Flash Flood Alley Segements

Regional Flood Histories

Storm Summary
& Rescue Efforts

Property Damage
& Relief Efforts

Success Stories
Regional Flood


& Publications

Known Hazards
in Central Texas

Austin Area Storm Histories
Sources: City of Austin Watershed Engineering Division and the United States Geological Services

  • 1869 July 6
    • "The highest, and probably the most disastrous flood that ever came down the Colorado within a hundred years... Certainly none such ever occurred within the memory of the oldest inhabitants of the white race."
    • The month of July started with rains at short intervals causing the Colorado River to rise gradually. On the 6th, a flood came down the river in walls causing it to overflow at an alarming rate. According to Brown's Annals in the Austin History Center, "the mass of waters rushed down from the narrow and confined channel between the mountains above, to the wider one below, with such fearful velocity that the middle of the stream was higher than the sides, and the aspect it presented was appalling."
    • A stone marker still exists next to the Buford Tower on Town Lake, marking the high water level of 43 stage feet.
  • 1900 April 5-8
    • The flood waters started from a two-day storm in the High Plains halfway between Lubbock and Amarillo. The stormwater filled the Colorado, the Brazos and the Guadalupe rivers, sending the torrent through unsuspecting cities like Austin and Bastrop. The Colorado river peaked at 60' high and a mile wide.
    • 17" of rain in 48 hours.
    • This flood will always be remembered as "The Day the Dam Broke." The granite dam broke up, sending a 50' wall of water down the river which killed dozens of people, even whole families.
    • The pride of Austin at the time, "Ben Hur," the 181-foot long, triple-decker leisure steamboat, was destroyed by the flood. It had two 538 horsepower engines and could carry up to 2000 people.
    • Austin Dam held back the waters of Lake McDonald and was the second largest hydroelectric dam in the United States, and created the first large artificial reservoir in the state. It provided electricity for streetcars and arc lamps, signs of the booming Austin economy. Austin's golden era ended when it lost the dam, dam powerhouse, electric light and power plant, and the municipal waterworks plant. The financial hit on the City was major:
      • It had paid $300,000 of the debt of the 7-year old dam, but still owed $1,300,000 plus interest.
      • Property losses were in the millions, and in one year, assessed values fell from $12,000,000 to $9,000,000.
      • Tourist money from Lake McDonald could no longer be expected.
      • In the next 10 years, population grew so slowly that Austin was dropped from the list of large Texas cities.
      • After struggling for funding, and scrapping a defective replacement dam, the City did not have a functioning dam and sound economy until the completion of Tom Miller Dam in 1940.
  • 1915 April 23
    • Flash floods killed 35 people, most of whom lived near Waller Creek. Many people drowned from swirling water inside their houses. (Five of the dead were black, the rest white.)
    • Night storm of 10 inches in less than 2 hours.
    • Excerpts from a 1915 article in the Statesman says it all: "Whole sections of the city were submerged for hours. Houses were washed away, cows, horses, chickens and other fowls were careening down swelled Shoal and Waller Creeks to join the human corpses that had gone swirling before them to the bosom of the Colorado... This morning Austin presents a pitiable sight. There is not a section of the city traversed by the treacherous little streams docile most months of the year, which has not felt the finger of death."
    • One of the peculiar things about the damage was that on Shoal Creek, no damage was done below 12th Street, but Waller Creek had several miles of damage.
    • Fireman Thomas Edward Quinn drowned while rescuing a woman on Shoal Creek.
    • Major George W. Littlefield gave the largest individual donation of $1000 to the relief effort.
  • 1921 September 8-10
    • This storm event, known as "The Great Thrall/Taylor Storm", still stands in the record books as the greatest of all continental U.S. rainstorms during 18 consecutive hours. The storm entered Mexico as a hurricane from the Gulf and then drifted northward dropping six inches on Laredo before unleashing on Central Texas.
    • No rain had fallen since July 7 that year.
    • Quote from survivor Ruth Mantor in 1996 Statesman article: "Mustang Creek, so small it is almost impossible to find, got so high that it wrapped a steel girder around a tree. The force of the water was unbelievable. Every bridge coming into Taylor was washed away."
    • Like the storms of 1998, 1991, and 1981, this storm followed a pattern that ran along the Balcones Escarpment, then centered over Williamson and Travis Counties.
    • At Taylor, 23.11" of rain fell in 24 hours. Thrall reported approximately 36 inches in 18 hours and 40 inches of rain in total. Austin received 18.23 inches of rain in 24 hours. Miraculously, only six fatalities were reported in Travis County, all on Onion Creek. Three steel bridges washed out on Onion Creek at Moore's Crossing and Doyle's Crossing and on Walnut Creek at Dessau Road.
    • There were 224 fatalities across the seven counties that were affected.
    • Although less rain fell in Bexar County, the results were more disastrous. In a paragraph titled "Less Warning Than War", the Austin American described the terrifying night there: "Only in San Antonio the flood victims had less warning than the booming of a distant cannon. The stories told by those who fled before the flood waters seem to make it clear that the Alazan Creek, usually a placid rivulet of water, became a rushing torrent in less than half an hour. The water, it is said, rose eight feet in approximately twenty minutes. So it was not long before the first of the houses near the creek bed floated from their foundations and it was a barrage of these that hurled themselves against the International & Great Northern trestle. By midnight between forty and fifty houses that a few minutes before vomited men, women and children in all stages of dress and undress, were being churned into a shapeless mass of debris where they lodged against the railroad bridge. Their tremendous weight and pressure against the trestle soon cracked that structure in the middle, which pushed itself against a second trestle that broke shortly after under the strain."

