National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

The 105th Anniversary of the 1915 Erie, Pennsylvania Flood

The city of Erie, Pennsylvania has a history of devastating floods due to Mill Creek. Heavy rainfall on September 13, 1878 of 5.11 inches and again on May 17, 1893 of 4.71 inches quickly led to flooding within the city. However, record breaking rainfall occurred on August 3, 1915 when 5.77 inches of heavy and localized rainfall occurred in just a few hours’ time.  The closest rain observing station during the event was in Edinboro, south of Erie, which recorded 2.88 inches of rain and in Chautauqua, New York which measured approximately an inch.


The flood, which occurred on the evening of August 3, 1915, was a result of a vigorous tropical system moving up the East Coast that interacted with a low pressure system over the Great Lakes region. As a result, the area saw three heavy downpours that began around 3:30 PM and didn’t fully stop until near 5 AM on the 4th. At the time this flood occurred, it was calculated as a 650-year storm.

Daily weather surface map

















Daily weather map for the next model run.


During the few hours of heavy rainfall, the precipitation was primarily focused on the 13 miles of the Mill Creek watershed (Figure 1). The Mill Creek enters the city of Erie at the southern limits and flows north through the city, discharging into Lake Erie by way of Presque Isle Bay. The area impacted by the flood was between Holland and State Streets between 7th and 26th Streets. The urban expanse over the watershed included numerous bridges and residential and industrial areas along Mill Creek which were devastated. Nearly 30 fatalities occurred, including the city’s fire chief, and 400 buildings were destroyed.


Outline of Mill Creek flood zone.

(Above) Mill Creek watershed is outlined in yellow.


Swimming pool at Glenwood Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.


News clipping highlighting some of the damage caused by the flood.             News clipping about the damages and losses from the 1915 flood.


Human Made Disaster?

The loss of nearly 30 lives and $2 million in damages (with some estimates as much as $3 to $5 million when including lost industry) was due in part to the encroachment of urbanization on the Mill Creek which passed through the town for approximately 3 miles. There were approximately 20 culverts which were  overwhelmed and 10 bridges over the creek that were all destroyed. Mill Creek first overflowed its banks near Glenwood Park Avenue, south of 26th Street, creating a ‘lake’ with water depths as much as 30 feet. When the culvert to the north buckled, a wall of water surged towards this area, sweeping victims and buildings with it.


The flood washed out a section of a 4 line railway track which cut off freight movement from New York, Chicago, and St. Louis.

(Above) The flood washed out a section of a 4 line railway track which cut off freight movement from New York, Chicago, and St. Louis.


The roller coaster at Four Mile Creek Amusement Park suffered so much damage that it had to be torn down.

The roller coaster at Four Mile Creek Amusement Park suffered so much damage that it had to be torn down.


Flood damage between 12th and 13th on french street.

(Above) Photo of after the flood that was taken on French Street between 12th and 13th Streets.


Damage to Erie from flooding.


Town people beginning to clean the streets after the flood.

Damage after the floods.

(Above) Stearns Company just below 13th Street.

Mill Creek Today


Mill Creek is hard to find today, as much of it is piped underground in the Mill Creek Tube, an engineering feat of its time. Within a year of the flood, construction had started on one of the most comprehensive flood mitigation projects of its time. The city commission had bonded $950,000 ($450,000 paid by the railway company) for construction of a 2 mile conduit, or “tube”, that was 22 X 18 feet. This has a flood flow capacity of an astounding 12,000 cu. ft/sec, which exceeded the estimated 11,000 cu. ft/sec from the flood. By burying the channel, it freed up nearly 12 acres of land for the City of Erie to now use. The Mill Creek tube is still in use today and designed to prevent another disaster the scale of the 1915 flood from occurring.


There was a certain amount of opposition, however there was no concerted opposition and the energy in the city was for mitigation. Another proposed mitigation project was a 50 foot high dam about 1 mile above the city limits capable of holding 50 million cubic feet of water. This was rejected in favor of the tube, mainly because the commission was concerned that there would be fears of the dam failing in the future.


Construction of the tube from 16th St to 17th St.

(Above) Construction of the tube from 16th Street to 17th Street.

Tube opening at time of being built.





  • Engineering Record, Building Record and Sanitary Engineer Volume 74 1916

  • Weather Bureau August 1915 Monthly Weather Review

  • THE TROPICAL STORM OF AUGUST 10, 1915 H. C. FRANKENFIELD Mon. Wea. Rev. (1915) 43 (8): 405–410.