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FLOODS OF 2011 June 22, 2011

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Deb Markowitz, secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, says the state needs to assess whether 2011’s rain and flooding were an aberration — a 100- or 500-year event — or whether they represent the “new normal.” ( Dan D’Ambrosio, “Officials put spotlight on boosting lake activity,” Burlington Free Press, June 22, 2011)


LAKE LEVEL May 30, 2011

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As of Sunday, May 29, 2011, Lake Champlain has been at or above the highest level recorded in the last 184 years for all but a few days over the past month. It peaked several weeks ago at a record 103.3 feet. (Free Press Staff Report, “Heavy rains add to lake flooding,” Burlington Free Press, May 30, 2011)

RAIN IN MAY May 28, 2011

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The big storm May 26-27, 2011 made the wettest spring on record even wetter. 18.14 inches of rain fell at the National Weather Service office in South Burlington between March 1 and midnight May 26. The old spring record was 15.46 inches in 1983.

By midnight May 26,  6.87 inches had fallen making it the second wettest May on record, with five days still to go. The wettest May was 7.10 inches in 2006. (Matt Sutkoski and Nancy Remsen, ” ‘Saturated state’ seeks disaster relief,” Burlington Free Press, May 28, 2011)


Posted by thenaturalist in Floods/High Water, Rain, Records.
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The rains that started back in on May 14, 2011 and continued May 15 and 16 brought Lake Champlain back up to 102.35 inches by the afternoon of May 16, and the water was still rising slowly. The National Weather Service says this spring is now the wettest on record in Burlington. As of 4:30 p.m. May 16, total rainfall for Burlington had reached 15.49 inches. That’s only slightly above the previous record of 15.46 inches that fell in 1983, but it’s still raining…. (Matt Sutkowski, “Rains prolong flood agony,” Burlington Free Press, May 17, 2011)


Posted by thenaturalist in Floods/High Water, Rain, Records.
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Burlington is now on track to having its wettest spring on record. Climatologists consider spring the period from March 1 through May 31. As of 4:30 p.m. Sunday (May 15, 2011), 14.82 inches of rain had fallen on the city, less than an inch shy of the record of 15.46 inches that fell in 1983. Lake Champlain, meanwhile, remained only 102.16 feet above sea level — about a foot lower than the record set earlier this month, but still more than two feet above flood stage. (Matt Ryan, “Rain adds to flood woes,” BFP, May 16, 2011)


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According to the Lake Champlain Basin Program, the Lake Champlain watershed covers 8,234 square miles, including most of the western half of Vermont and eastern Adirondacks and parts of southern Quebec. The lake covers about 435 square miles and holds roughly 6.8 trillion gallons of water. The highest level previously recorded in Burlington was 101.86 feet on April 27, 1993.

On March 9, 2011, the lake level was just 96.48 feet above sea level. It took nearly two months of heavy rain and snowmelt before the flood peaked at just over 103.2 feet on Friday May 6, 2011. Now that the rain has stopped, and the snow has melted, it will take a similar length of time for the lake to recede. It has only one outlet, the Richelieu River, which runs north toward Montreal. At 8 a.m. May 7, the lake level had dropped to 103.18, and by 8 p.m. it was down to 103.15. At 8 a.m. May 8, it was down to 103.11 and at 8 p.m. down to 103.05. At 8 a.m. May 9 it was down to 103.00 and at 8 p.m. down to 102.9. (Matt Sutkoski, “One way out for lake water,” BFP, May 10, 2011.


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The rainy spring of 2011 has Lake Champlain rising higher and higher. As of Friday May 6, 2011 at 3 p.m., the U.S. Geological Survey’s digital monitor on the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center’s terrace read 103.26. Flood stage is 100 feet. The highest level previously recorded in Burlington was 101.86 feet on April 27, 1993. The highest level on the lake as a whole was 102.1 feet on May 4, 1869, in Rouses Point, NY. (BFP 4/30/11 and 5/7/11)


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As of Friday (April 30, 2011), 7.88 inches of rain had fallen on Burlington, 5.10 inches more than normal and more than an inch above the 1983 record for the month of April, which was 6.55 inches. No rain was expected for Saturday (April 31, 2011) and 7.88 inches is likely to be the final tally for the month. (Molly Walsh, “Flood warnings persist,” BFP, May 1, 2011)


