May 30th Marks the 75th Anniversary of the 1935 Republican River Flood
In a period of time characterized by extreme drought and some of the worst dust storms in American history, any sight of rain was welcome by the residents and farmers of the central plains. By 1935, the habitants of the central plains had endured 5 years of “dusters” and rain was nowhere in sight. The worst of the Dust Bowl dusters took place on Sunday, April 14, 1935, a day infamously named “Black Sunday.” Two weeks later, in May 1935, spring rain finally returned to the area.
On May 30, 1935, after a month of continuous light rain saturated the soil, western Kansas and western Nebraska experienced a strong line of thunderstorms which produced an extraordinary amount of rain. Between May 30 and 31 approximately 20 to 24 inches of rain fell at the head of the Arickaree and Republican rivers in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. The saturated soil, the prolonged heavy rain, and the parallel movement of the storms along the Republican River Basin created an extreme flooding event that the area had never seen before nor would see again to date. At McCook, Nebraska, the river rose nearly ten feet in twelve minutes. At Concordia, Kansas, the river crested at 23.00 feet—more than three feet above the next highest recorded stage. The Republican River in Concordia typically flows around 1,260 cubic feet per second, but USGS records indicate that the Republican River topped out at 207,000 cubic feet per second during the flood. Enough water flowed through Concordia along the Republican River to effectively change the stream channel through town. At Scandia, Kansas, the river crested at 17.80 feet—more than 2 feet above the next highest stage. At Clay Center, Kansas, the river reached 25.74 feet, a mark surpassed only by the flood of June 1915.
The next day, with flood waters rising, an F4 tornado tore through rural areas near McCook, Nebraska. Five people died as a result of the tornado impacting their farmsteads. To further complicate matters, the town of McCook was hit by a duster later that evening.
One of the true heroes of this flood was Charles H. Blosser. Upon realizing the severity of the flood, Blosser took to the sky with a hand cranked siren to warn people downstream of the impending disaster. In the immediate days after the flood, he flew over the flooded area spotting for rescue boats, dropping food to flood-stricken victims, and shuttling people across the wide flood plain. Mr. Blosser is credited with the rescue of 28 people in the immediate aftermath of the flood. Blosser Municipal Airport in Concordia bears his name in his honor.
(Top Left) A photo of the bridge being washed away was taken by a state highway employee that was stranded in the river. He was later rescued from a tree. (Top Right) Men rescue a head of cattle at Third and Olive Streets in Concordia, Kansas. (Bottom) Railroad washing away near Clyde, Kansas on Highway 9
The 1935 Republican River flood proved to be disastrous. During the height of the flood, the river ranged between one and four miles wide. In large part, the river crests along the Republican have never been close to being matched. The sheer volume of water flowing through the river in late May to early June was nearly 300 times that which normally flows through the channel. Accurate death tolls were not kept at the time but the number of casualties from the Republican River Flood of 1935 is estimated between 110 and 113 persons. Over 20,000 cattle were lost and over 270,000 acres of farmland were destroyed.
For more information regarding the Republican River Flood please visit NWS Goodland’s website dedicated to the flood.