Monday, March 14, 2016

The 1936 flood

Way back in 1986, when I was a reporter for the Huntington WV newspaper, the city editor assigned me to do a story on the 40th anniversary of the 1936 flood. I said the flood was in 1937, but he said there was a big flood in 1936, too.

I had never heard of the 1936 flood, but after some quick research it turned out that the '36 flood was to areas north of Wheeling WV what the '37 flood was to my home area and points south, at least until this past decade. The city editor probably knew about it because he was from the Pittsburgh area. I did a story, although the first few people I talked to thought I was writing about the 1937 flood. If I still have a copy of that article, it's buried in what I call my deep archives in the basement.

The Ohio crested at Pittsburgh on March 18, 1936, and at Wheeling the next day. The crest arrived at Huntington WV on March 22. From the records I found, up to that time only the floods of 1913 and 1884 had been higher, but now the flood of 1936 ranks as only the eighth-highest here, with the floods of 1937, 1948, 1943, 1945 and 1955 all eclipsing it. Those floods all happened before the modern era of flood control dams in the tributaries, so it's a rare flood that will catch up to 1936 now. Even the flood of 1997, the highest in my lifetime, crested here at Huntington about a foot below the flood of 1936.

The 1936 flood doesn't crack the top 10 at Cincinnati or Louisville, by the way.

So it may be a forgotten flood in some areas but the memorable one elsewhere. Perhaps some places will mark its 70th 80th anniversary this week, but the geographic interest will be limited, and there will be few survivors who remember it.

Here in the middle part of the Ohio, we'll probably hear some about the 1937 flood next year. The natural disaster, not the popular local band.