Great Flood of 1993
In 2003, we commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Great Flood of 1993. The widespread and prolonged floods impacted nine states in the Midwest and Kansas was one of the hardest hit. The floods of 1993 took a toll on the Kansas people, who suffered losses of their homes, businesses and farmland. Kansans pulled together during the crisis and worked to save communities from the raging flood waters.
The stage for the floods across northern Kansas was set during the months leading up to July 1993. The winter of 1992-1993 saw above-normal snowfall amounts across much of Kansas. Topeka, which, on average, only receives 20.7 inches of snow a year, recorded 37.8 inches from January through March 1993. The wet weather continued through the spring, keeping soil moisture high and causing elevated stream flow in many streams and rivers in Kansas into the summer months.
The dominant weather pattern that summer featured low pressure over the western part of the country with high pressure anchored over the southeastern states. This allowed weather systems to move across the Central Plains and tap into abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The results were frequent heavy precipitation events that sent many rivers into flood and pushed reservoirs above capacity.
Almost every night in July, thunderstorm complexes dropped heavy rainfall across Kansas. The highest rainfall amounts fell across the Republican River and Big Blue River basins, where 16-24 inches were recorded for that month. Concordia, in Cloud County in north-central Kansas, set an all-time monthly rainfall record with 16.75 inches. Blaine in north-central Pottawatomie County recorded the highest total rainfall in the state for July with 24.19 inches. Hesston in Harvey County recorded 6.43 inches in 24 hours. The Smoky Hill River, Kansas River, and Marais Des Cygnes River basins were also hit hard.
Mitigation efforts after the devastating floods in the early 1950s resulted in many levees and reservoirs being constructed to control flooding. However most flood control efforts were geared toward protecting property from 25 to 50 year floods with stronger flood protection built in the Topeka and Kansas City areas. The flood of 1993 reached 100- to 500-year flood levels with many communities across Kansas flooded or threatened. Many communities were forced to evacuate from Hays in central Kansas to Elwood in extreme northeast Kansas. In some areas flood waters were slow to rise, while in others the waters rose rapidly as levees gave way to surging rivers.
Record flooding occurred on many streams in the state and some water managers at some reservoirs were forced to release water through emergency spillways to protect the integrity of dams. Some records of note across the state included the Saline River at Russell with a record crest of 25.4 feet on July 21, breaking the old record of 19.7 feet, and Tuttle Creek Reservoir recorded it highest elevation level on record at 1137.7 feet.
Damage to crop land across Kansas was estimated at more than $400 million while damage to roads and buildings was estimated at more than $47 million.
As waters receded in late July and early August, debris and mud were left behind. Many residents who had been forced to evacuate returned to find their homes and businesses filled with mud and water. Many of those living in flood plains before the flood found themselves relocating permanently to communities and areas outside the flood plain.
Kansans from all walks of life pulled together to save homes, businesses and communities from the rising waters in 1993. Those who experienced it will always remember the power and duration of the Great Flood of 1993 and the devastating impact it had on their lives.