Looking back: The Todd flood of 1940
Area has had more rain overall, but nothing like that tragic week in August
Think the rain’s bad now? Buck Cooper’s seen worse – much worse.
Cooper clearly remembers the August floods of 1940 that nearly swept Todd off the map.
“Everything was pretty well swept up and swept off after that (flood) in ’40,” Cooper, a current resident of Todd said.
When Todd was hit by the floods between Aug. 10-17, it erased most of a town that was being battered by the economic winds of change as the lumber industry declined.
“This was the end of the line and the (train engine) turntable was out here,” Jim Lewis, a Todd resident said. “The train pulled out of here in the early 1930s, by that point the train was gone and a lot of the industry here was already gone.”
It was caused by a catastrophic hurricane that originally landed in South Carolina. From there, the system made its way into the mountains and doused approximately 20 inches in parts of Ashe County, according to maps from the Weather Prediction Center.
The area of Idlewood experienced the most rain from the system, totaling out at 20.65 inches, according to the WPC map.
For Todd, the Elk Creek and South Fork New River merged near the area and the overflow caused the water from both streams to back up and flow into the town.
Cooper said the water came up really fast.
Four or five of the original buildings remain in Todd after the flooding. Todd Mercantile and Todd General Store both are still standing.
Some places have changed into residences or other businesses as time progressed.
“There’s been a whole lot more (changes) in the last 10 or 15 years,” Cooper said.
The flood did not happen overnight; the rain amounts built over several days before coming to an end.
Although the rains from the hurricane are what caused the flooding in Ashe, other factors within the environment played a role as well. Despite the higher amounts of rainfall for 2013, the rains have not been sudden.
“We’ve had more rain (this year), but it’s been spread out more,” Cooper said.
For the month of July as of print time, the Tennessee Valley Authority rain gauge in Boone shows a July total of 18.88 inches. And the yearly total looks to pass previous records.
But there should be no worries for Ashe County residents.
“You would actually need a hurricane and maybe even a couple back to back to repeat that, I would assume,” Lewis said.
In Blacksburg, Va., home of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration location that serves Ashe County, their records show 1940 as being the second wettest year in that city, totaling at 56.15 inches.
But beyond the rain, the problems with erosion at the time of 1940 were just as disastrous as the flood waters themselves.
“All of the trees were gone, Lewis said. “That contributed a lot I think to the flooding.”
Without the trees, no roots or vegetation existed to take in some of the rain, causing the water to continue trickling down.
By 1970, the N.C. General Assembly repealed Todd’s charter which made it a city. In recent years the town has been revitalized.
“Well, the community has built up a whole lot since then,” Cooper said. “There’s been a lot more tourism. A lot more people come in there since then.”
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