2012 Solstice Flood

The damage from the Solstice Flood of 2012 was the product of meteorologic, geologic, and anthropogenic factors. From June 17th through June 20th record rainfall caused the biggest flooding event ever recorded in the City of Duluth and surrounding communities. Record rainfall totals were recorded between June 19th-20th, but this was on top of an already very wet May and June.

Read an hour-by-hour report of the storm, as reported by the National Weather Service [pdf]. Take a photo tour [3.6 MB pdf] of Duluth Streams, see a complilation of photos and video assembled by the Duluth News Tribune, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, or the Washington Post. Or take an aerial video tour of the Fond du Lac neighborhood, or an aerial photo tour of the region, after the flood (courtesy of the Mn State Patrol and Douglas Co., respectively).

Read more below...


Additional flood-related links:


WI Sea Grant
  • University of Wisconsin Sea Grant (Dr. Dave Hart)
    • Visualizing the Flood- Part 1, 2, 3, 4

WI Sea Grant

U Minnesota

Minnesota Public Radio

Climate Central








The “Solstice Flood” arguably began when nearly an inch of rain fell on Sunday June 17th, saturating the thin, glacial soils in and around Duluth. Then, on Tuesday, June 19th another cold front approached the region, dropping 7.24” of rain on Duluth within 48 hours, the largest total rainfall for a two-day period recorded. Parts of northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin experienced 8-10 inches of rain. This followed an unusually wet month of May that left soils saturated with water.

With soils already saturated, the excess stormwater in Duluth had nowhere to go but downhill, following one of the many roads, culverts, or streams, towards Lake Superior, the St. Louis River, and its estuary. Impervious surfaces within the city added to the problem. Stormwater increased the power of the water as it collected and moved down the steep hillsides causing widespread, massive flooding and erosion throughout the region. Trees were uprooted, boulders the size of cars, as well as trees and other debris, were moved hundreds of feet, damming storm drains and culverts leading to additional flooding problems. The back-up of Kingsbury Creek at the Lake Superior Zoo allowed a polar bear and two seals to temporarily escape from their enclosures and sadly left 11 animals dead. Governor Dayton declared a state of emergency as roads and bridges washed out and over 250 residents were forced to evacuate their homes, predominantly in the western area of the city. Mission Creek was especially hard hit but it was the raging St. Louis River that caused the most severe damage to the residences in Fond du Lac, MN.

By Thursday June 21st the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, but local rivers continued to rise. The St. Louis River at Scanlon rose 11 feet and reached a record crest of 16.62 ft, breaking the old record of 15.8 feet that was set on May 9, 1950. Even Lake Superior’s water level rose 3 inches while near-shore ecosystems were inundated by mud. Early estimates for the cost of the flood are over $100 million. Given the scope of the damage it is amazing that there were no human deaths related to the flood.

The Solstice Flood of 2012 left its mark on the City of Duluth, MN and surrounding communities, as well as aquatic ecosystems and organisms. Initial reports from the summer of 2013 suggest that fish may rebound better than initially expected. To learn more about the Solstice Flood, explore reports and photos from local and national media, agencies, and municipalities.

For historic perspective, check out this booklet on the 1973 Floods in Duluth. [8MB file]

Learn how you can help prevent stormwater run-off by installing rain gardens and rain barrels, and other ways to reduce stormwater pollution on your property, improving the aesthetic appeal of your home while protecting the water quality of our local trout streams.

Lawn & Garden


Site Design Toolkit

swale raingarden