Flooding in Ohio: Using Historical Floods to Prepare for the Future

Topic Flooding in Ohio: Using Historical Floods to Prepare for the Future
Time Period 1907-2008
Keyword(s) Weather/Climate, Hydrologic Cycle, Response to Crisis, Geography
Grade level(s) 6-12
Learning standard(s) (H.S. American Government) TOPIC: PUBLIC POLICY; (H.S. Science) ENV.ES.5; (Grade 7 Science) 7.ESS.2; Grade 3, 4, 5 Social Studies

There have been many major floods throughout history all over the world. Floods can quickly ruin agriculture, cause extensive damage to buildings and, unfortunately, take the lives of people by drowning, or being stranded without medical attention or basic resources for a lengthy period of time. They can also cause long-term effects, such as putting a dent in the local economy or causing financial strains on families as they try to recover.

One of the most disastrous floods to hit Ohio was in March 1913. Several days of torrential rainfall caused rivers throughout the state to swell and swept away almost everything in the waters’ paths. The level of the water rose extremely quickly and residents had to scramble to dry land and safe havens. Over 400 people throughout the state died as a direct result of the flood and thousands more were left homeless.

Over 100 years later, modern technology has helped diminish the effects of flooding and other natural disasters, but careful planning is a key component to alleviating potential suffering from the weather’s wrath. Structures have been designed to withstand major flooding. Community leaders and organizations have built strong working relationships so that when disaster strikes they can collaborate on keeping their residents safe from harm. Weather tracking devices have become much more advanced. However, there’s always room for improvement.

This primary source set is divided into 3 sections, Disaster Damage, Immediate Response, and Long-term Aftermath/Future Damage Reduction Efforts. The set is meant to provide an overview of natural disasters, but emphasizes flooding. While it is primarily devoted the 1913 flood, other notable floods are also included.

Disaster Damage

A photographic story of the flood in Dayton, Hamilton, and Cincinnati, March, 1913 : best flood pictures Preview

A photographic story of the flood in Dayton, Hamilton, and Cincinnati, March, 1913 : best flood pictures

More than 1000 photographs were taken during the following days after the 1913 flood in the Dayton/Cincinnati area. A levee close to the city broke, causing parts of the city to fall up to 20 feet underwater. Because hundreds of residents were affected, certain locations were set up as refugee centers where rations of food were distributed. The photographs display how the flood waters carried debris across the city. Others who were stranded in their homes eventually received food and coal for heat from relief workers.

Contributed by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Views of the flood in the Miami Valley : March, 1913 Preview

Views of the flood in the Miami Valley : March, 1913

A compilation of photographs from Loveland and Milford showing the extensive damage the 1913 flood did to homes, churches, hotels and the business district.

Contributed by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Destruction from an Ohio River flood Flood refugees Preview

Destruction from an Ohio River flood Flood refugees

There are several photos called “Destruction from an Ohio River flood” on DPLA and this particular photo shows a group of children gathered to receive food and supplies at a relief center. The copy image provides the following description: “The traditional rule of the sea is followed by relief agencies in flooded Wheeling. Here the flood refugees as women and children are given the first issues of food. Latest reports indicate that the river had dropped two feet from the crest stage here but is still eight feet above flood stage.”

Contributed by Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Video footage of news clips related to floods from the KXAS-TV/NBC station in Fort Worth, Texas Preview

Video footage of news clips related to floods from the KXAS-TV/NBC station in Fort Worth, Texas

Video footage from the WBAP-TV station in Fort Worth, Texas, to accompany a news story by reporter Robert Elliot about floods in Southwest Houston which recently survived Hurricane Alicia. The story includes ground and aerial footage of cars in the flood streets and rescues. This story aired at 6:00 P.M.

Contributed by UNT Libraries Special Collections

Various photographs of damage and after effect of the 1937 Flood in Cincinnati

Procter and Gamble under water at Ivorydale, Cincinnati, Ohio Preview

Procter and Gamble under water at Ivorydale, Cincinnati, Ohio

Contributed by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Street repairs after flooding, Cincinnati, Ohio Preview

Street repairs after flooding, Cincinnati, Ohio

Contributed by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Two men in a boat and factories, Cincinnati, Ohio Preview

Two men in a boat and factories, Cincinnati, Ohio

Contributed by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Immediate Response

Cincinnati Flood of 1937 flood zone permit Preview

Cincinnati Flood of 1937 flood zone permit

After a horrific flood in 1937, residents of Cincinnati were given permits, issued by a Disaster Administrator, to be able to report to work and visit other spots within the flooded area if there was a proper reason. They had to be carried with them in the chance an officer demanded to have proof of permission to be in the flood zone. This particular permit was issued to Harry Kemper, an employee who needed access to any Crosley plant.

