Floods of April 1952 in the Missouri River basin

Water Supply Paper 1260-B



The floods of April 1952 in the Milk River basin, along the Missouri River from the mouth of the Little Missouri River to the mouth of the Kansas River, and for scattered tributaries of the Missouri River in North and South Dakota were the greatest ever observed. The damage amounted to an estimated $179 million. The outstanding featur6 of the floods was the extraordinary peak discharge generated in the Missouri River at and downstream from Bismarck, N. Dak., on April 6 when a large ice jam upstream from the city was suddenly released. Inflow from flooding tributaries maintained the peak discharge at approximately the same magnitude in the transit of the flood across South Dakota; downstream from Yankton, S. Dak., attenuation of the peak discharge was continuous because of natural storage in the wide flood plains. The outstanding characteristic of floods in the Milk River basin was their duration--the flood crested at Havre, Mont., on April 3 and at Nashua, Mont.. on April 18. The floods were caused by an abnormally heavy accumulation of snow that was converted into runoff in a few days of very warm weather at the end of March. The heaviest water content of the snow pack at breakup was in a narrow arc extending through Aberdeen, S. Dak., Pierre, S. Dak.. and northwestward toward the southwest corner of North Dakota. The water content in part of this concentrated cover exceeded 6 inches. The winter of 1951-52, which followed a wet cold fall that made the ground impervious, was one of the most severe ever experienced in South Dakota and northern Montana. Depths of snow and low temperatures combined to produce, at the end of March, one of the heaviest snow covers in the history of the Great Plains. The Missouri River ice was intact upstream from Chamberlain, S. Dak., at the end of March, and the breakup of the ice with inflow of local runoff was one of the spectacular features of the flood. Runoff from the Yellowstone River combining with the flood pouring from the Little Missouri River caused the Missouri River to crest at an all-time high at Elbowoods, N. Dak., on April 4. As this crest moved downstream to Bismarck, its intensity was increased by the alternate storing and release of ice jams plus the inflow from the Knife River. The crest discharge of 500,000 cfs came at Bismarck at 6 p. m. on April 6. following a very sharp rise from 80,000 cfs at 11 a.m. Overflow occurred along the Missouri River from Elbowoods to the mouth with high damage to cities. farmland, and installations located in the flood plain. Cleanup and repair operations following the flood continued for many weeks. Few of the flooded farms produced a crop during 1952. This report presents detailed records of stage and discharge for the flood period on the Missouri River and tributaries from Fort Peck. Mont., to the mouth. Information on damages and river stages collected by other agencies is also presented.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Floods of April 1952 in the Missouri River basin
Series title Water Supply Paper
Series number 1260
Chapter B
DOI 10.3133/wsp1260B
Year Published 1955
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Print Office
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) North Dakota Water Science Center, Dakota Water Science Center
Description Report: x, 302 p.; 3 Plates: 16.50 x 19.00 inches or smaller
Country United States
Other Geospatial Missouri River Basin
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details