On This Day in Arkansas Weather History: May 19

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – On May 19, 1990, a significant flooding event occurred in Hot Springs, resulting in high flood waters and substantial damage to the city.

The set-up:

  • A stalled front was draped across the mid-south and southeast. Southerly wind flow brought ample moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and moved it into the regions. Upper level disturbances interacted with the stalled front, resulting in historic and devastating flash flooding in Garland County.
Atmospheric Set-Up of the Hot Springs Flash Flood, May 19, 1990.
Credit: National Weather Service, Little Rock

The most significant rainfall that fell due to this weather set-up occurred on the night of May 19, 1990 into the early morning hours of May 20, 1990. Within a few hours, a dozen to two dozen inches of rain fell around the city of Hot Springs, making it the hardest hit area. Over six inches of rain was also recorded in several other counties, including: Garland, Saline, Hot Spring, Clark, Montgomery and Pike.

24 Hour Rainfall Totals – May 19-20, 1990.
Credit: National Weather Service, Little Rock

According to data from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Little Rock, there were two waves of flooding recorded on the night of May 19-20.

The first wave cam between 10-11 p.m CDT, and the second wave came between 1-2 a.m CDT. Each wave of flood water ranged from four to six feet high.

The heavy rain that fell in a short period of time resulted in the complete flooding of Central Avenue, stores in downtown Hot Springs and bathhouses along Bathhouse Row. Cars were seen floating down Central Avenue.

85 people had to be rescued from cars or buildings due to high waters.

Floodwater continued to flow to Lake Hamilton, resulting in a rise of water levels at the lake.

The gates to Carpenter Dam had to be opened to release the water, resulting in a dramatic rise in water below the dam.

Homes along Lake Catherine then flooded. Water washed away cabins, mobile homes and caused many of them to float over the top of Remmel Dam.

Infrastructure was also damaged and knocked down from the floodwaters, including many area bridges.

24 hour rainfall totals ended around 7 a.m on the morning of May 20, 1990 in Hot Springs. Rainfall totals ranged from near 13 inches at Hot Springs National Park to nearly 10 inches at Carpenter Dam.

Rainfall Totals for May 19-20, 1990.
Credit: National Weather Service, Little Rock

12.97 inches of rain was recorded at Hot Springs National Park. This total remains the highest daily rainfall amount on record for the month of May in the state of Arkansas.

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