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Flooding in Arkansas

On this page you learn what types of flooding are typical in Arkansas and how to you protect yourself, your family and your home. You will also find out more about significant Arkansas floods. Finally, you'll find links to NWS offices that provide forecast and safety information for Arkansas, as well as links to our partners who play a significant role in keeping you safe.

Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Flood Safety Awareness Week Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) education and outreach partner agencies Flooding Navigation bar, hover for links Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) flood safety education and outreach partner agencies National Water Center Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) flood safety education and outreach partner agencies National Water Center Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Flood Safety Awareness Week Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) education and outreach partner agencies Flood victims on the roof of their home at Wabash, AR (Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District) Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Flood Safety Awareness Week Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) education and outreach partner agencies
 
Significant Arkansas Floods
  • The Great Flood of 1915

    August 1915 was a very unfavorable month for crops and farm work. The mean temperatures for Arkansas was 1.7 degrees lower than average and the monthly rainfall was 2.25" greater than any August in the past 25 years. A tropical storm which crossed the state from southwest to northeast caused excessive rains from the 17th-21st in all except the southeastern portions of the state, resulting in floods on nearly all the rivers. Flooding destroyed all crops along the White River at and above De Valls Bluff; drowned horses, cattle and other stock; washed away fences, bridges and buildings; and severely damaged lands, levees and all kinds of property. Whole towns were flooded, leaving inhabitants destitute. Losses amounting to $2,4 million were reported (in 1915 dollars). Considerable losses were sustained from floods along the Arkansas and Red rivers in Arkansas, but not nearly as great as along the White.

    The heaviest precipitation occurred over a narrow area extending from around Mena and also near Hardy, with Hardy reporting 19.55". The rainfall at Hardy remains the greatest amount recorded in the state during the month of August. Seven stations reported 15" or more for the month, and 6 of these stations reported over 10 inches in 3 days.

    Rain totals (Aug 18-21, 1915)
    Rain totals (Aug 18-21, 1915)

    Downtown Newport (Jackson County). This picture is courtesy of Jackson County Library.
    Downtown Newport (Jackson County). This picture is courtesy of Jackson County Library.

  • The Great Flood of 1927

    Although it was not until March and April 1927 that the Mississippi River Valley flood became a national calamity, eastern Kansas, northwest Iowa, and Illinois started feeling impacts late 1926 due to early snow melts. This flooding caused the Mississippi to swell, setting the stage for a major disaster as the muddy water made its journey down to the Gulf of Mexico, bringing a path of destruction in its wake. Meanwhile Arkansas was experiencing record rainfall for April and by the time the Mississippi floodwaters reached Arkansas, the ground was nearly saturated and the Mississippi River acted like a stopper to the Arkansas and White rivers, causing flooding through backwater. Some even say the White River ran backwards for a period of time during the event.

    Observed rainfall April 1927
    Observed rainfall April 1927

    The total area of lands covered by the flood was 16,570,627 acres, or approximately 26,000 square miles. In seven states, 170 counties were affected, with populations totaling 4,459,238 and for the first time in the recorded history of Mississippi Valley floods, there was a considerable loss of human life. Figures compiled by the Weather Bureau placed crop losses at $101,562,395 and live stock and other farm property losses at $23,086,150. This flood attributed the awakening of the nation to the need for flood control, and the prompt action of the Federal Government in meeting that need.

    The Great Flood of 1927 was noted, at the time, as the most destructive and costly flood in Arkansas history and one of the worst in the nation. It was a major flood on the Arkansas, Mississippi, and White Rivers affecting 36 of the 75 counties of Arkansas. Arkansas suffered more devastation, both human and monetary, than any other state in the Mississippi River Valley. Some people were displaced well into September before floodwaters receded enough for them to return. Arkansas had over 100 fatalities with monetary losses totaling over $1 million (in 1927 dollars). The event as a whole cost the country $1 billion, which at the time was one third of the federal budget.

    Flood victims on the roof of their home at Wabash, AR (Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District)
    Flood victims on the roof of their home at Wabash, AR (Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District)

    In this picture: 1927 Mississippi River flood. Location unknown. (Courtesy of National Archives)
    1927 Mississippi River flood; location unknown. (Courtesy of National Archives)

  • The Ohio-Mississippi Valley Flood of 1937

    Although the Mississippi Valley Flood of 1927 was recorded as the greatest disaster this country had ever suffered, the Ohio-Mississippi Valley Flood of 1937 was nearly twice as big! This flood nearly equals the two largest previous disasters—the Mississippi Valley Flood of 1927 and the Drought of 1930-31 according to the Report of Relief Operations of the American Red Cross 1937.

