• ITVI.USA
    15,353.780
    -79.690
    -0.5%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.732
    0.005
    0.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    20.880
    0.030
    0.1%
  • OTVI.USA
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    -75.700
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  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.280
    -0.020
    -0.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.190
    0.050
    1.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.560
    -0.030
    -1.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.420
    0.090
    2.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.220
    0.050
    2.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.080
    0.000
    0%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    1.000
    0.8%
  • ITVI.USA
    15,353.780
    -79.690
    -0.5%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.732
    0.005
    0.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    20.880
    0.030
    0.1%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,332.660
    -75.700
    -0.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.280
    -0.020
    -0.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.190
    0.050
    1.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.560
    -0.030
    -1.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.420
    0.090
    2.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.220
    0.050
    2.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.080
    0.000
    0%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    1.000
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InsightsNewsTop StoriesWeather and Critical Events

Worst Memorial Day storms in US history

Destructive flooding a common theme

Here are a few of the most devastating — and unforgettable — Memorial Day weekend storms.

Lake Park, Iowa, tornado (1942)

On Memorial Day 1942, a tornado ripped through farmlands in northwestern Iowa near the Minnesota border. The storm stayed on the ground for about 11 miles, damaging or destroying buildings, trees and livestock on 15 farms. Barns, silos, chicken coops, machine sheds and windmills were blown down, with electricity and telephone services cut off almost immediately.

Memorial Day 1942 tornado near Lake Park, Iowa. (Photo: Paul Lawrence, printed in the Lake Park News on June 11, 1942)

Fortunately, no people died, as most of the farmers saw the black mass approaching. They had just enough time to gather their families in their cars and drive away. Others took shelter in basements or ditches. This is according to a Lake Park News report from June 4, 1942. This was the first tornado to hit the area in six years.

Austin, Texas, flood (1981)

When the rain started falling in Austin the evening before Memorial Day 1981, it came hard and fast. Shoal, Walnut, Little Walnut, Bee and Waller creeks quickly swelled above their flood stages. Within just a few hours, 11 inches of rain had fallen, flooding several neighborhoods.

By Memorial Day morning, 13 people had died, with an untold number saved by police officers, firefighters, other public servants and bystanders. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, according to a report from the Statesman.

At the height of the flood around midnight, thunderstorms knocked out power to the city’s National Weather Service office, as well as local television and radio stations. Austin was literally in the dark, relying on overloaded land lines for communication. This was before cellphones. Shoal Creek, which normally flows at 90 gallons a minute, was raging at 6.55 million gallons per minute.

The flood was classified as a 100-year flood, so intense that it has only a 1% chance of occurring in a given year.

Houston flood (2015)

Until Hurricane Harvey hit in August 2017, the most recent major flooding event in Houston was Memorial Day 2015. Almost 12 inches of rain fell in less than 10 hours that day, submerging roads and homes, killing seven people.

The flooding began that evening, lasting into the morning of Tuesday, May 26. Lightning strikes in the middle of the storm started fires that first responders had to fight during the torrential rain. More than 500 high-water rescues took place, according to CHRON.com, a local Houston news site.

CHRON also said Houston racked up an incredible $459.8 million in damages, placing the Memorial Day flood as the 14th most costly flood in U.S. history.

Ellicott City, Maryland, flood (2018)

Torrential floodwaters swept through downtown Ellicott City the day before Memorial Day 2018. Ellicott City is about 10 miles west of Washington. In just two hours, more than 6 inches of rain fell, and the Patapsco River rose 17 feet, submerging neighborhoods in muddy water.

The power of the flash floods ripped small buildings from their foundations, lifted cars and scattered them like toys, and led to two dozen water rescues in the historic mill town of 65,000 people. Efforts to find and rescue at least one person continued into the next afternoon, according to an NBC report.

Although the raging waters had receded by early Memorial Day, residents said the scenes of devastation looked worse than they did two years earlier after devastating floods hit the same area. The 2016 flood was called a “once-every-1,000-years flood” and killed two people. Fortunately, nobody died as a result of the 2018 flood.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his nearly 20 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.

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