Flood of 1904

April 23rd, 2013 at 2:43 am by under Bill's Blog, Weather

Flood of 1904  grand river cfs historic 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.

11 Responses to “Flood of 1904”

  1. Scott (robinson twsp) says:

    Nice read. Wonder where all those people went while their homes were flooded?

    1. Skot says:

      My guess Churches. The west side then was mostly immigrants.

  2. TomKap (Michigan St. & Fuller) Grand Rapids says:

    While there’s no doubt the ’04 flood was worse, one still has to wonder just how accurate measuring devices were back then.

    1. Skot says:

      Not so much rain gauges. They haven’t changed, but record keeping makes me wonder.

      1. Tyler BUitenwerf says:

        They are able to figure it out using multiple sources such as elevation above the river and the CFS that would be required to reach that height of elevation. They can use the picture from the flood and figure out how high the river was by measuring the locations today.

  3. Jack (Florida) says:

    I have read the overview about the river wall. What year was the wall constructed, who decided on the 25foot limit, who pays for the upkeep of it and how often is it inspected. With the current situation, any breach would seem devastating to say the least.

  4. SlimJim NW GR (1) says:

    Having lived in both Grand Rapids and Bay City I can point out that there are many here in the city of Grand Rapids that should be very thankful for that flood wall. While I do not know how the flood of 2013 would have compared to the one in 1904. Its very easy to see how the flood of 2013 would have been a real disaster for the city. Over on the east side of the state there still are no flood walls in either Bay City or Saginaw (the Saginaw river basin did not get as much rain as the Grand river basin) but there was not much of a flood issue there this time. In Bay City the flood of 1986 was the worst since the flood of 1904, But he biggest flood I seen when I lived in Bay City was in 1973 and that was done by water being pushed up the river by a strong NE wind and there was a snowstorm going on at the same time! In 1973 we had just gotten Married and were renting a house with a Michigan basement (that’s a old house with a 6′ basement but a dirt floor, it had a so called root cellar and a unused coal ben. But any way I still remember that morning when I got up just in time to look down into the basement and see the water puring in from the basement windows that was quite a sight. We ended up with over 5′ of water in the basement good thing there was nothing of value stored down there. The house had a old coal furnace converted to gas. As we did not have any heat me and my wife went to her parents house for a week while the basement dried out and the landlord fixed the furnace and water heater.

  5. DF (SE Mich) says:

    Thanks for the explanation.

  6. SeattleGirl says:

    Hey Bill,

    Thanks for the history! The pictures are amazing. Breathtaking. We’re so lucky we have those walls holding the river in! As a westsider I have no desire to row my way to the grocery store.

    Thanks again!


  7. GunLakeDeb says:

    Of course, in the early 1900′s – rivers WERE the center of town, in most cases. That’s where the transportation took place, the resources for water and sanitation, power and manufacturing – so most towns were developed on riverbanks, then spread outward. A flood WOULD have a huge impact on the majority of a city back then. And look where Grand Rapids’ richest families lived: on hills!

    1. Sandra says:

      The wise man built his house upon a rock. We never thought of a flood back then destroying our home. Who would have ever forseen that coming? Living on a riverbank would have been a dream come true for some.

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