History of Flood Events

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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 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

Battle Creek at flood stage with bridge

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