Considering all the rain we have had recently, this may be a dangerous topic to approach. Still, there was no big volcanic eruption last year, so we may be safe.
Odd as it may seem, the 1913 floods that devastated Indiana and Ohio had their origin in the eruption in 1912 of the Katma/Novarupta volcano in Alaska. That eruption was so massive and threw so much ash into the upper atmosphere that it caused a mini “volcanic winter” in North America. This led to the formation of a massive storm front on the Great Plains in March 1913, which spawned a series of deadly tornadoes in Nebraska on Easter Sunday. As this storm moved east, it collided with a mass of cold Canadian air moving south and an equally strong front of warm, moist air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. These three fronts met over Indiana and Ohio, and the resulting storms dumped between six and nine inches of rain onto already-soaked ground over the next five days.
The resulting floods across Ohio caused over 500 deaths and nearly $250 million in property damage ($5.6 billion in today’s dollars). Dayton was probably the hardest hit town in the state, having not only flood waters but fires to contend with in the downtown area.
Columbus suffered extensive damage, particularly in “The Flats” section on the west side of the Scioto. James Thurber’s classic story, “The Day the Dam Broke” is based on a real incident when rumors of the failure of the Griggs Dam triggered a panic among Columbus residents. This occurred on Wednesday, March 26, the third straight day of constant rain, when the West Side was under some 17 feet of water after the levees along the Scioto had broken and over 90 people had died. The fact that Griggs Dam was a low storage dam (only 35 feet high) and designed for water to flow over it did nothing to calm people’s fears, and the words “The dam has broken!” were enough to start a wholesale stampede to the east. In those days anyone who lived below a dam was understandably nervous. Many residents of St. Mary’s and Celina had left their homes for fear the dam holding the “Grand Reservoir” (now known as Grand Lake St. Mary’s) was about to give way.
Plain City itself was spared the worst of the damage, although many farms in the area were badly flooded. Damage to bridges and roads isolated the town for a time, but far more physical damage had been done by the June “cyclone” the year before.
The Plain City Historical Society has a number of photographs that were taken at the time of the flood. The most telling ones are a pair that were taken on East Main Street looking east to the Taylor Bridge. The bridge withstood the flood waters, unlike the Butler Bridge to the north, but the road was not so fortunate.
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.
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