The Great 1982 Flash Flood

It wasn’t 1955 or 1936 but the 1982 flood is still something people in some areas of southern Connecticut will never forget. The great flood of 1982 was arguably the 3rd most significant flood event of the 20th century in Connecticut – and without question the most significant flood episode in portions of New Haven, Middlesex, and New London counties.

At the Cockaponset State Forest Ranger Station in Haddam 13.26″ of rain fell in 3 days time. On June 5th 2.05″ of rain fell while 10.47″ fell on June 6th!!  To put that in perspective at Bradley Airport 13.26″ of rain would be the 5th wettest month on record. For that much rain to fall in 3 days shows you why this event is so impressive.

The 2.05″ of rain in Haddam on June 5th and 10.47″ on June 6th was also close to breaking the 24-hour state rainfall record held by Burlington from the August, 1955 flood of 12.77″. In North Lyme 16.00″ was recorded in the 3-day period.

Here are the USGS stream gauges that set record crests that day:

  • Yantic River (Norwich) – 14.88ft (9/38 – 14.66ft)
  • East Branch Eightmile River (North Lyme) – 10.22ft (1/79 – 8.81ft)
  • Eightmile River (North Plain) – 11.12ft (1/79 – 8.24ft)
  • Salmon River (East Hampton) – 14.40ft (1/79 – 12.67ft)
  • Pendelton Hill Brook (No. Stonington) – 6.73ft (3/07 – 6.66ft)
  • Indian River (Clinton) – 8.29ft (10/90 – 5.39ft)
  • Quinnipiac River (Wallingford) – 14.02ft (1/79 – 12.93ft)
  • Mill River (Hamden) – 9.53ft (6/92 -5.93ft)

All of the above records still stand! That’s an incredible number of river gauges to set records that are still standing. The damage from the flash flooding was also remarkable – particularly in Essex where dams failure devastated Centerbrook and Ivoryton.

Here are some of the National Weather Service statements leading up to and during the storm.

11 people died in the flooding in Connecticut and 230 million in damage was done (500+ million in 2011 dollars) making the June 1982 flooding the worst since 1955.

Meteorologically the June flood setup was a classic one for southern New England. We generally get big flooding one of three ways. Remnant tropical cyclones (1938, 1955, 1999, 1972 etc), rapid snowmelt and heavy rains, or cut-off upper level lows (or a combination of a cut-off ULL and remnant tropical system as in 2005). The June 1982 case was a classic case of a crawling, cut-off upper level low that developed a classic Atlantic firehose.

Not shown is the 850mb/700mb charts that show cut-off mid level lows with impressive deformation to the north across southern Connecticut.

This is how Storm Data from NCDC described the flooding.

“Eight to ten inches of rain caused the most destructive flood since the hurricane of the 50’s. As a truck was swept into a roaring brook in East Haddam, a woman drowned. In Clinton a pedestrian was swept away to his death. In New London, a 8 year old drowned in his flooded basement. In Putnam, a woman died as a pickup truck was swept away. And in Salem, a woman died as she tried to escape her stalled truck. Thousands of roads were washed out and many bridges were destroyed. In Ivoryton, two dams burst causing total destruction of many houses along the Fall River. Areas exceptionally hard hit in addition to Ivoryton were Naugatuck, New Haven eastward to Clinton, and Southington. Railroad tracks were undermined with cavernous erosion through which a truck could pass. Extended commercial disruption resulted in Essex, Milford, New Haven and Waterbury.”

Here’s an article in the Hartford Courant 20 years after the great flood detailing some of the damage in Middlesex County.

While the big rivers in Connecticut are flood controlled (thanks to 1955) many of the smaller rivers and streams are not. There was a big push in the mid 80s to inspect and repair dams across the state both on state land and private land. I fear that a repeat of the 1982 rains would lead to substantial and devastating flooding on many of the same rivers once again. Dam failures would be inevitable. The good news is that an event like this today would be relatively well forecast – and we have the technology to get the word out quickly when life-threatening flooding is expected to occur.

As I like to say… beware the upper level low! They’re sneaky little things and have the potential to produce big time rains.

5 thoughts on “The Great 1982 Flash Flood”

  1. We have pictures here at the madison firehouse of 3 feet of water In the apparatus bays and fish swimming under the trucks.

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