The Great Flood of 1913 occurred between March 23 and March 26, after major rivers in the central and eastern United States flooded from runoff and several days of heavy rain. Related deaths and damage in the United States were widespread and extensive. While the exact number is not certain, flood-related deaths in Ohio, Indiana, and eleven other states are estimated at approximately 650. The official death toll range for Ohio falls between 422 and 470. Flood-related death estimates in Indiana range from 100 to 200. More than a quarter million people were left homeless. The death toll from the flood of 1913 places it second to the Johnstown Flood of 1889 as one of the deadliest floods in the United States. The flood remains Ohio’s largest weather disaster. In the Midwestern United States, damage estimates exceeded a third of a billion dollars. Damage from the Great Dayton Flood at Dayton, Ohio, exceeded $73 million. Indiana’s damages were estimated at $25 million (in 1913 dollars). Further south, along the Mississippi River, damages exceeded $200 million. Devastation from the flood of 1913 and later floods along the Mississippi River eventually changed the country’s management of its waterways and increased federal support for comprehensive flood prevention and funding for flood control projects. The Ohio Conservancy Act, which was signed by the governor of Ohio in 1914, became a model for other states to follow. The act allowed for the establishment of conservancy districts with the authority to implement flood control projects.
The storm system that produced the flood in late March 1913 began with a typical winter storm pattern, but developed characteristics that promoted heavy precipitation. Strong Canadian winds stalled a high-pressure system off Bermuda and delayed the normal easterly flow of a low-pressure system. In the meantime, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico moved into the Midwestern United States through the Mississippi River valley as a second Canadian high-pressure system arrived from the west, creating a low-pressure trough that stretched from southern Illinois, across central Indiana, and into northern Ohio. At least two low-pressure systems moving along the trough caused heavy rain over the four-day period between March 23 and March 26. As the storm gained strength on Sunday, March 23, high winds, hail, sleet, and tornadoes arrived in the Great Plains, the Southern United States, and the Midwestern United States. Major tornadoes hit Omaha, Nebraska; Lone Peach, Arkansas; and Terre Haute, Indiana. On Monday and Tuesday, March 24 and 25, 3 to 8 inches (76 to 203 mm) of rain fell in Ohio, Indiana, and southern Illinois. Major rivers in Indiana and Ohio experienced heavy runoff. Downstream, where the Ohio River enters the Mississippi River, the water level broke record highs to that time as the water flowed south to the Gulf of Mexico. By Tuesday, March 25, the Ohio River and its tributaries flooded cities such as Indianapolis, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Youngstown, and Columbus, Ohio. Dayton, Ohio, was particularly hard-hit. On Wednesday, March 26, the storm moved east into Pennsylvania and New York, while heavy rain continued in the Ohio River valley. The heaviest rainfall, 6 to 9 inches (150 to 230 mm) or more, covered an area from southern Illinois into northwestern Pennsylvania. As the storm continued eastward, flooding began in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia. The Potomac River overflowed its banks in Maryland.
State and local communities handled much of their own disaster response and relief in 1913. The American Red Cross, a small organization at that time, focused its efforts in more than one hundred of Ohio’s hardest-hit communities, including Dayton, and served six of Indiana’s hardest-hit counties. Ohio governor James M. Cox called on the state legislature to appropriate $250,000 (about $11 million in today’s dollars) for emergency aid. Indiana governor Samuel M. Ralston appealed to Indiana cities and other states for relief assistance. Many communities cared for their own flood victims with Red Cross assistance, charitable donations, and contributions from local businesses, industries, and service organizations. (Wikipedia)
Below is a collection of 24 amazing vintage photographs of the Rochester’s Great Flood of 1913.