  • 1935 June 15
    • The flood of 1935 was one of three major floods to hit the area in the 1930's.
    • Austin was hit with 22" of rain in three hours.
    • Between 2500 and 3000 residents in East Austin (near present-day IH-35 and the river bank) were left virtually homeless after the waters receded. A Statesman article described the situation: "Sloppy silt was deposited to a depth of from six to 18 inches on the floors, over furniture, bed clothing and in fact everything that the glue-like mud could fasten itself upon, and only the most rugged articles of furniture could be salvaged."
    • "South Congress Avenue between Barton Springs Road and the Texas School for the Deaf was a crumpled mass of ruins, the street being littered with broken sewer lines torn from business buildings that once stood in the area, broken concrete, twisted water pipes, signs, trees, timbers, structural steel, a number of the new concrete lamp posts erected a month ago by the city and other debris. The street, the pride of Austin and of the state highway department presented a wretched scene."
    • The Montopolis and Marble Falls bridges were also both destroyed.

  • 1957 April 24
    • Texans cheered when rains came in early April to end the seven-year drought. But on April 24, the Austin American Statesman said, "when the black, purple shrouded cloud first appeared in the sky, Central Texans knew something was about to happen. It did. Up to 10 inches of rain fell within a few minutes in a wide sweep of middle Texas."
    • April 24th was labeled "The Day of the Big Cloud," and "the worst day of floods, tornadoes and torrential rain and hail Central Texas has ever seen." As if that wasn't bad enough, the rains kept coming for a total of 32 days, causing flooding all across Austin and Central Texas.

  • 1960 October 28
    • An evening cold front brought downpours in a 75-mile radius around Austin. An Austin Statesman article described the frightening evening: "Giant, swirling walls of water, spawned by torrential rains of up to nine inches, snuffed out at least two lives, swept away property valued at $2.3 million, and forced 200 people to flee their homes before the flood in a nightmarish night of death and destruction in Austin. Early Saturday, bleary-eyed police reported they had answered an unprecendented 6,000 calls during the night." Several motorists were washed away in their cars, bringing the final death toll to 11. Police claimed the floodwaters from Boggy Creek rose to such a height and to such force that "cars were being pushed around like floating beer cans" on Rosewood Avenue.
    • Police reported over 2,000 houses with varying amounts of water inside.

