The monsoon season brings flash flood warnings, when a storm in one part of the valley can produce runoff that disrupts neighborhoods miles away.
A trickle in a wash can grow to several feet deep in a matter of minutes, and overflowing gutters can make streets impassable.
But imagine the scene 100 years ago, when there were no flood channels in place, and no paved roads at all. The headlines of the day: Train tracks washed out, telegraph lines down, entire bridges washed away.
That kind of news fills accounts that preceded official record-keeping on floods in 1975. That was the year the Flamingo Wash flooded, carrying cars through the Caesars Palace parking lot in the area that is now the Forum Shops.
That flood prompted record-keeping on floods, and a history was compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based on media counts dating back to 1905.
Read a few excerpts from that history below. The date above each headline indicates the day the story was published:
You can read the full report on flood events from 1905-1975 compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Division.
Precipitation records don’t always tell the whole story. It’s common to see heavy rain only to hear that no precipitation was recorded at McCarran International Airport — the official recording location for Las Vegas.
Flash floods happen when the clouds open up and the rain comes fast. The 1999 100-year flood only registered at 1.29 inches of rain at the airport. Here is a list of all the rainfall that exceeded 1 inch in a day:
|1.||2.58||August 21, 1957|
|2.||1.65||August 22, 2012|
|3.||1.58||August 9, 1942|
|4.||1.56||August 12, 1979|
|5.||1.36||July 28, 1984|
|6.||1.33||January 9, 2018|
|7.||1.32||July 24, 1956|
|8.||1.29||July 8, 1999|
|8.||1.27||February 8, 1993|
|8.||1.29||August 4, 1955|
|11.||1.25||July 25, 1976|
|12.||1.22||August 11, 1941|
|13.||1.20||March 27, 1992|
|14.||1.19||February 6, 1976|
|15.||1.18||September 11, 2012|
|15.||1.18||July 25, 1954|
|17.||1.13||December 29, 2004|
|17.||1.13||August 17, 1977|
|17.||1.13||July 23, 1955|
|20.||1.11||February 14, 2019|
|21.||1.09||November 22, 1965|
|21.||1.09||September 25, 1939|
|23.||1.08||October 12, 194 7|
|24.||1.07||September 4, 1963|
|25.||1.05||October 24, 1992|
|25.||1.05||November 21, 1967|
|27.||1.01||December 22, 2010|
|27.||1.01||November 16 1972|
|27.||1.01||February 1, 1940|
(Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Clearly, the numbers don’t tell the complete story, because every rainstorm doesn’t camp over the airport.
But history tells us that storms over the Spring Mountains can send devastating floodwaters through the valley, and a prolonged cloudburst can bring havoc to any part of the valley. Pay attention to flood warnings, and never try to cross rushing water.