Floods inflicted havoc as Las Vegas grew out of the desert

Monsoon

The monsoon season brings flash flood warnings, when a storm in one part of the valley can produce runoff that disrupts neighborhoods miles away.

A trickle in a wash can grow to several feet deep in a matter of minutes, and overflowing gutters can make streets impassable.

But imagine the scene 100 years ago, when there were no flood channels in place, and no paved roads at all. The headlines of the day: Train tracks washed out, telegraph lines down, entire bridges washed away.

That kind of news fills accounts that preceded official record-keeping on floods in 1975. That was the year the Flamingo Wash flooded, carrying cars through the Caesars Palace parking lot in the area that is now the Forum Shops.

That flood prompted record-keeping on floods, and a history was compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based on media counts dating back to 1905.

Read a few excerpts from that history below. The date above each headline indicates the day the story was published:

You can read the full report on flood events from 1905-1975 compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Division.

Precipitation records don’t always tell the whole story. It’s common to see heavy rain only to hear that no precipitation was recorded at McCarran International Airport — the official recording location for Las Vegas.

Flash floods happen when the clouds open up and the rain comes fast. The 1999 100-year flood only registered at 1.29 inches of rain at the airport. Here is a list of all the rainfall that exceeded 1 inch in a day:

1.2.58 August 21, 1957
2.1.65 August 22, 2012
3.1.58 August 9, 1942
4.1.56 August 12, 1979
5.1.36 July 28, 1984
6.1.33 January 9, 2018
7.1.32 July 24, 1956
8.1.29 July 8, 1999
8.1.27 February 8, 1993
8.1.29 August 4, 1955
11.1.25 July 25, 1976
12.1.22 August 11, 1941
13.1.20 March 27, 1992
14.1.19 February 6, 1976
15.1.18 September 11, 2012
15.1.18 July 25, 1954
17.1.13 December 29, 2004
17. 1.13 August 17, 1977
17. 1.13 July 23, 1955
20.1.11 February 14, 2019
21.1.09 November 22, 1965
21.1.09 September 25, 1939
23.1.08 October 12, 194 7
24.1.07 September 4, 1963
25.1.05 October 24, 1992
25.1.05 November 21, 1967
27.1.01 December 22, 2010
27. 1.01 November 16 1972
27. 1.01 February 1, 1940

(Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Clearly, the numbers don’t tell the complete story, because every rainstorm doesn’t camp over the airport.

But history tells us that storms over the Spring Mountains can send devastating floodwaters through the valley, and a prolonged cloudburst can bring havoc to any part of the valley. Pay attention to flood warnings, and never try to cross rushing water.

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