas Flash Flood

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pp. 186-191

In 1962 and 1964, significant flash floods ripped through the northern sections of Dallas. The peak flood events on Joe’s Creek and Bachman Branch in northwest Dallas reached fifty-year recurrence levels. These floods in the rapidly growing metropolitan...

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May 1970: San Marcos River Flood

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pp. 192-198

Certainly the headwaters of the San Marcos River are among the most beautiful in Texas. Formed by the San Marcos Springs and several small creeks, the river originates at the edge of the Balcones Escarpment. The city of San Marcos and Texas State...

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May 1972: New Braunfels Flood

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pp. 199-204

Most Texans are familiar with the natural beauty of New Braunfels. Sitting at the confluence of two of the state’s most picturesque rivers, the Comal and the Guadalupe, and at the source of the state’s largest spring, Comal Springs, the town has grown...

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May 1978: Canyon, Texas, and Palo Duro Canyon Flood

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pp. 205-215

Outside of canyon, Texas, two small creeks join to form the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, which has helped to carve the spectacular Palo Duro Canyon. As the town of Canyon grew, housing developments sprang up along the two creeks, the...

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August 1978: Hill Country Flood

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pp. 216-231

In looking at Hill Country river flooding during the mid-1970s, residents would acknowledge that they had missed some of the worst flash flood events, such as those in Sanderson, San Marcos, and New Braunfels. The Guadalupe River above Canyon...

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August 1978: Albany, Texas, Flood

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pp. 232-245

The Albany, Texas, flash flood of August 1978 was the second chapter in the distastrous path of dying Tropical Storm Amelia. Forecasters—well aware of the havoc wreaked near Medina and the Hill Country— feared for the next area along Amelia’s...

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May 1981: Memorial Day Flood in Austin

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pp. 246-260

In April 1915 a harrowing flash flood roared down Shoal Creek in Austin. Most of the damage along the creek occurred near downtown, in the vicinity of Fifth and Sixth streets. In the sixty-five years following the deluge, Austin grew northward along Shoal...

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August 1998: Del Rio Flood

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pp. 261-272

When a tropical storm approaches the Texas coast, residents throughout the state pay attention. When one approaches the middle to southern Texas coast, residents, especially of the Hill Country, know their worst fears may be...

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October 1998: Hill Country Flash Floods

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pp. 273-283

The flash floods of October 1998 demonstrate what happens when scientists’ worst-case analysis is realized. They have called Central Texas “Flash Flood Alley.” Three of the atmospheric factors contributing to this label are the ready supply of...

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June 2001: Tropical Storm Allison Flood in Houston

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pp. 284-290

The showers and thunderstorms that follow the outer “pinwheel” bands (called feeder bands) of hurricanes and tropical storms and precede the eye flow counterclockwise into the center of low-pressure systems. If one of these tropical systems...

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July 2002: Guadalupe River Flooding

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pp. 291-298

The July 2002 flash floods marked an unprecedented event for the Guadalupe River Basin and Canyon Dam. Multiple rises from the river into Canyon Lake eventually topped the large flood-control dam and cut a new channel below the emergency...

Appendix Overview of Significant Texas Floods

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pp. 299-308


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pp. 309-323


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pp. 325-330

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443937
E-ISBN-10: 1603443932
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585445905
Print-ISBN-10: 1585445908

Page Count: 350
Illustrations: 325 b&w photos. 1 line art. 25 maps. 40 tables.
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1
Series Title: River Books Series, sponsored by The River Systems Institute at Texas State University