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Midwest Regional Climate CenterHosted by the
Midwestern
Regional
Climate Center

Community Profiles:  Cleveland, Ohio

River: Cuyahoga
Storm Total Rainfall: 7.22"
Known Fatalities: None known

Timeline

The city of Cleveland is located on a bluff above the Cuyahoga River which cuts through the west side of town. The rainfall in Cleveland was not a significant factor in the rise of the Cuyahoga River, as higher precipitation amounts upstream had already swollen the river. The river crested around 9:00 p.m. on the 25th, about 11 hours after the rain had ended. The Cuyahoga overran its banks to a level never been seen, before or after March of 1913. The most significant damage was to the flats district where a number of businesses were based. Hundreds were trapped in the flats area as the waters began to rise the morning of the 25th.

The Electric Company ordered customers to shut off the power as they feared short circuiting from the flooding. This shut down all businesses. In Cleveland rescues of hundreds of people from factories and homes were ongoing. A small wooden dam upstream of Cleveland in Akron failed around 4 am Thursday, pushing the Cuyahoga, which had just begun to recede back into flood.

Impacts

The workers at the lumber yard worked to preserve the stock, yet the water rose quicker than expected and the workers all become trapped. Workers at the train depot were also caught by surprise, and it took most of the day to get rescue to those trapped on second floors. The rapidly rising water of the Cuyahoga River caused the 500 ft barge Sir Henry William Mack, loaded to capacity with grain, to break loose from its moorings early in the morning and demolish the lower West Third Street bridge. This greatly slowed rescue efforts in the flats. The fire stations, equipped with ropes, pulleys, and life preservers, plucked people out of the low lying flats. The current became hazardous as it washed out the lumber and parts of homes into the middle of the river, making life-saving boats have to periodically stop. Four children from a rescued home were ill with the measles and suffered severely from the exposure. Several rescue boats were flipped due to the difficulty of navigating the flats, but fortunately no fatalities occurred.

Upstream of Cleveland in the town of Brecksville, the Ohio Canal and the Cuyahoga River had merged into one beginning Monday Night. Many homes in the village were flooded to their second stories. Several stories of heroism and close calls were reported from Monday Night as the flood waters rose.

Map showing hard-hit areas around Cleveland OH West Third Street bridge damaged in 1913 flood, Cleveland OH

Flood Protection Measures

The only flood protection measure found in Cleveland was an emergency flood warning system operated in the Cuyahoga River Drainage Basin by NOAA. It was also noted during the preparation of this flood study that the City of Cleveland performs emergency channel maintenance on an "as required" basis during periods of high rainfall. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) maintains a dredge program for navigation purposes from the mouth of the Cuyahoga River to a point about 5.5 miles inland. This program provides inadvertent flood protection by greatly increasing the carrying capacity of the channel. For this reason, the Cuyahoga River was studied in a dredged condition. The USACE also constructed a breakwall located offshore in Lake Erie from the mouth of the Cuyahoga River at Cleveland. Built as a shelter for the dock area and river mouth and to provide a safe harbor for ships, this breakwall also serves as a flood protection measure by inhibiting the advance of waves from storms on the open lake. The breakwall is sufficiently high to provide complete protection from the 100-year* storm, and, if properly maintained, should provide the harbor with adequate protection from the 500-year storm.

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* 100-year flood is old terminology. Agencies are now using the term "1% Flood Level" which is the maximum flood level with a one-percent chance of occurring within any given year.