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Lake Champlain can turn destructive if levels exceed 101 feet and strong winds accompany the high water. In 1993, the lake reached a record level of 101.86 feet amid gusty winds, causing at least $1.5 million in damage to the Vermont shoreline. (Matt Sutkoski, “Lake Champlain poised to flood,” Burlington Free Press, 4/13/08 )

3,000 YEAR FLOOD CYCLE October 25, 2002

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University of Vermont researchers have determined that every 3,000 years or so, great floods sweep the state. The 1927 flood, Vermont’s best known and most tragic weather event, is barely a blip in the researchers’ data. It shows up as a 1 centimeter thick layer of sediment in Ritterbush Pond in Eden, the UVM researchers found. Sediment layers that were 9 to 10 centimeters thick deposited about 2,600, 6,840, and 9,440 years ago showed up below the 1 centimeter layer, suggesting floods possibly much larger than 1927.

To get at this information, researchers stood on frozen Vermont lakes and ponds and plunged 20-foot-long pieces of PVC pipe into the bottom sediments. Then they took the pipe up, containing a sample of the layers of muck. Most of the material is organic — long decayed leaves, plants, pollen, and other material from lake vegetation or shoreline trees. But the compressed muck has layers of sand — material washed down from surrounding hills by floodwaters. An analysis of the layers revealed the roughly 3,000-year flood patterns.

The researchers have checked 13 ponds and lakes in Vermont and northern New York. All show the same pattern. Storm records from Britain, northern Europe, and central Greenland suggest that storm cycles there are similar to those in New England. (Matt Sutkoski, BFP, 10/25/02)

ICE JAM FLOOD OF MARCH 11, 1992 March 11, 1992

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On March 11, 1992, an ice jam in the Winooski River caused catastrophic flooding in Montpelier. Heavy late-winter rains combined with an ice jam just below where the North Branch and the Winooski River converge. The fast-rising flood caught everyone by surprise. Using a crane, city workers broke up the ice jam late that day, allowing the river to flow normally and prompting the floodwaters to recede. The final damage estimate was about $5 million the city said.

FLOOD OF 1927 November 2, 1970

Posted by thenaturalist in Floods/High Water, Records, Weather History.
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The year 1927 was rainy, October was exceptionally rainy, and by early November the Winooski was ready to flood. Vermont records show a light rain starting at about 9:00 p.m. the night of November 2 and turning into a downpour at about 4:00 a.m. the next morning. By later the morning of November 3, this rainfall was breaking records all over the state.

Two weather systems had converged to drop what one meteorologist estimated to be a cubic mile of solid water lifted from the surface of the Atlantic Ocean onto Vermont. The result was the 1927 flood — the worst natural disaster in Vermont’s history. Rivers all over the state flooded, but the one that did the most damage was the Winooski, which carries water all the way from Cabot down through communities such as Barre, Montpelier, Waterbury, and Richmond to Lake Champlain.

By the time the flooding ended on November 4, 84 Vermonters were dead, 48 of them in the Winooski River Valley. According to the Vermont State Archives, the 1927 flood caused more than $30 million in damage, including $8 million to railroads and $7 million to highways. More than 1200 bridges were damaged or destroyed, and some 690 farms lost 3,000 cows.

The 1927 flood was so devastating that both state and federal governments became involved in local clean-up and repair. Some smaller railroads were eliminated, many dirt roads were blacktopped, and flood-control projects dammed old rivers in new ways. This one natural disaster resulted in political, social, economic, and ecological changes that Vermonters are still trying to find a relationship to.


Historic Photographs of 1927 Flood

This treasure trove of historic photographs is the creation of the University of Vermont Department of Geography’s Landscape Change Program. They include 357 photos of the Flood of 1927 among their flood photos, which also include 67 aerial photos of this historic flood.

National Weather Service Report

This National Weather Service report on Vermont’s Flood of 1927 includes an overview of the flood, a chart showing early November rainfall data from 29 towns, and a summary of the flood’s effect on the entire state.