It should come as no surprise that flash floods are among the most catastrophic weather events we have seen in Kerr County over the past century or so since weather records have been kept for the Kerrville area.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been Kerrville’s official climate site since 1974, but weather records are reasonably complete dating back to September of 1895 for Kerrville.
To this point in time, tornadoes have been less frequent in Kerr County compared to counties surrounding us, but we are not immune to the occasional twister.
This past spring taught us how true that fact can be.
Although damaging storm winds became the main weather damage report for storms this past May, it is indeed likely a tornado or two was observed within a supercell complex earlier this spring.
I was asked to rank the top 10 weather events for Kerr County, but it is hard to rank from one to 10 when there are so many events that have created similar results, so I will mention 10 events without ranking them specifically.
They all are remembered for their unique weather impacts, and a few were considered disastrous.
So, let’s start here.
When was Kerrville’s first flood reported?
According to the earliest possible weather records for this region, this occurred in July 1869.
It was the first recorded instance of flooding being observed on the Guadalupe River, but little information is available on this event.
When ranking weather events by frequency, hail takes the prize and ranks as the No. 1 weather risk for Kerr County.
Flash floods come in No. 2, followed by severe thunderstorm wind gusts at No. 3.
In most years, at least two of the three are likely to occur at one point or another.
I decided to take hail out of the equation because, honestly, Kerr County has seen roughly 2,800 hail events between 1950 and 2010.
When it comes to catastrophic events, flooding is the real deal.
July 16, 1900
This is listed as the first catastrophic flood event locally as more than 11 inches of rain was reported in the area.
San Antonio newspaper reports indicated that houses were washed away, and camps were heavily damaged.
The Guadalupe River crested at 31 feet ,and significant damage was reported to the Kerrville electrical light plant.
“Damage to crops and fences was enormous, but no lives lost,” according to a San Antonio paper report.
Downstream, a 42-foot crest was observed at Comfort.
The next major flood to strike the area was in 1909. Rainfall totals of 8 to 10 inches were observed and, while no lives were lost, the power plant was destroyed again.
There was a large loss of animal life in this flood event.
The flood of 1915 threatened to annihilate Ingram, according to official weather reports.
Major flooding occurred upstream, producing a 30-foot wall of water. Many homes were destroyed or washed away, along with large loss of animal life. No loss of life was observed.
There is no doubt in my mind that this event probably ranks as the most memorable weather event in history for Kerr County. The flood of ’32 was what everyone talked about for decades, including my growing up years.
It became the first major flood event with human casualties on record. Seven people lost their lives in this catastrophic flood event across Central Texas between June 30 and July 2.
The rainfall totals listed by county observers ranged from 12 to 30 inches on the headwaters of the Guadalupe River west of Hunt.
Locals described this event as a massive wall of water that swallowed up trees, cabins, homes and anything else in it’s path.
It is among the first flood events that had photographic records of the actual event and the aftermath.
Joseph Ewing was the official weather observer for Kerrville at the time, and he recorded 9.01 inches of rain during the month of July, ranking as the highest total in Texas that month.
This is the month it never stopped raining. On Sept. 13, 1936, it rained 0.56 inches, which was followed by 6.42 inches of rain on Sept. 14 and 5.95 inches of rain on the 15. Then another 0.95 inches fell on Sept. 16. A small break in the action occurred, but then it rained another 4.58 inches on Sept. 27 to close out the month.
This month became the wettest month in Kerrville history as 19.94 inches of rain was observed in September 1936. That is 10 inches shy of the average yearly rainfall for this region.
This was triggered by a tropical disturbance that passed inland near Corpus Christi and remained stationary across the area for days. As high as this total was, San Angelo was the wettest location in Texas, recording 27.65 inches of rain that month.
Every station in the Texas Hill Country reported at least 10 inches of rain that month, and flooding was observed everywhere.
There were casualties in this flood event, and the Kerrville Times reported as their headline “75-year-old man swept to death as cloudburst floods streets of city.”
The fatality occurred at Quinlan Creek on the bridge along Fourth Street, when rising waters knocked him off his feet and carried him a quarter mile downstream.
A strong arctic cold front blasted through Texas on Jan. 29, 1949. By Jan. 30, the high temperature in Brownsville was only 32 degrees. Kerrville only reached 20 degrees for a high that day.
In the days prior, a major ice storm gripped Texas from Jan. 23-27, and this included the Kerrville area. The frontal system on Jan. 29 was powerful and produced 6 inches of snow on Jan. 30. When skies cleared out that night, the thermometer dropped to 7 below, which still ranks as the coldest temperature ever observed in Kerrville.
The entire Hill Country dropped below zero on the morning of Jan. 31.
This event is considered a disaster not only for the Hill Country, but for the entire state of Texas. Many people refer to this era as the “Seven Year Drought” for it’s lengthy persistence across the area.
The drought began in the early 1950s and was broken up once by a flood event in September 1953, but no damage from the flood was observed.
The drought came to an end in April 1957, when 11.62 inches of rain fell in Kerrville that month.
Medina was left water-bound for several days, and people were evacuated from Quinlan Creek as high water cut off Schreiner Institute after water flowed over the bridge into town.
The next year, 266 Boy Scouts were marooned at an Ingram camp in June 1958. Four helicopters were used to carry loads of food across the flooded river.
Then, in 1959, the Kerrville Times reported “Worst flood in 24 years.” In October1959, a flood caused $1 million in damage and was the first time that Kerr County had ever been declared a federal disaster area.
Water was reported to rise so quickly that people had no time to evacuate. A man and his wife were awakened by floodwaters and tried to get out. Both were washed into the raging Guadalupe River, where the man was rescued, but his wife’s body was found several days later 22 miles downstream.
