U.S. Floods of 1972
By C.A. Perry, B.N. Aldridge, and H.C. Ross of the USGS
The first significant floods of 1972 occurred in the Pacific Northwest.
Flooding was persistent in the region as many streams were above flood
stage from January until March. Flooding extended from central Washington
to northern California but was most severe in western Oregon. The Nehalem
and Wilson Rivers in Oregon had discharges that were maximums of record.
Three counties in west-central Washington were declared Federal disaster
areas as a result of the February floods.
The Buffalo Creek flash flood, one of the worst human-induced disasters
in history, occurred February 26 in West Virginia. A makeshift dam on
Buffalo Creek failed during excessive rains. The rushing waters from the
dam failure swept away houses and cars. The flood caused 125 fatalities
and $100 million in damages.
One of the earliest ice breakups in history in North and South Dakota
contributed to flooding along the Little Missouri River from snowmelt and
ice jams. The U.S. Geological Survey streamflow-gaging station on the
Little Missouri River at Medora, North Dakota, recorded a discharge with a
25-year recurrence interval.
The most devastating local flood in South Dakota's history occurred in
Rapid City, South Dakota, on June 10, 1972. An almost stationary group of
thunderstorms formed over the eastern Black Hills and produced rainfall
amounts of 15 in. in 6 hours northwest of Rapid City. Rapid Creek at Rapid
City, had a maximum discharge of 50,000 ft³/s, which was more than seven
times greater than the discharge having a 100-year recurrence interval.
The flood resulted in 237 deaths and caused $160 million in damages.
During June 20 through 25, 1972, Hurricane
Agnes traveled over the eastern United States with an unusually
extended trajectory, and its combination with an extratropical system
produced some of the worst flooding in the area's history. The storms
produced torrential rains and significant flooding, particularly in
Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and Virginia. Hurricane Agnes was one of
the most destructive hurricanes in history, claiming 117 lives and causing
$3.1 billion in damages.
On July 21, 1972, the largest 24-hour rainfall recorded in Minnesota
resulted in major flash flooding in central Minnesota. Thirteen counties
were declared disaster areas.
On August 27, locally intense thunderstorms produced excessive rainfall
over central Utah. The discharge of Vernon Creek at Vernon, Utah , was
greater than the 100-year recurrence interval for the area.
Three flash floods in 1972 occurred in Duluth, Minnesota. The largest
flash flood hit the area on September 20 and caused two deaths and $1
million in damages.
Widespread flooding occurred from October 5 to 10 in Virginia and North
Carolina. The Meherrin and Nottoway Rivers in southeastern Virginia and
northeastern North Carolina had discharges that were near record stages.