Flood of 1904April 23rd, 2013 at 2:43 am by Bill Steffen under Bill's Blog, Weather
Click on the picture and the graph (from USGS) to enlarge, then read on: While the crest of 21.85 feet is a record crest for G.R., the flood of 1904 (and 1905) was a much more significant flood. In 1904, the river was not walled in downtown like it is now, so the river could expand far from its present banks. The entire West Side of G.R. was flooded in 1904, with water going all the way to John Ball Park. The volume of water was significantly more in 1904 (54,000 cfs) than here in April 2013 (33,700 cfs). The water is now constricted to a narrow channel downtown, so when we have a flood, the river is forced to rise to a higher level than it did before the walls were built, so you get a higher number (21.85) for the crest. Here’s more on the flood of 1904 from USGS: “One of the most disastrous and extensive floods in the southern Lower Peninsula was in March 1904. Runoff resulting from heavy rainfall during March 24-27 was compounded by snowpack and frozen soils. The rain was caused by a frontal system that moved landward from Lake Michigan and stalled. Much of the snowfall during the winter had compacted and formed an ice layer at the ground surface. Near Williamston, more than 100 inches of snow fell between November 1903 and March 1904. Ground frost prevented infiltration of snowmelt. Flooding in March 1904 was most prevalent in the Grand River, Saginaw River, Kalamazoo River, and River Raisin basins. Flooding in the St. Joseph and Huron River basins was less severe. Few gauging stations were in operation in 1904 to document the magnitude of the flood; however, on the basis of available data, peak discharges in the Grand and Saginaw River basins were greater than discharges expected to recur once in 100 years. Recurrence intervals in the St. Joseph and Huron River basins ranged from 25 to 50 years. Overall, in the southern Lower Peninsula, the flood peaks resulting from this flood are the highest associated with spring flooding since record-keeping began.
As a result of the 1904 flood in Grand Rapids, about 14,000 people were temporarily homeless, 2,500 homes were surrounded by floodwater, 30 factories were closed, and about 10,000 people became unemployed. The estimated damage was $2 million (1904 dollars) (U.S. Weather Bureau, 1904). In Lansing, the flood of 1904 was the most extensive in 135 years of local history. One fatality was reported, and damage was $200,000 (U.S. Weather Bureau, 1904). At Bay City, the flood was described as the most severe since 1887. Numerous dams were washed away or badly undermined. Highway and railroad bridges sustained considerable damage; railroad traffic was stopped entirely because bridges and sections of track were washed out. In Kalamazoo, the flood inundated about 2 mi2 (square miles) and caused damage of $50,000 (U.S. Weather Bureau, 1904). Temporary closings of numerous factories idled about 1,300 people. Transportation services were hindered, but no lives were lost. (picture from http://www.wellswooster.com/1904/index.html where you can view a couple dozen pictures of the flood of 1904. Note 2 things…the floods of 1904, 1905, 1947 and 1948 all had higher volumes of water (cfs) than the flood of April 2013. Second note that our highest floods came back-to-back in 1904 and 1905 and again in 1947 and 1948. Hmmm…could we get another flood next year. They seem to come in pairs.