This Month in Climate History: March 1989 Texas and Arkansas Flood

Image of March 28-29, 1989 Flood on Texas Highway 149

During the March 28–29, 1989, flood, these eighteen-wheelers negotiated water overrunning Texas Highway 149 south of Longview that stood as high as three to four feet above the road surface in places. Photo courtesy of the Longview News Journal, Longview, Texas.

Between the evening of March 28 and the morning of March 29, 1989, thunderstorms dropped heavy rains in a southwest-to-northeast band across northeast Texas and southwest Arkansas. Storm cells repeatedly moved northeastward along a line that barely shifted throughout the storm, allowing heavy rainfall to accumulate in a long and narrow band. Rain totals of five inches and greater covered the area, which was 300 miles long and averaged 35 miles wide. The highest rainfall amount reported in the area was over 14 inches near Longview, Texas, but several other stations in Texas also reported totals well over 10 inches.

The deluge quickly initiated flash flooding in the areas of heaviest rainfall, with the more-than-abundant runoff engulfing homes, farms, businesses, and schools and covering or washing out roads and bridges. Subsequent creek, river, and lake flooding caused additional damage to downstream locations southeast of the main rainfall band. In northeast Texas alone, more than 70 bridges were washed out or damaged beyond repair, over 200 people had to be evacuated from their homes—mainly in Texarkana, Longview, and Henderson—and total damages were estimated to be between $10 million and $16 million at the time. In southwest Arkansas, damages were far less but still reached $115,000 in estimated losses in Nevada and Hempstead counties, due in most part to road and bridge damage.

One fatality occurred in Rusk County, Texas, when a 48-year-old man drowned as his car washed off Texas Highway 43 northeast of Henderson after the failure of a 50-foot-high, 200-foot-wide dam on Nix Lake, which sent floodwater over the highway. The widespread flooding in northeast Texas also closed Rusk County schools in Henderson March 29–31 due to possible contamination of the city’s water supply. Elsewhere, Caddo Lake on the Texas–Louisiana border, 30 miles northwest of Shreveport, reached a peak level of 177.2 feet on April 2, 4.7 feet above flood stage.

For more information on storms and unusual weather during the month, see the March 1989 Storm Data publication