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Remember the 1949 Harrisonburg flood

Downtown Harrisonburg, August 1949
Downtown Harrisonburg, August 1949(Harrisonburg)
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 8:50 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - You may have seen some of the photos around downtown at times. Old black and white photos showing cars submerged in downtown Harrisonburg. The newspaper wrote that this flood “was the most destructive flood in the history of the City.”

August 15, 1949
August 15, 1949(Harrisonburg)

In June of 1949, tropical moisture moved across the Valley over Shenandoah mountain. Several inches of rain fell on an already saturated ground. Flooding devastated parts of West Virginia in addition to Stokesville and Bridgewater in Rockingham County. The heaviest of the rain was in a very concentrated area and not widespread.

About a month later, a stalled out front draped across the area led to several hours of rain and thunderstorms mainly over downtown Harrisonburg. This is what led to Harrisonburg’s worst flood.

The weather map from 1949 showing a stalled front across the area.
The weather map from 1949 showing a stalled front across the area.(NOAA)

According to the Monthly Weather Review which describes monthly meteorological and climatological data, notes that “scattered heavy showers” led to flash flooding. According to the newspaper about 20 families had to leave their homes. Thankfully there were no deaths from this flood. However a child was rescued from the flood waters.

August 1949
August 1949(NWS)

The water was estimated to be about 3-4′ high at times through downtown Harrisonburg. There was no other flooding reported elsewhere across the area. The highest rainfall totals were really confined to the Harrisonburg area.

LOCATIONRAINFALL
Madison College8.44″
Dale Enterprise3.83″
Big Meadows2.29″
Luray1.06″
McGaheysville1.05″
Staunton0.02″

The flood waters pushed their way into several downtown buildings, including the Denton warehouse which destroyed a lot of furniture.

Of course this is not the only flooding incident in history.

In July of 2013, the WHSV weather station recorded 4.62″ of rain in a matter of about 3-4 hours.

In fact more recently in 2017, several inches of rain in a short amount of time from a thunderstorm led to flooding across JMU and parts of Harrisonburg. At the WHSV weather station the rainfall total in this storm was 4.00″

It was after the Stokesville flood and Harrisonburg flood of 1949 that more flood control dams were built across the area to help prevent future flooding disasters. While flooding still happens, these dams do help especially for more widespread events.

When you have individual storms that sit over one area for hours leading to several inches of rain, there will still be flooding.

August 1949
August 1949(NWS)

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