The 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood
WOODSTOCK, Va. (WHSV) - The St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1936 wasn’t just one day with a lot of rain, but it was a series of events. A big snow storm in February of 1936 dropped anywhere from 10″-25″ of snow across the area. The consistent cold temperatures led to the snowpack on the ground for pretty much the entire month. Once into early March, there were several storm systems that dropped more rain across the area after the snowmelt.
Then, a stronger storm. An area of low pressure formed along the Gulf and on St. Patrick’s day, moved right through the state of Virginia. This lead to heavy rain across the Mid-Atlantic on March 17-18th before moving into the Northeast.
This was a heavy rain event across the entire East Coast. Had the high pressure to the north been positioned more east, this would have been a big snow event.
With this low, rainfall across the area topped 3.00″-6.55″ which is a lot of rain in one event, on an already saturated ground. This led to widespread flooding across the area. The National Weather Service reported that 150-200 lives were lost along the East coast due to the storm.
According to Barbara Watson, NWS Meteorologist, “Most large flood events in Virginia are associated with tropical systems. This flood was the largest non-tropical flood event.”
The reason why this storm had so much rain, it was moisture from the Gulf and the storm track was inland. The low tracked right across the state of Virginia and that’s why we had so much rain from this event. Of course all of the rain on top of an already saturated ground.
The NWS report states, “The North Fork of the Shenandoah crested eight feet above flood stage in Rockingham County. At Front Royal, the Shenandoah flooded the city rising to 14 feet above flood stage”
*If you have any historic flood or weather photos, or a family story from this event, we’d love to hear from you. You can email Chief Meteorologist Aubrey Urbanowicz at email@example.com
According to the Burnshire Dam history “One of the worst floods in the history of the area completely islands the powerhouse from the shore. The entire wood structure of the powerhouse was eventually replaced with concrete block and the building height was increased to be two stories.
Cities all across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were under water. Pittsburgh, Harpers Ferry, Richmond, Hartford. Widespread flooding along the Jersey Shore, Massachusetts, Connecticut and up to Maine.
After the Great Johnstown flood of 1889, Johnstown, PA flooded again.
The C&O canal was devastated by the flooding.
The Staunton News Leader reported, “The water in South river was the highest in 25 years, and came near hitting the mark of 1895, according to “old timers” of this city.”
Local newspaper reports at the time report that basements were flooded, bridges washed out.
In the Suffolk-Herald Newspaper, the A.P. reported that a man in Staunton was went missing in flood waters when the “horse drawn vehicle” was swept away at Christians Creek. There was also a landslide in Elkton along the Norfolk and Western Railway.
There were also parts of the railroad tracks across the area that were either flooded, or covered in mud from a landslide. The Craigsville post office flooded and the Staunton New Leader reported “the days mail was sorted by employees standing on tables.”
The high water in Port Republic was described as being at its highest level since the flood of 1870.
Landslides were reported in the Shenandoah National Park and some families had to abandon their homes along Hawksbill Creek.
From the Staunton News Leader: “Lewis creek reached its highest level since the flood of 1896.” There were numerous power outages across the area with so many power lines and telephone poles down.
A vehicle just west of Woodstock that was parked was swept away by flood waters in Shenandoah County. Most of the roads in the county were impassable because of the high flood waters
All photos are from the Burnshire Dam history website. These photos were collected by Cassandra Harvey. We want to thank the Harvey family with the Burnshire Dam in Woodstock for allowing WHSV to use them in this story.
If you want to read the official USGS report on the flood, CLICK HERE
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