Tropical Storm Amelia is to blame for this event. Early in the month, 20 to 30 inches of rain fell across portions of southern and western Kerr County and Bandera County. Eight people drowned along Verde Creek near Center Point, and 25 people drowned in Kerr, Kendall and Bandera counties during this event.
Kerr County was declared a disaster area, and $50 million in property damage was estimated at the time.
Kerrville recorded 11.62 inches of rain on Aug. 2 and finished the month with 17.43 inches of rain, becoming the second wettest month on record for Kerrville.
1980 heat wave
On June 27, Kerrville hit 100 degrees and was followed by highs of 105, 104 and 100 degrees to close out the month. While it was not unusual for it to get so hot for a few days, the average temperature for the remainder of the summer ranked it as the second-hottest on record — second only to 1884.
It was a costly year because of a late freeze in April followed by a hot summer and then an early freeze in autumn.
1983 deep freeze
This event will go down as one of the coldest on record for the longest duration of time. It was so cold that ice formed on the Guadalupe River in areas. Some creeks froze over completely.
It had been rather mild in the weeks leading up to this event. Highs had been mostly in the 60s and 70s. Initially, a cold front moved in around Dec. 15, dropping lows to 24 degrees. After a brief high of 64 on Dec. 16, the temperatures fell into the 40s and stayed there on Dec. 17. It was the first of many fronts to come. On Dec. 18, the thermometer plunged, and highs would remain in the 20s and 30s for most of the month that followed.
Lows at night dropped into the single digits and teens with the exception of one morning. It was the coldest Christmas on record, with a low of 7 and a high of only 20 degrees.
January 1985 snow event
Many believe it does not snow around here. While this was true most years, on the night of January 11, it began to snow. It continued snowing through the early morning hours of Jan. 13. Before the event came to a close, Kerrville recorded more than 13 inches of snow, which ad remains the highest snowfall total in Kerrville history.
Medina reported 23 inches of snow, for the highest amount of snowfall in Texas that month.
Snow was seen in the H-E-B parking lot for nearly a month after this event.
July 17, 1987
This is one of the most tragic events in Kerr County weather history.
During the overnight hours between July 16 and 17, up to 15 inches of rain was estimated to have fallen just west of Hunt. Rain in Edwards and Real County spread east into Kerr County, and the storm was a quiet killer.
No thunder was observed for most areas. It was a cloudburst rain event that produced a crest between 35 and 40 feet.
By daybreak on July 17, the water was dangerously close to touching the Sidney Baker Street bridge. Trees and debris were seen floating down the river, along with unoccupied vehicles.
At first, helicopters from Fort Sam Houston were dispatched to help stranded motorists west of Ingram and Hunt. It initially looked like people were going to be OK — until a caravan of buses and vans from Seagoville were caught in the wall of water at Pot O’ Gold Camp in eastern Kerr County.
When one van and a bus stalled in shallow water along the bank of the river, a wall of water approached from the west and inundated both vehicles rapidly.
Young campers were trying to evacuate before the flood hit, but many did not escape in time. Ten people were killed in this tragic event, but one body was not recovered until several years later.
This remains the most publicized and tragic flood event in Kerr County history.
Until this event, August 1978 was the wettest month in Kerrville history, but 19.07 inches of rain was observed the first few days of July 2002.
Comfort reported more than 32 inches of rain. Estimates of 40 to 50 inches of rain were reported between Kerrville, Center Point and Comfort.
This storm holds the record for being the biggest flood ever recorded along Quinlan Creek in Kerrville.
The damage along Lytle Street was significant ,with major flooding and damage reported. The Guadalupe River rose to record levels, but not in Kerrville, as the rain fell over the city and drained toward Canyon Lake, creating water breaches in the Canyon Lake Spillway area near New Braunfels. Nine lives were lost in this flood event, mainly east of Kerrville.
2011 heat and drought
Drought and heat go hand in hand most of the time. Kerrville finished out 2011 with a total of 13.10 inches of rain. The problem is that more than 5 inches of this total fell in November and December to close out the year.
Kerrville’s annual rainfall total was between 3 and 5 inches until September. It was the hottest summer on record and the driest on record for the entire state.
On Aug. 29, the temperature soared to 108 degrees. Wildfires consumed many acres across Texas and Kerr County. Water wells collapsed, and farmers had no water for the first time in memory.
The first 100-degree day occurred on May 26, when it hit 103 degrees. The final 100-degree day occurred on Sept. 28, when it hit 101.
Of the 31 days in August, 27 were above 100 degrees, and Kerrville smashed a record by reaching 100 degrees or higher on 50 days during the year of 2011.
No year has come close to this since.
May 27, 2020
This May brought a thunderstorm event that caused more than $1 million in damages during the late afternoon and early evening hours of May 27.
A supercell thunderstorm moved to the south from Mason and Gillespie counties. A large shelf cloud was observed with this storm, and it produced golfball sized hail, wind gusts between 75 and 100 mph and reports of tornadoes.
Despite a National Weather Service survey that did not locate any official tornado damage, there were likely areas where a touchdown occurred, although unconfirmed officially.
The storm left power lines down, homes damaged, and there widespread reports of property and vehicle damage across the county and the city.
There are many other events that could be included in this story, especially when you factor in severe thunderstorms and hail.
Fatalities have been infrequent over the years, but when they occur, it usually has something to do with our rivers, creeks and low-water crossings.
Winter storms also rank as dangerous weather events, but usually last for a short amount of time.
Many locals would argue that we are overdue for a winter weather event, and even the Guadalupe River has remained in check over the past 15 years.
One thing is certain: The river will flood again, and it should always be respected when it does.