The morning of Wednesday, September 13, 1978 started out just like the
other first mild days of September with the high temperatures in the low
eighties and the lows in the high sixties and lower seventies. It was cloudy
that morning with a seventy percent chance of rain. We had five small
showers the first twelve days of the month and all of them only measured
three fourths of an inch.
The summer had been hot and dry for we had only a little over ten inches of
rainfall in June, July and August with one third of that falling in one day
the last week of August. We had eighteen days in July with 100+
temperatures and three more in August so we were also dry.
The rainfall that occurred on August 28th and 29th measured 3.63 inches
and covered a large area of Shelby County filling up the small streams and
farm ponds. This heavy rain played a great part in what was on the way.
Wednesday morning on the 13th of September at 5:00 a.m. a front moved in
and stalled right on top of Center. The rainfall started as just a good,
steady rain and then gained momentum with a gentle roar and did not slack
off. At 7:00 a.m. on the morning of September 14th when measuring the
rainfall we had received 6.50 inches of rain and it was still pouring. By 3:00
p.m. we had received 9.20 inches. The rain continued to fall and in 22
hours I measured 15.70 inches in my rain gauge.
The U.S. Weather Service rain gauge is a 24 inch tall and 8 inch in diameter
metal cylinder with a sharp edged bronze funnel shaped cap that channels
the rain into a 20 inch tal4r} inch diameter tube which holds two inches
rainfall. When the smaller tube is full the overflow is contained inside the
larger part of the rain gauge. When measuring more than 2 inches of rain I
remove it and stand it up beside the larger one and pour the rainfall from
the larger cylinder into the small one until all of it is measured.
During about five hours of that heavy rainfall I feel certain I could have lost
an inch or more in measuring it. The best way to describe trying to
measure this rainfall was to be standing underneath a waterfall trying to
accurately keep the rain and waterfall separated!
Before daylight until 10:00 a.m. Thursday morning the rain continued and
began falling more intensely. That morning you could not leave Center or
travel to Center by vehicle. Numerous streets in Center were flooded and
closed to traffic.
I needed to go to the Fire Station located on the Center Square but water
was four to five feet deep at the railroad overpass on Louisiana Street at
9:00 a.m. Most of Shelbyville Highway and FM 417 were also under water.
One stretch of the highway near the creek bridge at Shelbyville was
completely gone clear down to the road base.
U.S. 96 south was just like a large lake looking from Dr. Hooker's home
south as far as one could see. U"S. 7 west was a small lake just past the City
Limit Sign after you left the hill headed for the creek bridge.
You could forget traveling F'M 138 and for awhile it was not possible to
travel to the Pine Terrace subdivision. Areas of the Timpson highway were
under water but except for a spot or two it was the most passable highway
in the count5r. U.S. 96 north had a number of deep water areas. Boat races
could have been held on a few miles of FM 699 completely under water.
For a short period of time it was impossible to travel on Highway 7 East to
the airport. The Flat Fork Creek area was another small lake area and
blocked by high water for many hours.
I was finally able to go uptown to the fire station just before noon on
Thursday as the rain had slacked off to just a slow, steady rain.
The fire department emergency phone received about ten calls in about a
thirty minute period with people reporting a strong odor of gasoline in the
downtown and surrounding area of Center.
A few minutes later someone walked into the fire station and asked if we
knew that the full gasoline tanks where the 711 convenience store was
under construction had floated up out of the ground, turned over and
dumped thousands of gallons of gasoline in the drainage ditches flowing
through a large area of Center. One small spark from anything could have
meant extreme disaster for a huge area of Center.
These two days of rain will always remain in my memory.