U.S. Floods of 1987
By C.A. Perry, B.N. Aldridge, and H.C. Ross of the USGS
The first significant flood of 1987 occurred in the Northeastern States
and began late in March. Warm temperatures and rainfall accelerated
snowmelt runoff. Three separate storms moved through the region during the
first week of April. These storms caused severe flooding through Maine,
New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Sixteen streamflow-gaging stations in
the three States recorded maximum discharges greater than the 100-year
recurrence interval. The hardest hit areas in Maine were the Androscoggin,
Kennebec, and Piscataquis River Basins. Record lake levels were reached in
at least six flood-control reservoirs in New Hampshire and Vermont. New
York was affected by severe flooding along Schoharie Creek, eventually
causing failure of a New York State Thruway bridge. The bridge collapse
caused 10 deaths and, during preliminary investigations, was attributed to
scour around the piers. Total damages were estimated at $100 million in
Maine and $65 million in New York.
Storms brought excessive amounts of rain to Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and
Missouri late in May. Extensive flash flooding and record river flooding
occurred in southwestern Iowa and southeastern Nebraska on the Nishnabotna
and West Nishnabotna Rivers. The same type of weather system moved into
Oklahoma and Texas in late May and early June and caused severe flooding.
Discharges in the Arkansas and Red River Basins in Oklahoma exceeded the
50- to 100-year recurrence intervals.
Flooding continued in parts of Texas throughout June and into July with
significant flooding occurring in southern Texas in mid-June. All major
reservoirs in the area reached record levels. On July 16, thunderstorms
moved over the San Antonio area producing excessive rainfall. Flooding was
concentrated along the Guadalupe River and its tributaries.
Intense rains fell over the divide between the Ohio River and Lake Erie
Basins on July 1-2. Rainfall totals were as much as 5 in. in 24 hours in
some areas. Other areas had 4 in. of rain in less than 6 hours. Flooding
was most severe on the upstream reaches of the Sandusky and Scioto Rivers
in Ohio. A few discharges in the area exceeded the estimated 100-year
recurrence interval. Four counties in Ohio were declared Federal disaster
areas, and the storm caused an estimated $20 million in damages.
Central Minnesota was inundated by excessive rains from a succession of
thunderstorms during July 20 to 24. At several locations the 100-year,
24-hour record rainfall was exceeded. Many of the suburbs of Minneapolis
suffered flash floods.
The worst flood in the history of Chicago, Illinois, struck on August
13 as a result of a succession of thunderstorms that produced excessive
rainfall. An official measurement of 9.35 in. in 8 hours was the greatest
for 116 years of record collection. The northern and western metropolitan
areas of Chicago bore the brunt of the storm. Significant flash flooding
occurred along with general riverine flooding that persisted for many
days. Maximum discharges of record occurred at several streamflow-gaging
stations on the Des Plaines River and its tributaries. Ponding developed
in areas that were normally drained by storm sewers. Areas of northwestern
metropolitan Chicago were transformed into large shallow lakes as standing
water accumulated to depths of 1 to 3 ft. Damages totaled $62.4 million.
During the first week of September, a tropical depression formed in the
Atlantic Ocean and moved over South and North Carolina. Some coastal areas
received more than 10 in. of rain in 3 days. Flooding occurred in many
areas but was most prevalent in the vicinity of Charleston, South
Carolina. The system moved into Virginia on September 5, and produced
excessive rainfall that resulted in flooding. Maximum discharges at nine
streamflow-gaging stations in Virginia exceeded record highs. Intense
rains moved into Maryland and Pennsylvania on September 8 and 9. Flooding
in Pennsylvania ranged from flash floods to large-scale river flooding.
A slow-moving storm system produced excessive rain in Puerto Rico in
late November and early December. Severe flash floods occurred over the
southeastern and eastern parts of the island. The Rio Valenciano had a
discharge with a greater than 30- to 50-year recurrence interval.
Damaging floods occurred in Hawaii on December 12-13, and again on
December 31 and January 1, 1988. The later period of flooding was caused
by a low-pressure system that developed west of the islands and produced
very intense rains as it moved eastward across the islands. Significant
flooding occurred on the island of Hawaii. The U.S. Geological Survey
streamflow-gaging station on the Wailuha River at Hilo was washed away.
More than 20 in. of rain in 24 hours fell over Oahu on New Year's Eve and
produced extensive flash flooding in the valleys of that island. Total
damages were estimated at $35 million.
Excessive rains began on Christmas Eve in the south-central United
States and continued for 4 days. The most intense rains were centered over
Memphis, Tennessee. Rainfall totalled as much as 14 in. in western
Tennessee and 12 in. in northeastern Arkansas. The discharges on the Bayou
Meto near Lonoke and Big Creek at Goodwin, Arkansas, were between 50- and
100-year recurrence intervals.