    Only 10 years from the worst flood in Arkansas history, the 1937 flood came as a shock to some. As opposed to the previous flood, this event occurred over the winter months when widespread influenza and pneumonia made it more difficult to help flood victims. Undoubtedly, next to the World War, it was from the standpoint of human suffering, destruction of property, and cost, the worst disaster in the history of the nation.

    For the first time in this country’s history, there was deliberate flooding of spillways: land over which the federal government had acquired flowage rights and through which the waters were diverted in order to prevent the flooding of other places. This so called “fuseplug” levee development, was in Cairo, IL, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

    Similar to the 1927 flood, a swollen Mississippi River caused problems as it made its trip toward the Gulf of Mexico. For Arkansas, the major effects were seen at the confluence of the Mississippi, White, and Arkansas Rivers in southeast Arkansas. As far as localized heavy rainfall, Arkansas received up to 12.5" in the month of January, 8" above normal for January. Arkansas floodwaters inundated over 1 million acres of agricultural land and affected over 40,000 families and their livestock. Arkansas suffered the highest human death toll of any other state with 37 fatalities and 322 injuries.

    Although the Mississippi Valley Flood of 1927 was recorded as the greatest disaster this country had ever suffered, the Ohio-Mississippi Valley Flood of 1937 was nearly twice as big! This flood nearly equals the two largest previous disasters: the Mississippi Valley Flood of 1927 and the Drought of 1930-31 (Report of Relief Operations of the American Red Cross 1937).

    Only 10 years from the worst flood in Arkansas history, the 1937 flood came as a shock to some. This flood occurred over the winter months when widespread influenza and pneumonia made it more difficult to help the flood victims. From the standpoint of human suffering, destruction of property, and cost, it was one of the worst disaster in the history of the nation to that time.

    For the first time in this country’s history, there was deliberate flooding of spillways—land over which the federal government had acquired flowage rights and through which the waters were diverted in order to prevent the flooding of other places. This so called "fuseplug" levee development, was in Cairo, IL, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

    Similar to the 1927 flood, a swollen Mississippi River caused problems as it made its trip toward the Gulf of Mexico. For Arkansas, the major effects were seen at the confluence of the Mississippi, White, and Arkansas Rivers in southeast Arkansas. Arkansas received up to 12.5" in January, 8" above normal for the month. Floodwaters inundated over 1 million acres of agricultural land and affected over 40,000 families and their livestock. Arkansas suffered the highest human death toll of any other state with 37 fatalities and 322 injuries.

    Observed rainfall January 1937
    Observed rainfall January 1937

    A trainload of sandbags is transported to line the Mississippi mainline levees to defend against rising waters of the Mississippi River in the flood area in Marion, Ark., Jan. 30, 1937. (AP Photo)

    A trainload of sandbags is transported to line the Mississippi mainline levees to defend against rising waters of the Mississippi River in the flood area in Marion, Ark., Jan. 30, 1937. (AP Photo)


    Harry Hopkins, WPA administrator, shown with refugees at a concentration camp in Forrest City, Ark., Feb. 1, 1937 during a stopover of President Roosevelt's flood committee on its tour of the stricken area. (AP Photo)

    Part of the mess line in the camp for flood refugees in Forrest City, AR (Courtesy of Edwin Locke)

    Part of the mess line in the camp for flood refugees in Forrest City, AR (Courtesy of Edwin Locke)


    Flooding between Memphis and Forrest City, AR (Photo by Walker Evans, Farm Security Administration
    (Courtesy of Library of Congress)



  • April 1945 Flood

    With an average precipitation of 11.12" for the state of Arkansas, March 1945 was the wettest March on record, at the time, and in the past 55 years only January 1937 and April 1927 measured more rainfall. Precipitation was above normal at all stations but the greatest excesses occurred in Montgomery and adjacent counties where some stations measured over 18" during the month. Rainfall was extremely heavy on the 18th-19th and 29th-30th, with many stations measuring over 4" in a 24-hour period. As a result of these heavy rains, most of the rivers in the state were in flood, and thousands of acres of bottom lands were inundated. These floods, together with the prevailing rainy weather, prevented farmers from plowing and planting, except on the drier uplands. Spring farm work is not more than a month behind an average season. (From Arkansas Climatological Data March 1945)

    Rainfall from February through April 1945
    Rainfall from February through April 1945

    Many stations in the north and northwestern portion of Arkansas measured more than 10" during April 1945. Rainy days occurred at frequent intervals, and the number of days with a measurable amount of precipitation averaged considerably above normal. The heaviest rains occurred on April 1, 1945, with many stations measuring more than 4" in a 24-hour period. These heavy rains, following the excessively heavy precipitation in March, resulted in continued high stages on the rivers in the state. Disastrous floods occurred on the Red, White, and Ouachita Rivers, and considerable flooding occurred along the Arkansas River. Thousands of acres of fertile land in these valleys were flooded, and many residents were forced to move from their homes. Much highway and rail traffic was detoured over other routes (Arkansas Climatological Data April 1945).

