The Shadyside, Ohio Flood of 1990
Localized, excessive rainfall fell on saturated ground over southeastern Ohio the evening of June 14, 1990, resulting in a 15-20 foot wall of water that raced down three small tributaries of the Ohio River.
Twenty-six people lost their lives; scores of homes were destroyed. It was similar, though smaller in scope, to the Big Thompson Canyon flood, and was the most deadly and destructive flash flood in the United States in the last ten years.
Weather maps on the morning of June 14, 1990, did not give much hint that a major, localized flood disaster would occur late that day in the eastern Ohio River Valley.
A weak, slow-moving front was draped across the Midwest, and an outflow boundary from nighttime thunderstorms was spreading east across Indiana. Low-level moisture was plentiful over Ohio, but not excessive. It had been a wet spring, however, and soil moisture was nearly 200% of normal.
When slow-moving thunderstorms drenched the hills of southeastern Ohio with 3-4 inches of rain that evening, water that would otherwise have been able to absorb into the ground instead became an almost instantaneous, torrential runoff.
One local resident described ankle-deep water running down the hill side in a "sheet flow" near his house while he was running to higher ground.
On the headwaters of the Pipe and Wegee Creeks and the Cumberland Run (small tributaries of the Ohio River near the town of Shadyside, Ohio), the runoff combined with landslides and developed into a 15-20 foot high wall of mud, water and debris that raced downstream. Buildings, bridges and cars were swept away and into the Ohio River.
Twenty-six people were killed in the flash flood and many others were injured. Two bodies were found in debris 30 miles downstream at the Hannibal Locks and Dam on the Ohio River. Eighty homes were destroyed and nearly 250 others were damaged. Property damage was estimated between $6-8 million.
Flash flooding had never been previously known to occur along the Pipe or Wegee Creeks, though these streams are similar to other flash flood-prone streams common to the eastern Ohio River Valley. Flash flooding had been known to occur in the hills around Pittsburgh under similar weather conditions.
[Some data courtesy of The Thunderstorm in Human Affairs, Edwin Kessler, Editor, and from Storm Data.]