U.S. Floods of 1982
By C.A. Perry, B.N. Aldridge, and H.C. Ross of the USGS
The San Francisco Bay area of California experienced the first
significant flooding of 1982 when an intense storm system came onshore
during January 3 through 5. The storm caused continuous, moderate rainfall
for about 34 hours over the San Francisco Bay area. Landslides began
around 9:00 a.m. on January 4 and quickly transformed to debris flows. In
addition to the landslides and debris flows, flooding was considerable
throughout the area. Many small streams had maximums of record, but the
record lengths for streams in the area are relatively short. There were 31
deaths, and total damage from the storm was $75 million.
A rapid increase in temperatures caused spring snowmelt floods in
Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio in March. In addition to the melting of a deep
snowpack, moderate rains fell across the area, which intensified the
melting. Continued periods of rain throughout the month resulted in
streams sustaining high flow and causing additional maximum discharges.
Recurrence intervals for maximum discharges recorded at several
streamflow-gaging stations in the St. Joseph, Yellow, Maumee, and Kankakee
River Basins were 50 to 100 years.
On March 31, a cold front collided with warm Pacific air over central
California causing 2 in. of rain to fall in San Jose during a very short
period of time. Six streams in and near San Jose overflowed and forced the
evacuation of 50 homes. Some of the floodwaters were stored in the Coyote
and Anderson Reservoirs upstream from San Jose, which helped reduce the
severity of the flooding.
Excessive rainfall fell mostly during the last 3 weeks of May and first
week of June over much of western South Dakota. Spearfish received 11.22
in. of rain from May 14 to 21 and had a total of 14.31 in. for the month
of May. Other rainfall amounts for May were 11.30 in. at Elm Springs,
10.70 in. at Lead and at Belle Fourche, 9.90 in. at Eagle Butte, 9.87 in.
at Milesville, 9.85 in. at Wasta, and 9.53 in. at Timber Lake. Near-record
stages were recorded on the Little Missouri, Moreau, Belle Fourche,
Cheyenne, and White Rivers.
A storm that local newspapers dubbed "the worst spring storm
during the 20th century" ravaged through Connecticut, eastern New
York, and central and eastern Massachusetts on June 5 through 7. The storm
produced rainfall totals as high as 16 in. in Connecticut (National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1982). At several places, the
rainfall recorded with the storm was the highest recorded for a
non-hurricane storm. This storm resembled a "northeaster"
without the cold temperatures. Almost every stream in Connecticut flooded,
with central Connecticut being the hardest hit. Eleven deaths and damages
of $250 million were caused by the floods (Paulson and others, 1991).
Persistent moderate to intense rains throughout May resulted in record
flooding in Iowa in June and July. The floods occurred mostly in
southwestern and east-central Iowa. Many streams had record discharges.
The maximum discharges for Old Mans Creek at Highway 149 near Williamsburg
were twice the 100-year recurrence-interval flood. One of the largest
floods ever recorded in Iowa occurred July 3 on Cedar Creek near Bussey.
The recorded discharge was more than twice that of a 100-year
Early in the morning of July 15, an earthen dam in the Front Range of
the Colorado Rocky Mountains failed, releasing 674 acre-ft of water and an
estimated maximum discharge of 18,000 ft³/s down Roaring River Valley.
The onslaught of water caused another dam downstream to fail also.
Geomorphic and sedimentologic evidence suggest that this was probably the
largest flood in the Roaring and Fall River Basins since the retreat of
the glaciers about 10,000 years ago. Along the course of the flood,
channels were widened tens of feet and either scoured or filled. An
alluvial fan of 42.3 acres, containing about 226 acre-ft of material, was
deposited at the month of the Roaring River. The alluvial fan dammed the
Fall River, forming a lake of 17 acres upstream from the fan. Three people
were killed, and total damages from the flood were estimated at $31
million (Paulson and others, 1991).
Intense thunderstorms produced by a nearly stationary weather front
over Kansas City, Missouri, caused significant flooding August 12 through
13. Flash flooding was prevalent during the night and early morning hours
on August 12. These floods affected much of the same area as the 1977
floods in Kansas City. Maximum discharges at several stations exceeded the
discharges recorded for the 1977 flood. Four deaths occurred from the
flooding, and damages were estimated at about $30 million.
Flood-producing thunderstorms moved through Tennessee on four separate
occasions from July to September. On July 31, 2.5 to 6 in. of rain caused
flash floods in eastern Tennessee. Record-breaking floods in central and
eastern Tennessee on August 17 resulted from rainfall that exceeded the
100-year expected rainfall. Flooding continued on August 30 through
September 4 in north-central Tennessee. Water covered major highways,
washed out bridges, and prompted evacuations of approximately 300 people.
Remnants of Tropical Storm Chris caused torrential rains and flooding
throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky on September
12. Significant flooding occurred along the Rutherford and South Forks of
the Obion River and the North and Middle Forks of the Deer River in
On November 23, Hurricane Iwa passed 30 mi west of Kauai and became the
most costly storm to hit the State of Hawaii. The Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) estimated losses at $308 million. Most of the
damage was a result of high tidal surges as the winds were very high, but
little rain fell. Surge levels exceeded the 100-year flood, and the debris
line left by the tidal surge on Kauai was as much as 900 feet inland from
the boundary of the 100-year flood level shown on FEMA flood-insurance
Widespread flooding occurred in December 1982 and January 1983 in the
Mississippi River Basin. Streams in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas,
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee were hardest hit by the floods.
Flooding resulted from two main periods of intense rains; the first storm
occurred from December 2 through 7 and the second from December 24 through
29. Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas were affected by the earlier storm,
and Louisiana and Mississippi were affected by the later storm.
Significant floods, many of which exceeded the 100-year recurrence
intervals, occurred in Missouri in the Gasconade, Osage, Meramec, St.
Francis, and Current River Basins. In Arkansas, the Buffalo River
experienced record flooding. Louisiana experienced extensive flooding as
well, with most of the damage occurring along the Calcasieu, Little,
Black, Red, and Ouachita Rivers.