Dickson: “I surfed State Street” and other memories of the 1983 floods

Apr 13, 2023, 4:00 PM

The 1983 floods left State Street in downtown Salt Lake looking like a river....

People cross a makeshift bridge over a flooded State Street in Salt Lake City in 1983. (Photo courtesy of Raven Call)

(Photo courtesy of Raven Call)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

SALT LAKE CITY — In this above picture of State Street from the 1983 floods, my apartment was a block up 100 S. to the east. I was a sophomore in college at the University of Utah. I lived in a funky little walkup on the third floor with a bed that pulled out of the wall and no shower. (It was $300 per month, so who’s complaining?)

When the 1983 floods started coming down State Street that year, I walked from my apartment to go see what was going on. I found myself in the middle of a sandbagging line that looked like the image below, but a couple of blocks south. 

Sandbagging line (Tom Smart/Deseret News)

I remember grabbing and passing bags until my arms felt like rubber.

My family was worried

My parents called me from Pennsylvania.

“Are you ok? Are you anywhere near the flooding?” they asked.

I didn’t want to worry them.

“Oh, no. I’m totally safe, Mom. Not to worry.”

I did feel safe, even though the water was cold and fast… and a little scary.

That year, I worked as a waitress at the Western Sizzlin’ Steak House in West Valley. (I think there is a Chinese restaurant in that building now.) When I drove home from work every night, I got off the 600 S. exit of I-15 and drove over the temporary bridge that crossed over State Street. It was surreal to watch the water flow under my car, reminding me of driving over endless canals when I lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I surfed State Street!

I used to have a T-shirt that said: “I surfed State Street”. For the life of me, I can’t find that shirt. I thought I had kept it for sentimental reasons, but as with so many of my keepsakes, it disappeared in the 30 moves since then.

I not only remember the flooding, but I remember the aftermath. The cleanup. The smell. The businesses that never recovered. I remember standing on the bridge in that picture above, looking south at the water rushing.

This would have been a prime selfie spot, but we just looked at the water back then and committed the feeling to memory.

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and A Woman’s View.

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Dickson: “I surfed State Street” and other memories of the 1983 floods