    Several floods occurred on all the rivers of the Stateduring the year. The April flood, however, was the most severe and destructive, with stages exceeding those in May 1943 at many stations on the White, Black, and Ouachita rivers. Eight rises of flood state or higher occurred at Camden on the Ouachita River, and the lower portion of the river was continually in flood from the latter part of February to the middle of April. Flood stages were reached in March, April and June on the Arkansas River. The White River at Newport was in flood from February 24-March 16, March 20-May 1, May 18-22, and June 12-28. The lower portion of the White River was in flood From February to July. In addition to extensive damage to highways, bridges, levees, and railroads, these recurrent floods caused a large loss to farmers and planters.  Large areas of fertile bottom land were inundated for considerable periods of time. In some areas, the soil did not dry out until it was too late in the season to replant cotton and corn (Arkansas Climatological Data Annual 1945).

    The National Weather Service authority as the U.S. Government entity responsible for providing flood forecast services is established in Article 1 of the Constitution, the "Organic Act" of 1890 (15 USC 313) and the "Flood Control Act" of 1938 (33 USC 706). The ABRFC was founded as the Tulsa River Forecast Center in December 1947, partially in response to the record floods of March-April 1945 in the Arkansas and Red River basins.

     

  • Albert Pike Flash Flooding, June 11, 2010

    The Albert Pike flash flood event of June 2010 remains the most catastrophic flash flood event to date in Arkansas in terms of lives lost and injuries. The event started in the early morning hours on June 11 with excessive rains produced by a slow moving upper level system in portions of the Ouachita National Forest in western Arkansas. This rain caused a devastating flash flood that swept through the Albert Pike Recreation Area in southwest Montgomery County, claiming 20 lives, injuring 24, and necessitating the rescue of more than 60 people. Storm totals in this basin were between 6-7". This area was characterized by steep terrain, limited access, and poor communications. Property damage was estimated at $9 million.

    The nearest river gage downstream of the recreation area indicated the flood waters rose more than 20 feet in 4 hours. Motor homes, camping trailers, and tents were caught up in the flood. Vehicles washed downstream and asphalt was torn off the roads. Aside from the flooding produced by the Little Missouri River, most of the creeks in the area overflowed their banks. Trees and other vegetation were mowed down by the swift water and dumped along Arkansas Highway 369. In addition, small rockslides occurred on several of the hills adjacent to the highway.

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Flood Hazard Information
  • Flash Flooding

    Flash flooding is a rapid and extreme flow of high water into a normally dry area, or a rapid water level rise in a stream or creek above a predetermined flood level, beginning within six hours of the causative event (i.e., intense rainfall, dam failure, ice jam). More information...

  • River Flooding

    River flooding occurs when river levels rise and overflow their banks or the edges of their main channel and inundate areas that are normally dry. More information...
  • Tropical Systems and Coastal Flooding

    At any time of year, a storm from over the ocean can bring heavy precipitation to the U.S. coasts. Whether such a storm is tropical or not, prolonged periods of heavy precipitation can cause flooding in coastal areas, as well as further inland as the storm moves on shore. More information...

  • Burn Scars/Debris Flows

    Wildfires burn away the vegetation of an area, leaving behind bare ground that tends to repel water. When rain falls, it runs off a burn scar towards a low lying area, sometimes carrying branches, soil and other debris along with it. Without vegetation to hold the soil in place, flooding can produce mud and debris flows. More information...
  • Ice/Debris Jams

    A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of ice or other debris. Debris Jam: A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of debris. More information...
  • Snowmelt

    Flooding due to snowmelt most often occurs in the spring when rapidly warming temperatures quickly melt the snow. The water runs off the already saturated ground into nearby streams and rivers, causing them to rapidly rise and, in some cases, overflow their banks.More information...
  • Dam Breaks/Levee Failure

    A break or failure can occur with little to no warning. Most often they are caused by water overtopping the structure, excessive seepage through the surrounding ground, or a structural failure. More information...
Protect Life and Property NWS Forecast Offices and River Forecast Centers (RFC) Covering Arkansas