Saturday, August 8, 2015

What are the worst floods in Junction City history?

Junction City gets its name became of its position at the confluence between the Smoky Hill and the Republican Rivers. This naturally puts the city in a very precarious positioning between the two rivers and has seen some devastating effects because of this. There have been quite a few minor floods such as those that occurred in 1903, 1908, 1909, 1915, 1919, 1923, 1927, 1930, 1941, and 2005.  Although each one of these floods has their unique story and history, the three floods that everyone remembers around this are the floods from 1935, 1951 and most recently the flood of 1993.  Each of these three floods caused damage behind, but perhaps most importantly, each one of these floods left behind a major imprint in how the community went forward in dealing with future floods and left behind a multitude of personal stories in the Geary County community. 

One of the first major floods that the area encountered was the flood of 1935 where the Republican River was the main culprit. This flood could be seen as somewhat ironic as it happened during some of the driest conditions ever seen in Kansas during the Dust Bowl Era. The flood of 1935 actually happened two weeks after one of the most devastating day of dust storms, aptly named “Black Sunday”. Black Sunday displaced 300 million tons of topsoil from the prairie area in the US. Most of the flooding occurred because the Republican River in Nebraska had been soaked by rains which started in late May and about June 1st a cloudburst at McCook, Nebraska, sent a wall of water roaring down the Republican River, bringing destruction all the way form the western Edge of Nebraska to Kansas City. The devastating of the 1935 was not just felt in Junction City, but some of the worst flooding occurred in in the areas of eastern Colorado and western Nebraska as this still continues to be some of those areas’ worst flood on record.
This picture was taken after the flood of 1935. As it notes, this taken on East 6th street a day looking towards Grandview Plaza

Perhaps the most famous and the most catastrophic of the three major floods in Junction City was the flood of 1951. At the time of the disaster, the 1951 flood was the most severe and widespread on record since the U.S. Geological Survey began its Kansas stream-gaging program in 1895. Its record damage in Kansas and Missouri totaled more than $870 million and saw 19 deaths, including one in Junction City. Locally, Junction City lost $3.5 and Fort Riley accumulated a $6 million loss. The 1951 flood was considered to be the first $1 billion dollar natural disaster in the history of the United States.  Unlike the 1935 flood, the cause of the flood was from both the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers. Both rivers saw record high levels after four inches of overnight torrential rains on July 10th. The flood of 1951 was the first time in 48 years that water from the Smoky Hill River had broken west of the railroad track in east Junction City, an area that evacuated an estimated 3,225 residents. By far, the worst day of the flood was on unlucky July Friday the 13th. It was estimated that some areas of Junction City were under more than four to five feet of water from both rivers. After the floods of 1951, the Flood Control Act of 1954 authorized funding for the Tuttle creek and Milford Dams, which would help to reduce damages in future floods.  For residents of Junction City, that Friday the 13th in 1951 will be a day that will never be forgotten. 

This picture was taken shortly after the flood of 1951. The location was at the old Cohen’s Chicken restaurant on Grant Avenue.

The most recent of devastating floods occurred on Monday July 19th, 1993. The magnitude and timing of several rainstorms in mid-June and July 1993, combined with wet antecedent conditions, were the principal causes of the severe flooding in the upper Mississippi River Basin in 1993. The entirety of the flood spanned nearly 2 months from mid-June to early August. By 11:45 on that that same day the outflow the Milford dam was recorded at 22,500 cubic feet per second, when the usual average release is 10- 12,000 cubic feet per second. The first road to flood was Kansas highway 244 and then Kansas highway 57 followed suit. On the first day of the 1993 flood, 3,000 people were asked to evacuate and only 1,500 took up the offer. As the flood got progressively worse, more and more people were evacuated to shelters. Fifty deaths occurred in all affected areas, except for Kansas, where not deaths were reported. Damages approached $15 billion in the nine-State area of the Midwest.

This was an aerial picture taken in 1993 of rural area being devastated by the flood.

Each one of these past floods have left a unique imprint on the history of Geary County and shaped the lives of many of the citizens who have lived in the county. Unless Junction City moves location and changes its name, floods will continue to be a very important part of its past and perhaps its future. There is no way to predict any upcoming floods and we hope that the Milford and Tuttle Creek dams can do their job and prevent any future floods. But as we learned from the past, this community is resilient and can overcome any flood. have any comments of question? Comment down below and follow us on Facebook !