Archive for Wednesday, October 5, 2005

The 100-year flood strikes again

October 5, 2005

In this 5-year-old century, surprisingly, the county has already experienced two 100-year floods.

The first, in June 2001, flooded Easton, virtually destroyed a grade school, and left a number of the town's 360-some residents, particularly those who live in mobile homes on the east side of town, nearest Stranger Creek, with flooded homes.

According to the United States Geological Service, which keeps tabs on rivers and streams, a 100-year flood rating means that, statistically, an area may flood once in every 100 years.

The Stranger Creek bridge, at U.S. Highway 24-40, has a 100-year flood rating.

Monday morning, USGS employees Brian Loving and Jeff Barnard measured Stranger Creek at several locations in the county. At the 24-40 bridge, they noted that the county has seen two 100-year floods in the 21st century.

USGS has monitored Stranger Creek since 1929.

According to USGS, the current 100-year flood designation at that location is water flowing at 32,900 cubic feet per second.

Sunday night the flow measured 35,600 cfs, and in June 2001 floodwaters peaked at 40,000 cfs, Barnard said.

"So I guess we've experienced two 100-year floods here in the last four years," Barnard said.

The water in the current flood is visibly less than in 2001, when the Kansas Turnpike shut down Interstate 70 because Stranger Creek spilled onto the road.

But clearly, with reports of county residents who had to be evacuated, property damage and possible cars washed into Stranger Creek, this was an all-too-serious flood.

The storm, which struck early Sunday morning, took a toll.

Chuck Magaha, the county's director of emergency management, went without sleep from 6 a.m. Saturday until 11 p.m. Sunday. Other rescue workers must have experienced similar long -- and equally exhausting -- hours.

In southern Leavenworth County, where as little as a half-inch of rain fell late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, the flooding came as a surprise.

But as we learned with the June 2001 flood, it's what falls up north that counts.

And obviously, Easton, which was hammered with 8.75 inches of rain, received the brunt of the storm in our county.

Jefferson County, hard-hit as well, recorded 9.8 inches of rain in Oskaloosa.

Sunday morning's rising waters may have surprised a driver or two.

At 8 a.m. Sunday, roads near Jarbalo, 10 miles north of Tonganoxie, were dry.

Three hours later the swollen Stranger Creek inundated the low-lying areas near its course through Jarbalo, covering roadways.

At first, cars and trucks ventured with trepidation onto the wet roads, "pushing water with their bumpers," as Magaha would describe it.

But soon the water levels increased and drivers wised up. By the time the county erected "road closed" signs, drivers were already seeking alternate routes.

The weekend's flood, subsiding by Tuesday, leaves me, and perhaps other area residents, wondering.

If we've had two 100-year floods in four years' time, what do we have to look forward to?

Jim Putnam, a USGS hydrologist in Lawrence, said it's anybody's guess.

He noted that the weekend's heavy rains, which stalled over northern Leavenworth County, dumped almost 8 inches of rain on soil that was saturated from September rains.

"Water runs off better when the soil is already saturated," Putnam said.

He's not in the business of predicting whether it will rain, Putnam said.

"We collect data and we give it to people like the National Weather Service to forecast floods," Putnam added.

Could a third 100-year flood be in the offing? It's possible, but not likely.

"It's like flipping coins," Putnam said. "You might flip three heads in a row -- the probability is very low -- but you might."

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