St. Louis Suburbs Hit Hard: One-in-1,000 Year Rains Make 2022 “Year of Flash Floods”

Flooding from 2019. City of St. Charles’ Frontier Park. Photos by Holly Shanks.

by Don Corrigan

St. Louis and its suburbs have experienced drought, but also extreme precipitation events. That includes record-shattering rains this summer that delivered a “Year of Flash Floods” for 2022.

Thunderstorms in July delivered devastating flooding, including one on July 26 and another on July 28. The storms hit especially hard in Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Rock Hill, Brentwood and University City.

Area waterways such as the River Des Peres, Shady Creek, Deer Creek and Gravois Creek “flashed” out of their banks. The water receded in a matter of hours, but left mud, trees, home debris and thousands of dollars in damage.

The one-in-1,000 year rain events prompted national news coverage. Sean Hadley, spokesman for the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD), summed it up for the Washington Post: “It was just too much water.”

“What happened was way more than the system – any system – can handle,” said MSD’s Hadley. He said one storm dumped more than 9 inches of rain in a matter of hours, shattering the previous daily record in St. Louis from 1915.

Fire fighters rescued more than a dozen people trapped in their homes by floodwaters in north Webster Groves. On North Forest Avenue, 11 people were rescued from five residences. One East Pacific Avenue, more stranded residents were rescued.

The evacuations were necessary because of the rising waters of Deer Creek. Flash flooding along the creek also caused big problems in Maplewood.

Flooding shut down Manchester Road in Rock Hill and Brentwood. Businesses that sustained damage in the area included Schiller’s Camera and several restaurants.

The Trainwreck Saloon on Manchester suffered serious damage and was closed for several days. Deer Creek Bar & Grill at 3233 Laclede Station Road in Maplewood sustained serious damage as well.

The record-crushing rains along the Manchester Road corridor inundated storm drains and creeks. Sewage backed up into homes as the River des Peres topped its banks. The area’s sprawling drainage systems, which can date to the 19th century, were simply overwhelmed.

Amazed In Kirkwood

Kirkwood suffered less property damage from the storms than Webster Groves and Brentwood, but with raging creeks, the storms did give some living on the western edge of Kirkwood a big scare.

Residents in the West Adams Avenue area of Kirkwood watched in amazement as Sugar Creek turned into a rolling river. Debris along West Adams came from run-off from slopes on the north side of the road and blocked side creeks.

“I surveyed flood damage along Sugar Creek starting at my property at Couch and West Adams,” said Gwyn Wahlmann.  “I grew up here and have never seen the creek reach such height.”

Wahlmann said a neighbor’s deck was demolished by a large, uprooted tree that had fallen across Sugar Creek in the first downpour. With the next downpour the tree and deck debris formed a dam forcing waters upstream onto neighbors’ property.

Farther down West Adams, a driveway bridge was topped, creating dangerous driving conditions. Another neighbor’s garage had almost two feet of flooding and his patio was destroyed.

Some neighbors in the area blame increased flooding on increases in impervious surfacing and loss of mature trees because of new residential in-fill home construction in the Sugar Creek watershed.

The run-off from the downpours exceeds the capacities of sewer and stormwater infrastructure, and has made Sugar Creek increasingly “flashy” during storm events, according to Wahlmann.

Climate Central’s Take

The storm that peaked on July 26 brought more than seven inches of rain in just six hours and a total of more than nine inches, according to the National Weather Service of St. Louis.

The storm brought more rain than the area usually receives for July and August combined. In 12 hours, the area received about 25% of what St. Louis receives in an average year.

According to scientists, a warming atmosphere is increasing the intensity of weather-related calamities such as wildfires, heat waves and flash flooding. Storm bursts and so-called “training storms” are dumping unimaginable amounts of water.

Weather data by the nonprofit group Climate Central shows that nearly three-quarters of locations examined around the country have experienced a startling hike in the amount of rain falling on their annual wettest day.

A report by Climate Central this spring found that of 150 locations the group analyzed, 90 percent now experience more average rainfall per hour in comparison to 1970. The extreme precipitation has profound economic and human health costs.

Climate Central is a non-profit news organization in Princeton, New Jersey, that analyzes and reports on climate science. Composed of scientists and journalists, the organization conducts scientific research on climate change and weather.

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