  • 1974 November 23
    • An evening cold front brought thunderstorms in a 40-mile wide line that dropped between four and ten inches of rain in Central Texas.
    • Stalled cars were abandoned all over Austin and "every road in the county has people stranded on the rooftops," said a Travis County sheriff's office spokesman.
    • A man and his 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son were swept into West Bouldin Creek after driving past an off-duty firefighter as he tried to stop traffic from crossing the area. Their car was immediately swept downstream, drowning all three and bringing the death toll up to 13.
    • "In the 8700 block of Bluff Springs Road, firemen in boats rescued two women from a house which was covered with water except for the top two feet of the roof."

  • 1981 May 24
    • This storm event will always be remembered as the "Memorial Day Flood" which drowned 13 people and caused $36 million in damages. This short-duration storm with intense rainfall hit many of Austin's urban creeks of Bull, Walnut, Little Walnut, Shoal, Waller, Bee, Little Bee, and Dry Creeks. 11 inches of rain fell in 3 hours after a beautiful day with blue sky and sunshine. The storm struck late at night catching most of the victims asleep or unwary. All through the night, rescuers were busy pulling people from rooftops, trees, and swamped automobiles. Shoal Creek normally flows at 90 gallons per minute, but peaked during this flood at over 6 million gallons/minute!
    • The storm knocked out power during the height of the storm at the National Weather Service. Warnings had been issued before the storm arrival. Auxiliary generator malfunctioned, forcing meteorologists to continue issuing warnings to news outlets by telephone lines overburdened with traffic. TV and radio stations and the cable system were off the air, crippled by the same power outage, leaving Austinites literally in the dark.
    • 100-year flood for Shoal Creek.
    • "That was the horrible part- the screaming, screaming, screaming. And then, silence."
      -Lela Goldsmith, whose house flooded at 4000 block of Jefferson Street where their neighbors the Groves died.
    • Firemen Jim Fiero, 32 and Shane Anderson, 22, received national recognition for their acts of heroism. Jim Fiero's firetruck crew tried to rescue stranded motorists in the 2700 block of Northland Drive on a Shoal Creek bridge. The current picked up the 20-ton engine and pushed it into an abutment. Were able to save one of seven people.
    • "Calling Onion Creek a creek is like calling the Colorado River a brook. Judged by the amount of water that sometimes flows in it, Onion Creek could as easily be a river." ... "Onion Creek is a very large watershed. When it gets going it has tremendous flows in it."... "Rain in Dripping Springs, Buda and the Hill Country around them can start Onion Creek on a rise long before its 22-mile section in Travis County begins."
      -Onion Creek's capacity more like that of river article
    • Quote about the force of water: "Grandfather clocks, roll-top desks, groceries and lamps were strewn along the banks of the creek. Dining room tables were lifted by the water and sent careening through sliding glass doors. A blue Volkswagen was found wedged underneath a Chevrolet Malibu station wagon more than a block from where it had been parked. More than 10 cars- many of them late models- were swept away by the flood, and found strewn in the creek. Cars that had not been washed away were upturned and smashed into walls of homes bordering the creek. Garage doors buckled. A Honda Civic was found on top of a 3-foot-high air conditioner... Sidewalks near bridge abutments buckled. Weeds were wedged into grills of cars that were found jacked atop fire hydrants. Trees were uprooted, and spinet pianos lay on their sides."
      -Neighborhood is devastated article (about Shoal Creek neighborhood behind Northcross Mall at Silverway and Bullard drives)
