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The Flood of 1927
Pictures from the Vermont State Archives
Pictures from the UVM Geology Dept.
The Flood of November 3-4, 1927 stands as the greatest disaster in Vermont history. Devastation occurred throughout the state, with 1285 bridges lost as well as countless numbers of homes and buildings destroyed and hundreds of miles of roads and railroad tracks washed out. The flood waters claimed 84 lives, including that of the Vermont Lieutenant Governor at the time, S. Hollister Jackson. An account of the flooding across the state, written by Luther B. Johnson, at the time editor of the Randolph Herald, was published in 1928. His account was republished in 1996 by Greenhills Books of Randolph Center. The following information comes from the above book as well as The Vermont Weather Book, by David Ludlam.

Overview

Rainfall during the month of October averaged about 150 percent of normal across the state. In northern and central sections, some stations received 200-300 percent of normal. Heavy rainfall periods during the month were separated enough so flooding did not occur. Instead, the rain caused the soil to become saturated. Combined with the lateness of the year and the fact that most vegetation was either dead or dying, any futher rainfall would runoff directly into the rivers. This is exactly the scenario that lead to Vermont's greatest disaster.

Rain began on the evening of November 2, as a cold front moved into the area from the west. Rainfall continued through the night with light amounts being recorded by the morning of the 3rd. Rainfall intensity increased during the morning of the 3rd as a low pressure center moved up along the Northeast coast. This low had tropical moisture associated with it. As the low moved up the coast, a strong southeast flow developed. This mositure-laden air was forced to rise as it encountered the Green Mountains, resulting in torrential downpours along and east of the Green Mountains. Rainfall amounts at the Weather Bureau station in Northfield totaled 1.65 inches from 4:00 am to 11:00 am on the 3rd, with 4.24 inches falling from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm. The total from late evening of the 2nd to late morning on the 4th was 8.71 inches.

 
Northfield Hourly Rainfall
 123456789101112
Nov. 2 pm         .02.20.01
Nov. 3 am.03.01T.04.43.29.20.14.30.15.14.45
Nov. 3 pm.51.54.57.62.51.31.35.38.14.35.43.24
Nov. 4 am.18.16.21.11.11.10.04.02.14.15.03 

The table below lists rainfall amounts measured across the state during the first week of November.

Vermont Rainfall

November 1-6, 1927

Location

1 2 3 4 5 6 Total
Bellows Falls .00 .00 .24 4.07 .18 .00 4.49
Bennington             7.36
Bloomfield .01   1.02 2.20 .50   3.73
Brattleboro   .43 4.12 .12 .01 T 4.68
Burlington   .52 3.75 1.35 T .15 5.77
Cavendish     4.49 3.04 .00 .01 7.97
Chelsea     2.83 4.52     7.35
Chittenden .00 1.65 6.60 .35 .00 .00 8.60
Cornwall             5.30
East Ryegate             5.11
Enosburg Falls .08   3.20 3.10 .05 .11 6.54
Garfield     4.07 3.87   .08 8.02
Middlebury     2.00 2.80     4.80
Mollys Falls             9.14
Newfane             6.64
Northfield     6.17 2.46 .03 .08 8.74
Rutland   1.90 6.12 .45 T .17 8.64
Searsburg .00 .00 .70 6.47 .03 .00 7.20
Searsburg Mt.   .00 .96 7.34 .17   8.47
Sherman             4.00
Silver Lake .00 .85 4.17 1.00 .49 .00 6.51
Somerset .00 .00 .68 8.77 .20 .03 9.68
S. Londonderry       2.53     3.60
St. Johnsbury .00 .00 1.00 5.39 .17 .02 6.58
Vernon .00 .00 .35 3.58 .18 .00 4.11
White River Jct.     1.00 5.41 .18 .00 6.58
Whitingham .00 .00 .45 5.50 .06 .00 6.01
Wilder       4.87     6.53
Woodstock .00 .00 4.26 3.12 .00   7.38

The United States Geological Survey estimated that 5,530 square miles (53%) of the state received over 6 inches of rain, 3,320 square miles over 7 inches, 1,660 square miles over 8 inches, and 457 square miles over 9 inches. The graphic below illustrates the rainfall distribution.

Devastation was distributed fairly evenly across the state, but the hardest hit area was most likely the Winooski Valley, where the majority of the population lived. As a result of the statewide devastation caused by the flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built 3 flood retention reservoirs and accompanying dams in the Winooski River basin at East Orange, Wrightsville and Waterbury to try to mitigate the effects of further flooding. In 1949 the Union Village Reservoir and dam on the Ompompanoosuc River was completed. By the early 1960s, four other reservoirs/dams were completed in the Connecticut River basin. These were built on the Ottaquechee River at North Hartland, the Black River at North Springfield, and the West River at Ball Mountain (Jamaica) and Townshend.

Flooding continues to occur throughout the state, but no event has approached the Flood of 1927 for areal extent. This is partially due to the mitigation efforts of the Corps of Engineers, but also due to the fact that the 1927 event was a rarity, with a return period of hundreds of years.



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