Contributed by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Report of Cincinnati Flood relief committee, January and March, A.D. 1907 Preview

Report of Cincinnati Flood relief committee, January and March, A.D. 1907

Mayor Edward J. Dempsey provides a detailed report of how floods in January and March of 1907 in Cincinnati were handled by city officials. Before the worst of the flood hit, these officials allocated funds for disaster relief, sought out charities for aid, and set up refugee centers in anticipation of the flood damage. The city was divided into four districts to be handled by different personnel and reports from each of these districts are included. This committee continued to meet on a daily basis until the worst of the flood was over. It gives a brief history of prior Ohio River floods and a detailed account of flood levels.

Contributed by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Ice jam above Lockington Dam Preview

Ice jam above Lockington Dam

The photograph shows the ice jam above the Lockington Dam (Shelby County), built in 1918-1921. This is a view from upstream, illustrating that the dam holds back ice and protects Dayton further downstream. The bridge is currently operated by the Miami Conservancy District. The MCD was born as a direct result of the 1913 flood. Soon after the flood, residents raised enough money to hire a young engineer to develop a regional flood protection system that has protected the region since 1922. While maintaining the commitment to its core mission of flood protection, over the years MCD has been at the forefront of emerging water issues, growing as needed to meet the region’s water needs.”

Contributed by Ohio History Connection

Flood Gate Patent  Preview

Flood Gate Patent

Patent for a flood-gate meant for use in mill-dams, races, and levees. Its intended use is to allow water to come to a certain height, and automatically release water once it gets past that point. When the water returns to a reasonable height, the gate automatically closes.

Contributed by UNT Libraries Government Documents Department

Winfield, MO, June 19, 2008 Preview

Winfield, MO, June 19, 2008

Members of the Missouri National Guard, Army and Air Force National Guard stack sandbags next to the levee in anticipation that the levee may breach. Photographer Jocelyn Augustino took several photographs for FEMA’s Public Affairs Division that are now housed in the National Archives’ Collection, “Photographs Relating to Disasters and Emergency Management Programs, Activities and Officials, 1998-2016”. According to the NARA website, “This series consists of digital photographs documenting the physical and social impact of events, in the United States and U.S. territories, that were designated by the federal government as disasters, including accidental explosions, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, ice storms, mud slides, tornadoes, tropical storms, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, wild fires, and incidents of terrorism. Extensively documented, as well, are Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) responses to these events, involving coordination of federal, state, and local resources for, and direct sponsorship of, a range of operations aimed at evacuation, search and rescue, clearance, and cleanup; provision of emergency food, water, shelter, and medical services; restoration of basic infrastructure; and rebuilding of homes, businesses, and communities.”

Contributed by National Archive College Park

Long-term Aftermath/Future Damage Reduction Efforts

Substantial damage determinations: a guide for local officials. (2006)  Preview

Substantial damage determinations: a guide for local officials. (2006)

This document is meant to serve as a training manual for officials, particularly “floodplain administrators”, to learn how to help residents reduce their homes’ flood risks. Officials need to know how to assess damage and provide an estimate for repair. Officials also need to know how to keep residents safe not just during a flood but also following a flood. Residents stuck in their homes might have injuries. The document includes forms an official would need to fill out after a damage assessment.

Contributed by the State Library of Ohio

List of Ohio counties and municipal corporations that have one-hundred year floodplains identified within their boundaries pursuant to Ohio's floodplain management regulations (ORC 1521.18) Preview

List of Ohio counties and municipal corporations that have one-hundred year floodplains identified within their boundaries pursuant to Ohio's floodplain management regulations (ORC 1521.18)

This documents lists Ohio cities who are either in compliance with state floodplain management standards or not and also whether they are part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as of 2006. Out of hundreds that fell under both categories, there were 63 communities scattered throughout the  state who were neither compliant nor a member of the NFIP.

