History of Flood Events

Historical flood information provides a summary of major flood events​ in the Salem area during the previous 150 years.

Recent flood events

Since 1964, major storm events occurred in January 1974, February 1986, February 1996, November 1996, and January 2012.  In February 1996, the Salem area saw nearly 100-year flood levels, causing flooding in both rural and urban areas. Damages to city businesses, residences, and infrastructure were tremendous, and most of the city's residents were affected by the substantial impact on the transportation system, the loss of potable water, and the damage to personal property. Claims filed under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program for Salem residences and businesses accounted for almost one-third of the claims filed for Marion County in 1996.

During the most recent event in January 2012, some areas of south Salem received over nine inches of rain within a five-day period. Heavy rainfall combined with melting snow caused substantial flooding in the Battle Creek, Mill Creek, Pringle Creek, and Croisan Creek basins. Approximately 300 people were evacuated from their homes, and 64 city streets were closed due to high water.

While the 1996 event was devastating to the entire region, the floods of 1861, 1890, and 1964 exceeded the 1996 events in terms of velocity and volume of water. These four major historical floods and the recent 2012 flood have been estimated to be nearly 100-year events, or base floods, and all within a time frame of about 150 years.

Historic flood events

The largest flood of the Willamette River on record occurred in 1861; the next significant flood occurred in 1890. In more recent times, many residents may remember the Christmas flood of 1964, which was rated “approximately a 100-year flood” by FEMA and may be the most damaging in Oregon's history. The Christmas flood of 1964 caused $157 million in damage, and 20 Oregonians lost their lives.

The Christmas flood occurred as a result of two storms, one on December 19, 1964, and the other on January 31, 1965. These storms brought record-breaking rainfall, and the resultant flooding was exacerbated by near-record, early season snow depths. The Willamette River crested nearly ten feet above flood stage, and many other streams in Salem overflowed their banks. The floodwaters rendered the sewage treatment plant inoperable, causing raw sewage to be channeled directly into the Willamette River. Salem Memorial Hospital evacuated​ 121 patients, and 15 families in the Turner and Salem areas were evacuated from their homes.

Salem’s historical flood gallery

Contact us

Public Works Department
Monday–Friday
8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
555 Liberty ST SE RM 325
Salem OR 97301
Phone: 

​Additional resources

  
Phone Number
  
  
City of Salem, Community Development, Planning
503‑588‑6256
Tree Trimming or Removal PermitCity Planners can provide information about protection of vegetation and trees along waterways and tree removal.
City of Salem, Emergency Preparedness
503‑588‑6211
Emergency and Disaster PreparednessFor assistance in an emergency, call 911. Contact us to learn more about preparing for a disaster or for information on the City's emergency management program.
City of Salem, Public Library
503‑588‑6052
Salem Public Library WebsiteThe library collection contains floodplain publications and other floodplain-related information.
City of Salem, Public Works Dispatch
503‑588‑6333
Call dispatch if you discover problems with a street or your water / sewer service (i.e. broken pipe, pothole, environmental spill, clogged street drain).
City of Salem, Public Works, Development Services
503‑588‑6211
Contact Development Services to speak with a Floodplain Manager or if you have questions about the interactive floodplain map.
Mid Willamette Valley High Water Watch
503-588-6333
Mid Willamette Valley High Water WatchView current stream levels and rainfall data in near real-time from a number of sites across the City.
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
1‑888‑379‑9531
Floodsmart WebsiteThe Floodsmart website provides information about the National Flood Insurance Program, answers questions about flood insurance, and provides assistance to find local insurance agents that offer flood insurance.
Oregon Division of State Lands (DSL)
503‑378‑3805
Oregon Division of State Lands WebsiteDSL reviews and issues removal/fill permits for development activities in waterways and wetlands.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
503‑808‑4510
USACE Flood Risk Management WebsiteTo find out more information about the USACE Flood Risk Management Program.