    • Quote from Rudolph Cantu, Jefferson Street resident: The water was rising so fast. The mattress was floating in the bedroom with my three children on top of it. Their heads touched the ceiling. My wife clung to the frame of the bed. The second I smashed my hand through the window, the pressure of the water swept me out of the house. I hung onto the window frame. I was thinking about my family. The water was rushing past. Someone came to me. It was God. He said to me 'Do not let go, because I will help you.' Right after that, the current changed to counterclockwise. It was like a cyclone. I was swept back in through the window... I lost everything I had. My two cars were washed away. I lost my house, my refrigerator, couches, beds, sofas, the washing machine, dryer, the freezer, all of my three kids' belongings. The floorboards are swollen like a water wave...
      -Jefferson Street survivors regroup amid creek's havoc article
    • Non-creek flooding tidbit- Houses on Walnut Creek on Hermitage Drive were not flooded in the backyard from the creek, but from the front street because of a blocked culvert. Article: Kirkley says the five-foot wall of water that hit the front of the house May 24 was created by a blocked culvert on the west side of IH35, making an artificial dam for Little Walnut creek and forcing the raging water to leap over the highway and plunge down Hermitage Drive on the other side. "There was all kinds of junk blocking the culvert," Kirkley says. "Buckets, barrels, brush, building materials, scrap and trash of all kinds. And that's what made the flood out here, not the creek itself."
    • Non-creek flooding tidbit- "You'd be surprised how many picnic tables end up in culverts in this city."
      -Jim Thompson, Director of city engineering
    • Non-creek flooding tidbit- "City ordinances prohibit putting any kind of obstacle in drainage easements, including creeks... Fences commonly are built on easements which can divert or dam the water, or get carried away and block the culvert. With enough rain, barbecue grills and picnic tables get swept away and become hazardous dams. Railroad ties that made such nice garden boundaries alter the flow, perhaps into a neighbor's yard."
      -Slowly improving drainage system fights history of inadequacies article.
    • Non-creek flooding tidbit- If the city does not have a drainage easement, you are responsible for maintaining creek areas.
    • The variability of storms greatly impacts our community because Austin has so many creeks and watersheds. This means heavy rain can affect one creek without affecting another. For example, during the 1981 flood, a TX DPS report says: "Luckily, Waller Creek avoided extremely heavy rainfall. If its watershed had received the eight to ten inches measured elsewhere, damages and loss of life would have been much more severe... Although the rainfall was not as severe, there was severe flooding along the entire length of the creek. Houses were washed off their foundations at 44th and Duval. Many cars were flooded and at least twenty homes had water three feet deep come rushing through their living areas..." Another potential problem is that on creeks with relatively small watersheds, there will not be much time to get people out, regardless of how sophisticated a FEWS system you have.
    • Tidbit about the importance of owning a NOAA weather radio- "I can not imagine anybody without a NOAA radio," Lyn Krause said, adding he sees little reason for a citywide alert system for weather when a $16 weather radio will tune in for constant reports from NOAA. "Just like so many people said 'They didn't tell us. They didn't tell us.' (But) they did tell us" over the NOAA radio, he said.
      -Quote from Ham Radio FEWS article
    • 1981 Flooded Businesses and names for potential interviews-
      • Strait Music, 908 N. Lamar, owner Dan Strait, Robert Strait, Amy Falcone employee, Shoal Creek, uninsured $300,000 loss, desktop spindle impaled into ceiling, whereabouts of two pianos washed away remain a mystery, guitars washed into the parking lot of Hut's.
      • Louis Shanks furniture store, 1105 N. Lamar, furniture washed out of the store.
      • Lamar Volkswagen, 1014 N. Lamar, George Lowrance, owner said "We've got cars that are just flat gone. We have no idea where they went." 125 of the 150 new and used cars were damaged.
      • Whole Foods Market, 914 N. Lamar, John Mackey, president and part owner estimated damages at about $250,000-300,000. Will put about 70 store employees out of work. No insurance.
      • Bill Heil Chrysler-Plymouth, 841 W. Sixth Street, Dale Dillon, VP and part owner, almost all of the 100 new and used cars were damaged. About half ended up in the creek.
