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Floods in the Canadian and Pecos River basins of New Mexico, May and June 1937

January 1, 1939

In May and June floods occurred in the Canadian and Pecos River Basins of New Mexico that were unusually high and in many places were record breaking.

The floods were caused by heavy rains that occurred over the eastern part of the State from May 23 to June 4 in a series of intense and intermittent storms. During these storms of the cloudburst type as much as 12 inches of rain fell in the 13-day period, and a fall of 7 inches in 2 hours and 40 minutes was reported from the vicinity of Clayton. Heavy rains also fell in the mountainous region west of Roswell, amounting to as much as l0 inches at some places. Much of the region that had excessive rainfall is relatively flat and has no well-defined drainage system. From these areas there was very little run-off and practically no water was contributed to the major streams.

Hail fell at many places in eastern New Mexico, causing damage to crops, livestock, and other property. Hail fell somewhere in the Canadian and Pecos River Basins almost every day during the storm period, but the duration of the fall was generally short. The largest hailstones were reported from Clayton, where one stone measured 8 inches in circumference and weighed 9 ounces; at Centerville, where reports state that some stones were 9 to 10 inches in circumference; and near Roswell, where it was reported that six stones would fill a gallon bucket. The Canadian River flood reached a peak at Logan of 110,000 second-feet, which has been exceeded in this century only by the floods of 1904, 1909, and 1914. The total run-off at Logan for the flood period has been computed as 653,800 acre-feet.

At Santa Rosa the Pecos River reached a maximum discharge of 88,200 second-feet, which is greater than any previously recorded. This flood was partly stored in the Alamogordo Reservoir; the peak below the reservoir was only 25,200 second-feet.

The Pecos River flood at Roswell reached a maximum discharge of more than 80,000 second-feet. This water came mostly from tributaries that have .their sources in the mountainous area west of Roswell. The Cienaga del Macho, ordinarily a small dry creek, discharged about 49,800 second-feet at its peak. The Rio Hondo experienced several flood peaks, the largest at Roswell probably being near 20,000 second-feet. Berrendo Creek, which enters the Rio Hondo near Roswell, had a computed peak discharge of 37,700 second-feet.

Roswell was subjected to several floods that inundated large areas of the town. Considerable damage was done by the water, which covered nearly all the area occupied by the town.

Lake McMillan, an artificial reservoir on the Pecos River about 12 miles above Carlsbad, was put to a severe strain by the large quantity of water passing through it, but no serious damage resulted. The capacity of the lake at spillway level is about 39,000 acre-feet, but at the peak of the flood the lake held about 86,000 acre-feet. The total quantity of water passing through the lake during the flood period was more than 440,000 acre-feet.

This report presents data pertinent to the floods of May and June 1937, including results of peak discharge determinations made at about 14 miscellaneous places, records of peak stages and discharges and of mean daily discharges during the flood period at 23 regular river-measurement stations, records of rainfall at about 190 places, an isohyetal map showing rainfall over the entire State and two isohyetal maps showing rainfall over the Canadian and Pecos River Basins, and a discussion of the weather conditions during the flood period, including an upper-air wind and pressure chart of the United States for May 28, 1937. In addition to the information listed above the report includes a summary of records of past floods at all places in New Mexico at which authentic records were available.

Publication Year 1939
Title Floods in the Canadian and Pecos River basins of New Mexico, May and June 1937
DOI 10.3133/wsp842
Authors Tate Dalrymple
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water Supply Paper
Series Number 842
Index ID wsp842
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse