Historic River Floods in Alabama

 

Over the years there have been numerous floods on Alabama Rivers.  However, there are a few that stand apart due to their severity and impact on the state.

Flood of March 1929

One of the greatest of these floods occurred in March of 1929.  A period of heavy rain occurred on February 27th and 28th, and another on March 4th and 5th  of that year.  However, the worst was yet to come.  From March 12th through the 15th extreme rainfall occurred all across Alabama, with the most intense in the southeastern portion of the state.  During this period almost 30 inches of rain fell in Elba, with 15 to 25 inches extending from near Brewton to Troy and Ozark.  The average rainfall across the northern half of Alabama was estimated at around 12 inches, with around 17 inches in the southern sections.

                                                               

This produced one of the worst floods in the state’s history in places such as Elba on the Pea River, Geneva on the Choctawhatchee River and River Falls, Brewton and Flomaton on the Conecuh River and its tributaries.  Both Elba and Geneva were inundated, with water 10 feet or more deep in these towns.  Literally thousands of people were stranded on rooftops in Elba for up to three days before rescuers were able to reach them.

The town of Elba during the March 1929 Flood

Significant, but less severe, flooding also occurred across portions of the Alabama and Tombigbee basins.

 

 

Flood of April, 1979

A wet winter and early spring season set the stage for major flooding in April of 1979.  Heavy rains brought flooding to Central Alabama during the first week of April, but this was only a prelude to the widespread and record or near record flooding that occurred later in the month.

 

A storm system approaching Alabama on the 11th brought extreme rainfall to the area during the next two days.  By the morning of the 13th, four to eight inches of rain were common in North Alabama, with totals as high as 10 to 15 inches in the western counties. Heavy rain continued through the morning of the 13th, shifting south and east, with 4 to 5 inches falling over Lake Martin in approximately two hours before noon.  By mid afternoon, most of the rain had moved east of the area.

 

Record or near record crests occurred along much of the Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Sucarnoochee Rivers with severe residential and commercial flooding in areas such as Tuscaloosa, Demopolis, Gainesville and Livingston. Thousands of acres of farm lands, woodlands, and pasture lands were flooded, as well as numerous camps and cabins along these rivers.

 

Widespread signficiant, but less severe, flooding occurred on many area rivers, including the Alabama, Coosa, Tallapoosa and Cahaba Rivers, with some residential flooding occurring in the vicinities of Montgomery, Gadsden and the Tallapoosa Water Plant.

 

Flood of March 1990

Heavy rainfall occurred from March 15th through March 17th in 1990, with totals of 8 to 16 inches producing record or near record flooding along several rivers in the southern two-thirds of Alabama.  Extensive damage occurred to streets, roads and bridges, and several major highways were closed.  Over 6000 people were forced to leave their homes. There were 13 deaths attributed to the flood event in Alabama.

 

Some of the most severe flooding occurred on the Pea River at Elba where a crest of 43.28 feet occurred.  A levee constructed around Elba was overtopped by a small stream the morning of the 17th,  creating a 175 yard break in the levee that quickly flooded the town.  More than 1500 people were evacuated with no loss of life.  Of the city’s 140 businesses, 130 were either destroyed or severely damaged. Over 1000 homes in the area were also flooded.

 

On the Choctawhatchee River, a record crest of 40.32 feet occurred at Newton the morning of the 18th, exceeding the crest of 39.4 feet that occurred in March 1929.  Considerable residential and commercial flooding occurred in the vicinity of Newton and Daleville, with several evacuations necessary.  Further downstream at Geneva, the river crested at 38.54 feet the afternoon of the 19th and flooded 450 to 500 homes outside of a levee built to protect the town.  This crest was second only to the crest that occurred in the flood of March 1929.

 

Murder Creek in Brewton crested some 10 feet above flood stage late on the 17th.  This flooded a large portion of Brewton and East Brewton to depths of 4 to 6 feet.

 

The Alabama River at Montgomery crested almost 20 feet above flood stage, causing widespread street, residential and commercial flooding in the area.  Over 500 homes were evacuated in the Montgomery area, with 200 to 250 homes affected by flood waters on the Millbrook side of the river.  Catoma Creek, which flows into the Alabama River near Montgomery, crested almost 10 feet above flood stage, causing widespread street, residential and commercial flooding in Montgomery’s southern suburbs.

 

 At Selma, the Alabama crested at 54.75 feet on the 21st, about a foot below its flood of record.  Over 1700 homes were affected by flood waters in Dallas County.

 

Severe flooding also occurred on portions of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers, with residential flooding in the vicinities of Gadsden, Childersburg, Wetumpka and the Tallapoosa Water Plant.

 

Flooding in Elba during March 1990

 

Flooding in Elba during March 1990

 

 

 

 

Tropical Storm Alberto – July 1994

Major flooding occurred along rivers in Southeast Alabama following very heavy rainfall spawned by the remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto during the first week of July, 1994.  The most serious and devastating flooding occurred along the Choctawhatchee and Pea Rivers.  Only the Great Flood of March, 1929, and the flood of March, 1990, exceeded this flood in the modern period of record. 

 

Tropical Storm Alberto moved ashore in the Florida Panhandle on July 3rd, and moved slowly north-northeast  to near Atlanta during the next few days before meandering back south and west into Alabama.  During this time, it produced rainfall of 15 to 20 inches over portions of extreme Southeast Alabama, and 5 to 10 inches over portions of the Tallapoosa and Conecuh River basins.  This produced major flooding along the Choctawhatchee and Pea River, with less severe flooding along the lower portion of the Tallapoosa River, the lower Conecuh River and Catoma Creek near Montgomery.

 

Many points along the Choctawhatchee River measured near record crests.  At Newton, the river crested at 37.95 feet, making it the third highest crest recorded there.  At Geneva, the river crested at 42.42 feet, making it the second highest crest.  The Pea River at Elba crested at 38.33 feet, making this the third highest crest recorded there.

 

Storm Total Rainfall for Tropical Storm Alberto


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