These days, Paducah’s floodwall seems to get more attention for its beautiful murals than the actual job it is doing. Without a doubt, the murals are stunning. However, anyone who was living in Paducah in 2011 also owes that floodwall a huge debt of gratitude for its protection…an astronomical debt as it turns out.
As far as floods in Paducah go, the Flood of 1937 deservedly gets most of the fanfare. The volume of water on our streets and the extent of the damage seems unfathomable. In 1937, the Ohio River crested at 60.8 feet on February 2, the highest level ever recorded in Paducah’s history. Our floodwall was built in response to the 1937 Flood at a height that would withstand a crest of 64 feet.
What many people may not realize, however, is that Paducah’s second highest recorded crest happened just five years ago. Starting in February 2011, Paducah was inundated with rain. In April alone we received nearly 16 inches, and on this day in Paducah history–May 5, 2011–the river crested at 55.03 feet.
A mere five feet lower than the high water mark!
While the water damage to outlying areas and some of our neighboring cities was devastating, downtown Paducah and thousands of residents were spared by our floodwall. The wall stood true letting through hardly more than a trickle.
So, in actual dollars, what then is the debt that we owe our floodwall? One statement on the website for the US Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Paducah’s floodwall prevented $1.2 billion in damages.
Take a look at the accompanying photo. The watermark for the 2011 flood isn’t listed with the others. We can thank our wall for that.
FYI…according to the National Weather Service the five highest historic crests in Paducah are: 60.6 ft. (1937), 55.03 ft. (2011), 54.3 ft. (1884), 54.3 ft. (1913), and 53.3 ft. (1950). The first floodgate in the wall in Paducah is installed when the river reaches approximately 49.5 feet.
For more information about money saving engineering feats, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.