Saturday, September 25, 2010

A September Flood in Minnesota?

Even landlocked schlubs like me are pretty attuned to hurricane season. Mid-August to the end of September is the window of time that invites hurricanes into the south Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Otherwise, severe weather in other regions of the country are usually not a problem at this time of year.

In 2010 we seem to have turned natural tradition on its head . . . at least in Minnesota. On Wednesday evening in Northfield it started raining and it rained all night and into the following day. It rained HARD. It didn't stop raining until 4:30 or 5:00 on Thursday afternoon. We're told that the accumulation was somewhere between 5.5 and 7 inches. Superficially, that seemed innocent enough. However, that same level of rainfall and more happened over a wide portion of south central and southeast Minnesota and given what we know from experience about rivers, it guaranteed that the next several days could get quite interesting at best and at worst, devastating.

Communities south and west of us received 8-10 inches of rain in the same 24 hour period and all that water fed into the Straight River and the Cannon River, waterways that directly affect Northfield. Within hours the water level in downtown Northfield began to rise and by 4 or 5 a.m. on September 24 it was reaching record levels. I took pictures at about 8:30 a.m. and the power of the river was not only stunning, it was terrifying. I've lived in Northfield for a significant percentage of my days on the Earth and I can tell you that since 1956, there's never been an event like this. There was a major flood in 1965, but it didn't hit as hard or as fast as this one. I don't think it crested as high either. And as I write this at 8 p.m. on Saturday, the river is still moving at the same manic clip (7-8,000 cubic feet per second) at roughly the same height (25+ feet). I can't even comprehend the total volume of water that has passed through Northfield in the last 48 hours. It would constitute a good-sized lake.

The Ames Mill Dam is nearly irrelevant
The Minnesota National Guard took up positions last night to maintain a perimeter and moved folks back about 100 yards from the water on both banks from 2nd St. to the HWY 3 bridge. Businesses fronting on Bridge Square and Water St. on the east bank and businesses on Water St. on the west bank were closed today. The Tavern Restaurant is going to serve breakfast at the Grand on Sunday morning because they've been forced to suspend operations in their location in the Archer House.

Sandbagging to protect the west flank of the Archer House
The devastation is actually much worse in other communities. Whole blocks are underwater in Owatonna and roads are overrun or washed out in many locations. The governor has declared a state of emergency in 34 counties and will most likely call a special session of the legislature to provide relief to the affected areas. Zumbrota is an especially hard-hit community. We're fortunate that no one has been seriously injured nor have there been any fatalities that I know of.

The forecast for the next seven days is for above average temps and lots of sun so when the river level begins to fall the land can start to dry out, but it's gonna be a slog for days to come. And that's when we can start to retrieve the thousands of sand bags that were thrown down yesterday and help the property owners downtown clean up and reopen. Our work has only begun.

No comments:

Post a Comment