U.S. Floods of 1977
By C.A. Perry, B.N. Aldridge, and H.C. Ross of the USGS
Significant flooding did not occur in 1977 until early April when
eastern parts of the Ohio River Basin were inundated by a storm producing
excessive amounts of rain. The headwaters of the Kanawha, Guyandotte, Big
Sandy, Kentucky, Cumberland, and Tennessee Rivers located in southern West
Virginia, southeastern Kentucky, extreme western Virginia, and
northeastern Tennessee were most affected by the storm.
Rainfall amounts of between 4 and 15.5 in. fell over the western slopes
of the Appalachian Mountains. The maximum rainfall occurred in
southwestern West Virginia, over a period of about 30 hours. The 15.5 in.
of rainfall was considerably more than the 5.5 in. expected for the
24-hour, 100-year recurrence-interval storm.
Record flooding was recorded on the Guyandotte River at Baileysville,
West Virginia, and all along the Tug Fork River. Flood discharges at some
locations were greater than the 100-year recurrence interval. Many small
streams in the headwaters of the Tennessee River recorded new maximum
discharges of record. No large cities were affected by the flooding, but a
number of small towns and populated rural areas were severely damaged; 15
counties in Kentucky, 6 in Tennessee, 17 in Virginia, and 11 in West
Virginia were declared Federal disaster areas. There were 22 deaths, and
total damages were estimated at $430 million. About 40,000 families were
affected in the four-State area.
A storm moved into the Mississippi Delta area of Louisiana during the
evening of April 19 and produced rain in the area until the morning of
April 22. Rainfall amounts from 6 to 13 in. were reported in the Delta
area, and 15 in. of rain was reported west of the Delta. Record maximum
discharges were recorded on the Tangipahoa, Tickfaw, Amite, and Comite
The Johnstown, Pennsylvania, area experienced flash flooding as a
result of almost continuous rains from about 7:00 p.m., July 19 to 4:00
a.m., July 20. Rainfall intensities during much of this time averaged 2
in/hr, with maximum rainfall totals of 12 in. recorded northeast of
Johnstown. Flooding was severe along the east side of the Allegheny River
Basin. Johnstown, located where the Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh Rivers
join to form the Conemaugh River, was adversely affected by the flood.
Water 4 to 8 ft deep flowed through the downtown streets. Seven
earth-fill, gravity-type dams failed in the area. The worst dam failure,
located on Laurel Run, caused 44 deaths. Maximum discharges of record were
recorded at 11 streamflow-gaging stations in the area. Of these 11
stations, 6 recorded discharges with recurrence intervals of 100 years or
greater. Overall, the catastrophic floods were responsible for 78 deaths,
destroying 413 dwellings and causing major damage to 1,363 homes. Eight
counties were declared Federal disaster areas, and an estimated $300
million in damages occurred.
The flood of August 27-28 in West Cache and Blue Beaver Creeks in
southwestern Oklahoma was the result of a severe summer thunderstorm.
Rainfall data indicated 24-hour totals of 12 in. immediately south of
Cache, with an area-weighted average rainfall of 7.7 in. during a 6-hour
storm period within a 200-miČ area. Damages were $1 million.
On September 12 and 13, two intense storms hit the Kansas City, Kansas
and Missouri area within 12 hours of each other and caused severe
flooding, especially on Brush Creek which runs through the metropolitan
area. The storms both had recurrence intervals of 100 years and produced 6
to 7 in. of rain each. Total rainfall was as much as 16 in. in some areas
of Kansas City. Twenty-five deaths were caused by the floods, and damages
were more than $80 million.
The Eastern and Southeastern States were plagued by flood-producing
rains during the months of October and November. Most of the flooding
occurred on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains. Floods were
especially severe in the headwaters of the Kanawha and Tennessee Rivers in
eastern Tennessee, western Virginia, and North Carolina. The Holston River
Basin in western Virginia and eastern Tennessee received excessive
rainfall on October 2-3 and again on November 6-7, and several maximum
discharges of record occurred on streams in the basin. The November 6-7
floods were especially severe along the New River in Tennessee. As much as
14 in. of total rainfall occurred in parts of North Carolina, creating
floods that were said to be the among the worst in history in North
Carolina. Recurrence intervals greater than 100 years were reported for
four streamflow-gaging stations in North Carolina. The floods were
responsible for 13 deaths, 3,600 homeless, and 9,000 unemployed. The
floods destroyed 384 homes and 91 bridges, and caused 12 dams to fail.
Fifty million dollars in damages were reported for North Carolina alone.
Sixteen counties in North Carolina, eight in Virginia, and six in
Tennessee were declared Federal disaster areas.
Rainfall of 5 to 7 in. caused severe flooding on small streams in
northern Georgia on November 2-6 and eventually caused the failure of the
Kelly Barnes Dam in Toccoa, Georgia. The dam failed at 1:30 a.m. on
November 6, resulting in a 25-ft wave of water rushing down the narrow
canyon toward the Toccoa Falls Bible College. The campus was inundated
within minutes. One dormitory had 8 ft of water on the ground floor. A
trailer park associated with the college was destroyed as 10 ft of water
rushed through it. Thirty-nine deaths and $2.8 million in damages occurred
during this flash flood.
A drought that had plagued the Pacific Northwest throughout the year
was broken with November and December storms. The storms caused large
amounts of rain and flooding in three separate events during the 2 months.
Twelve Washington counties were declared Federal disaster areas. Northern
Washington was affected by the December 2-3 flood, which resulted in five
deaths and $14.8 million in damages. Southern Washington and northern
Oregon experienced flooding on three different occasions. Flooding
occurred in the Cowlitz River Basin in southwest Washingon and along the
Columbia River in Oregon on November 25, December 2-3, and December 13-15.
Flooding in the Willamette River Basin of Oregon occurred on November 25
and December 13-15. These floods caused $16.2 million in damages in the
lower Columbia River Basin and along coastal drainages in Oregon.