Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the devastating Memorial Day Flood. In 1981, a short but intense storm took the City of Austin by surprise. Between 9:30 p.m. and midnight, more than 10 inches of rain fell and took lives, homes, businesses and cars along with it. In our three part series, YNN’s Alana Rocha explores what happened that fateful day, which businesses were most impacted and what’s changed since the incident.
A meteorologist's perspective on flash flooding
Web Exclusive: What do "Flash Flood Alley," flood mitigation and the Memorial Day Flood of 1981 have in common? They're all topics YNN's Chief Meteorologist Burton Fitzsimmons breaks down for us in our weather studio.
Wave of new technology boosts flood response
Memorial Day Flood: Part Three - The Memorial Day Flood of 1981 killed 13 people, caused millions of dollars in damage and shook Austin to its core. In part three of our series, YNN’s Alana Rocha explores the safeguards put in place by the City of Austin over the past 30 years.
Getting back to business after the flood
Memorial Day Flood: Part Two - The Memorial Day Flood killed 13 people, caused millions of dollars in damage and shook Austin to its core. In part two of our three-part series, YNN’s Alana Rocha explores what businesses were destroyed and how they came back even stronger with help from the community.
Remembering the storm that saturated Austin
Memorial Day Flood: Part One - The Memorial Day Flood killed 13 people, caused millions of dollars in damage and shook Austin to its core. In part one of our three-part series, YNN’s Alana Rocha explores what happened through the eyes of those who lived through it.
We were living off of N. Lamar, and close to Little Walnut Creek. The rains were so heavy, we couldn't see three feet out of our windows, at times. At one point, we did see a fire truck go by pulling a boat, but the boat was floating behind it! Half of our neighbors were flooded, not by Little Walnut, but from the water flowing downhill. It was a scary event, for all of us, but it became a positive, as we got to meet neighbors we had not met before, who became friends for life. -- Jerry Lyle
I was working at a Safeway store in Round Rock that day and we got the storm before Austin got it,I'll never forget that day, a DPS trooper came into our store with a very scared look on his face and told our manager to get everybody in the store to leave and go home because there was a really big and nasty storm heading down I-35 and Round Rock was going to get hit real hard. I remember running outside towards the highway to see if I could see anything, the sun was really shining that day in our parking lot, but when I got out by the highway and looked north, it was a different story!
The sky was really, really black and I could already feel the wind, and by the time I ran back into the store the wind had hit our shopping center. By now almost everybody had left the store (customers) and it was filled only with the partners who worked there. The blackness came so fast down the highway that it all of a sudden became night and then the wind picked up even more, it was blowing so hard that shopping carts in the parking lot started moving on their own. We were all on the inside of the store looking out at the parking lot and then we noticed that it started to hail, at first it was small, pea size and then it started to get bigger, marble size and then golf ball, my car had several dents, but no broken windows, and then the rain came and came and came and came. It rained so hard that we couldn't see the highway and then we couldn't see the parking lot and all this time the wind was blowing out of control and very loud. I called my parents who lived in north, northeast Austin, just northeast of Braker Lane; my dad said that it was getting dark, but no rain or wind. Back in Round Rock, our boss decided to shut the store early and let us leave if we wanted, I think it was around 7 p.m. that I decide to try and make it home to Austin.
I took some workers with me whose cars windshields were busted, we got on the highway(I-35) and headed south, just pass the 620 exit we hi train, a lot of rain, I had my windshield wipers on high and could barely see out the window, we were barley moving I would say about 10-20 mph, maybe even slower, we were almost to the Wells branch exit when an 18 wheeler passes us at a high rate of speed and then hits water on the road and jackknives off the road, the closer we got to Austin the worse the weather became and the lightning was making the night time into daytime. What usually took me about 20 minutes to get home had now taken me over an hour, we didn't really know how bad the storm was until the next day, when we saw all the damage on T.V.
-- Dale K
We were married May 23, 1981 and had left for the coast on our honeymoon the next morning. It was so strange hearing news from the locals about all the mayhem in Austin. We called home and all of our family was ok but the stories were unbelievable! The next time we went out of town, there were massive tornadoes at what was then the city airport and Ragsdale small planes airport near our parents homes. They asked us not to travel during storm season anymore! -- Tracy D.