In recent years, the Cottonwood River has flooded several times at Emporia. Most of the city of Emporia is situated on a terrace that is above flood water, but some low-lying sections of the city are subject to inundation. The nearest upstream gauging station is at Plymouth, about 8 miles (13 km) west of Emporia--see historical streamflow data for the lower Cottonwood River near Plymouth, Kansas. The Plymouth streamflow record began in 1964; flood stage at this station is 32 feet. Normal, low-flow stage is in the range 6-10 feet.
The "Halloween" flood of 1998 is the largest on record for this gauging station. This flood resulted from 8-10 inches of rain over the drainage basin during a two-day period, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 1998. This flood is estimated to have a 50- to 100-year recurrence interval, and reached a peak stage of 36.8 feet.
Multiple floods took place during 2004. The first was in early March and reached a stage height of 33.0 feet (see charts below). A second interval of flooding happened during several weeks beginning in mid June until late July. Three times river level reached 30-foot stages, and the 32-foot flood stage was exceeded in early July. Flooding continued the following year with another overbank flow in June 2005, and again in 2007, 2008 and 2010. A drought interval took place in 2011 and 2012, but was ended by renewed flood episodes in 2013 and 2015. From the record below, it's clearly apparent that flooding is possible during spring, summer or autumn; only the winter months are relatively safe from floods.
|Date||Gauge height *||Discharge (cfs)|
|June 5, 1965||June 27, 1969 ||Oct. 11, 1973 ||Oct. 10, 1985 ||May 10, 1993 ||May 27, 1995 ||Nov. 2, 1998 ||Mar. 5-6, 2004 ||early July 2004 ||June 13, 2005 ||May 8, 2007 ||Sept. 15, 2008 ||June 15, 2010 ||Aug. 3, 2013 ||May 24, 2015 |
Flood stage = 32.0 feet; discharge = 13,300 cfs.
* Gauge height rounded to 0.1 foot.
View northward across the Cottonwood valley south of Emporia, which is visible on the far horizon.
Cottonwood River on south side of Emporia. The river channel is shown by the meandering line of trees. The large body of clean water (lower left) is within a gravel pit. The city is situated a terrace that stands several meters above the floodplain.
Inundated agricultural fields of the Cottonwood floodplain near Emporia, Kansas. Note the intricate pattern of meandering channels.
The city of Emporia experienced a flash flood of the central business district the evening of May 30, 2006. More than 3 inches of rain fell during a heavy thunderstorm. Businesses along Commerical Street from about 9th to 6th were flooded, as storm sewers were unable to handle the sudden downpour. Abandoned vehicles floated in water-filled street underpasses (under BNSF railroad). Such intense, highly localized storms may create flash floods, particularly in urban settings, but have little impact on downstream flow of larger rivers.
EB/ES/GE 341 © J.S. Aber (2015).
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