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The floods of March 1936, Part 3, Potomac, James, and upper Ohio Rivers

January 1, 1937

During the period March 9-22, 1936, there occurred in close succession over the northeastern United States, from the James and upper Ohio River Basins in Virginia and Pennsylvania to the river basins of Maine, two extraordinarily heavy storms, in which the precipitation was almost entirely in the form of rain. The depths of rainfall mark this period as one of the greatest concentrations of precipitation, in respect to time and magnitude of the area covered, of which there is record in this country.

At the time of the rain there were also accumulations of snow on the ground over much of the storm-affected region that were large for the season. The comparatively warm temperatures associated with the storms thawed the snow and added materially to the quantities of water to be disposed of by drainage into the waterways, by surface storage in lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, by absorption in the ground, and, probably in comparatively negligible degree, by evaporation.

The total quantity of water that had to be disposed of in these ways ranged between 10 and 30 inches in depth over much of the region. The water disposed of by natural storage, absorption, and evaporation amounted to average depths over the many river basins generally within the range of 1 to 3 inches, with a significant degree of uniformity and systematic areal distribution. The remainder of the rain and snow water, generally much larger or even several times larger in amount than surface storage, absorption, and evaporation, required accommodation by the channels of the brooks, creeks, and rivers.

There were generally two distinct flood peaks, and in many of the basins the destruction was seriously aggravated, especially during the first flood, by the break-up of thick ice cover accumulated through a winter of exceptionally continuous and severe cold weather. The resulting floods were extraordinarily severe, and records of river stages, extending on some streams back to or nearly to the time of settlement by white men, were broken many of them by wide margins. The peak of the Connecticut River at Hartford, Conn., was 8.6 feet higher than had been experienced since the settlement by white men, 300 years ago. The Susquehanna River at Harrisburg, Pa., was 3.5 feet higher than had been known in a period of record covering about 200 years. The Ohio River at Pittsburgh, Pa., was 6.1 feet higher than had been known in the period beginning 1762.

This volume presents many of the facts of these notable floods with respect to the New England rivers, for permanent record and for study and reference by engineers concerned with the building of highways, bridges, and industrial plants, planners of river development, and others. Similar volumes for the region from the Hudson River to the Susquehanna River and for the Potomac, James, and upper Ohio River Basins are presented in companion Water-Supply Papers 799 and 800 respectively. In this volume records of stage and discharge for the period Including the floods are presented for about 150 measurement stations; peak discharges with comparative data for other floods at more than 400 measurement points are summarized; crest stages along an aggregate length of stream channel of 2,820 miles are tabulated; and results of detailed studies of the rainfall and run-off and many other kinds of flood information are presented.

Publication Year 1937
Title The floods of March 1936, Part 3, Potomac, James, and upper Ohio Rivers
DOI 10.3133/wsp800
Authors Nathan C. Grover, Stephen Lichtblau
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water Supply Paper
Series Number 800
Index ID wsp800
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pennsylvania Water Science Center