      • Henry Moore's Subaru, 1112 N. Lamar, Dick Cagle estimated $500,000 damages, including 80 new and used cars.
      • Austin Toyota, 805 W. Fifth Street, David Daniels, comptroller estimated his firm suffered about $1 million in vehicle losses and about $400,000 in building and computer damage. More than 100 cars were swept into Shoal Creek.
      • McMorris Ford, 808 W. Sixth Street, lost more than 100 new cars and virtually the entire used-car inventory into the creek.
      • Scotland Yards, 918 W. 12th Street, Alan Keeling, manager of material store.
      • Bill Bell Motors, 814 W. Fifth Street, lost about 20 used cars. The dealership's 20x15 office building was carried 100 feet away.
      • Dry Creek destroyed Rollingwood Plaza Shopping Center and removed whole sections of Bee Cave Road.
      • Back-in-a-Flash, 915 N. Lamar, general partner Gerald McNaron, Shoal Creek (June 11-13 storm)
      • Strait Music, 908 N. Lamar, owner Dan Strait, Shoal Creek (June 11-13 storm)
      • Lynn Drilling Corp, 5000 Bee Caves Road, employee Mickey Giles (June 11-13 storm)
    • 1981 Post Flood Mitigation
      • 16 parcels on Jefferson Street were purchased and existing structures removed to increase channel cross-sectional area between 38th and 45th Streets.
      • A few months after the flood, Austinites approved $970,000 in bonds to pay for a flood early warning system that was installed in 1986.
      • Buyers- New generations of home buyers come in looking for houses near creeks. "Homes near creeks usually offer an abundance of trees and more privacy than higher and drier locations. The back yards are generally much larger because builders must locate houses above flood-prone areas by city ordinances."
      • Development in older areas of the city (pre-1975 floodplain ordinances) inevitably will suffer flood damage.
      • "Short of having the ability to control rainfall or spending billions of dollars ripping up our creeks and turning them into unsightly concrete storm sewers, nothing can be done to eliminate flash flooding in Austin. And short of moving thousands of Austin residents out of flood-prone areas- at a cost of millions to taxpayers- little can be done to dramatically reduce property damage from the next major flood."
        -Taming the Torrents article
      • Creeks that were filled, straightened, or rerouted tried to reclaim old territory during the flood. Fill was ripped out and flooded streets and buildings. "Creeks don't make 90-degree turns," said Ramon Miguez, senior staff engineer in the city. "It doesn't want to do what man wants it to do. A creek develops over a long period of time and usually can dictate its course better than anyone could do for it."
        -Southside creeks resist efforts to redirect paths article
      • "Like her neighbors, Carolyn Grove believed that the watershed of Shoal Creek was being recklessly overdeveloped. City officials would rather blame the flood on God. They say that the runoff contributed to the rushing water but that such an intense rainfall would have flooded Austin regardless of the development."
        -Before the flood, Texas Monthly article

  • 1991 December 20
    • Record peak discharges were recorded at many creek gauging stations across Central Texas. A week of heavy rains contributed to flooding in Lake Travis, Shoal, Williamson, Bull, and Walnut Creeks.
    • 355 homes in Travis County and 68 in Bastrop County were destroyed or damaged.
    • Lake Travis reached a record 710.4 feet, breaking the all-time record of 707.3 feet set on May 18, 1957.
    • An estimated 200 homes in Travis and Bastrop counties were completely under water.
    • 10-year flood.

  • 1998 October 17
    • Twin hurricanes Madeline and Lester on the west coast of Mexico funneled continuous waves of moisture inland causing flooding in Central and South Texas. Across the state there were 31 deaths, 20 counties declared disaster areas, and 7,000 people evacuated from their homes. Property damages and losses reached almost $1 billion.
    • In Austin, 454 homes were damaged, with most of the damages incurred to houses along Onion Creek, Walnut Creek, and Williamson Creek.

  • 2001 November 15
    • Detailed on this site.