Contributed by the State Library of Ohio

Special report on the flood of March, 1913 / by E.F. McCampbell Preview

Special report on the flood of March, 1913 / by E.F. McCampbell

A document of conditions following the 1913 flood. A special section from the Ohio Department of Health provides instructions on how to sanitize belongings, dwellings and more. Also includes statistical charts on how much rainfall different parts of Ohio received and detailed accounts of how the flood affected particular municipalities around the state.

Contributed by HathiTrust

Additional Resources

  1. “The Superstorm That Flooded America” – History Channel – Article from 2013 about the 1913 Flood. Provides a general overview of the flood and its impact.
  2. Ohio Division of Water Resources – Website for the State of Ohio Department of Natural Resources. This department is tasked with “formulating and putting into execution a long-term comprehensive plan for the development and wise use of the natural resources of the state.”
  3. Ohio Revised Code, Chapter 1521: Division of  Water Resources – Section of the Ohio Revised Code, or the Ohio law, that is the foundation of the Ohio Division of Water Resources. It describes in legalize how the Division will be established, all of it component parts, and its various responsibilities. The statute is used to operate the department.
  4. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – Website for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This agency is tasked with “Helping people before, during, and after disasters.”
  5. Miami Conservancy District – Website for the Miami Conservancy District. This organization was set up after the 1913 Flood and was tasked with preventing future floods. They are currently tasked with “Protecting lives, property and economic vitality within the Great Miami River Watershed through an integrated and balanced system that provides unfailing flood protection, preserves water resources, and promotes enjoyment of our waterways”
  6. United States Geological Survey, The Ohio Valley Flood of March-April 1913 , Department of the Interior – PDF of a report originally published in 1913 by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Provides a detailed and thorough examination of the 1913 flood.
  7. Original 1913 Flood Footage, YouTube, University of Dayton – Original 1913 flood footage from the Glenn R. Walters collection housed in University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections. Length: 5:26.
  8. Ohio Floodplain Management Criteria, Ohio Division of Soil & Water Resources, Floodplain Management Program – A PDF document explaining current floodplain management approaches and how they can be improved. Also covers the regulations regarding floodplains.
  9. Ohio Rural Water Association (ORWA) – Website for the Ohio Rural Water Association. According to the website, the members of this organization provide water services to over 2 million Ohioans. These members receive on-site technical assistance, compliance training, and other support from ORWA.
  10. National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 United States Congress – Amendments were made to the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 and the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968.
  11. News clip about Red Cross volunteers
    At the time of the NBC news clip taken in 1997, a married couple had been volunteering for Red Cross with disaster relief efforts for five years. They explain their reasons for wanting to help disaster victims. Length: 1 min., 59 seconds.
  12. Ottawa, Ohio: A Mitigation Success Story – the village of Ottawa, Ohio in Putnam County used various FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance grants to eliminate flood risks to property owners. The website explains how this process was completed and points on ongoing improvements still needed.
  13. Ohio Emergency Management Agency (OEMA) – Website of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. OEMA provides disaster recovery services, public safety programs, including assistance on how to build a local disaster plan, and more.

Teaching Guide

This guide will serve to outline some possible ways to interact with the digital content and has suggestions to have students pull information from the examples listed above.

Discussion Questions (Download)

  1. What are some ways that floods significantly impact a community
  2. What are some protocols that should be followed in the immediate aftermath of a flood to minimize damage?
  3. Do you feel that Ohio towns and cities are adequately prepared for a flood? Why or why not? If you believe they aren’t, what are some ways they can become better prepared?
  4. What are some other kinds of natural disasters other than flooding?
  5. What are some recent natural disasters that occurred in the United States or around the World? What kind of natural disaster were they?
  6. How does the damage from a flood compare to that of a hurricane?

Classroom Activities (Download)

  1. Make a timeline of improvements over the years of disaster relief efforts from the 1913 flood to the most recent major flood.
  2. In small groups, appoint a mayor and other important city or county officials. Your small city of 30,000 citizens is forecasted to receive a major storm that could cause potential flooding and flash floods in 3 days. What preparations do you mandate for your city to protect the citizens before the storm hits?