Feb 26, 2018

Biggest Flood in 20 Years Hits Ohio River

Ohio River
United States
by
Dr. Jeff Masters
,
Weather Underground
Coney Island amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio, floods on February 24, 2018, as the Ohio River rises. Photo: Brian Lewis
Coney Island amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio, floods on February 24, 2018, as the Ohio River rises. Photo: Brian Lewis

The worst flood event in 20 years is underway along the Ohio River in Ohio and Kentucky, and damaging moderate to major flooding continues from Texas to Michigan in the wake of heavy rains that fell last week in the center portion of the country. According to weather.com, a number of cities in the Ohio River drainage basin have received their heaviest February rains on record, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (7.04 inches), Evansville, Indiana (9.03 inches) and Louisville, Kentucky (10.47 inches). As of Monday morning, over 200 river gauges reported levels above flood stage, primarily from the Great Lakes to eastern Texas; seven locations in northern Indiana and southern Michigan set record river levels last week. Six deaths have been blamed on the floods thus far—2 in Michigan, 2 in Kentucky, 1 in Illinois, and 1 in Oklahoma.

The region gets a break from heavy rains Monday through Tuesday afternoon, but another potent rain storm is headed for the Tennessee and Lower Mississippi River Valleys Tuesday night through Thursday, which will add to flooding woes there. Of greatest concern is a swath from central and southern Arkansas into Tennessee, southern Kentucky, northern Mississippi, northern Alabama and northwest Georgia Wednesday into early Thursday, according to an excessive rainfall outlook from NOAA's Weather Prediction Center.

On Sunday, the Ohio River at Cincinnati crested 8.53’ above flood stage, its highest level since it crested 12.7’ above flood stage on March 5, 1997. On Monday morning, the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky was cresting about 13’ above flood stage, the highest water level there since March 7, 1997, when a flood 3' higher than the 2018 flood arrived. During the 1997 Ohio River flood, major flooding impacted a total of six states, killing 33 people: 21 in Kentucky, 5 in Ohio, 4 in Tennessee, and 3 in West Virginia. Hundreds of injuries were also reported. The most severe flooding occurred in Ohio and Kentucky, with dozens of counties in each state declared natural disaster areas. Close to 14,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and over 20,000 home and business owners applied for disaster relief. Damage estimates totaled more than $500 million (1997 dollars).