Floods of 1986
While it has been somewhat dry this year this week post is about a September that was very wet and caused some of the worst flooding in central Michigan’s history.
This month marks the 35th anniversary of the Great Flood of 1986, an incredible weather event that was described as “Michigan’s greatest natural disaster.”
Using past media reports and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report from the incident, here are the numbers that describe the scope of the rainfall and the damage it caused.
Sept. 10, 1986: The day the rain started
Heavy rainfall started this day. The storm system measured 180 miles east to west and 60 miles north to south in central Michigan. Rainfall amounts ranged between 8- and 14-inches, according to FEMA. That rain fall continued through Sept. 12, but Central Michigan also received 26 consecutive days of rainfall.
Rainfall totals in the month of September:
Measurements in inches. (Amount in parentheses fell between Sept. 10-12)
- Big Rapids: 19.05 (13.13)
- Alma: 16.31 (10.76)
- Midland: 18.35 (11.78)
- Mount Pleasant: 15.42 (10.78)
- Saginaw: 17.48 (11.35)
- Caro: 18.16 inches (11.51)
- Hart: 11.44 inches (7.69)
River gauge heights
Measurements, taken from Sept. 10-15, 1986, in feet. (Amount in parentheses is what the gauge height was as of Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, according to the National Weather Service.)
- Saginaw River at Saginaw: 24.2 (14.78)
- Tittabawassee River at Midland: 34.1 (11.65)
- Cass River at Vassar: 24 (Automated readings aren’t available here. Flood stage is 14-feet.)
- Chippewa River at Mount Pleasant: 15.6 (3.9)
- Pine River at Alma: 12.8 (1.7)
Cost of disaster
Total damage was estimated at $505.2 million in 1986 dollars. Using the federal government’s CPI inflation calculation, damage in today’s dollars would be more than $1.1 billion. A majority of the cost is due to crop loss, being that floods hit during the harvest season.
- Private property: $137.9 million.
- Agricultural: $300 million.
- Public facilities: $67.3 million
Farmers took the hardest hit during the flood. The graphic to the left is a four-county breakdown of the crop loss with corn, soybeans, dry beans and sugar beets.
A $200 million, zero percent interest emergency loan plan was proposed by Michigan Gov. James Blanchard.
Homes, roads and infrastructure
- 30,000 homes suffered first floor and/or basement damage throughout 30 Michigan counties.
- 3,600 miles of roadways were impassable as the result of the failure of four primary road bridges and hundreds of secondary road bridges and culverts.
- 11 dams failed and 19 others threatened with failure.
Workers who became unemployed because of the flooding were allowed to file for unemployment benefits. Michigan Employment Security Commission officials at the time estimated the flood left about 1,200 people jobless, with claims totaling about $945,000.
The maximum a worker could receive in unemployment at the time was $197 per week.
So while there has been talk of how dry or how “hot” it has been it sure could be a whole lot worse.