Record rains cause trouble in Central Vermont
By Rob Mitchell
Staff Writer | October 21,2012
Mark Collier / Staff Photo
John Mayo (right) and backhoe operator Tommy Tucker of Tomco Excavating in Northfield discuss the optimum placement for the boulders they were placing in-between a bridge on Route 12A in Roxbury and the railroad line that runs along 12A between Northfield and Roxbury. The boulders were being placed in an effort to ensure the integrity of the bank of the First Branch that also follows 12A South.
A storm brought record rainfall in several Central Vermont towns Friday night into Saturday.
More than 2½ inches of rain drenched Waitsfield and Waterbury on Friday, according to the National Weather Service, and more than 1½ inches fell on several other locales across the state in a 24-hour period.
The rain caused flash flooding Friday night along Route 12A south of Roxbury, as the Flint Brook breached its banks and threatened the Amtrak railroad line, a house and the road, according to Selectman Steve Twombly.
Emergency crews were called to the area shortly after 9:30 p.m. Friday, and a construction crew was on the scene Saturday morning to shore up the railroad tracks and the Route 12 bridge.
“Luckily it did not get as bad as we had thought it might,” Twombly said. “So there was not much damage. The fear was that the wall would break, but it did not.”
The wall he referred to, which was built by the railroad in the 1840s to redirect the current of the Third Branch of the White River, was blown apart by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene a year ago. The wall’s failure wiped out the historic Roxbury fish hatchery.
That was the third time in the last 10 years that this wall — which survived the 1927 flood — has caused trouble when hit by high water.
The water was topping the wall Friday night, but never really threatened to sweep it away as it did during Irene, Twombly said. The way it channels the water, however, is causing ongoing problems and is preventing the rebuilding of the fish hatchery.
“The fear is, that until this wall situation is figured out, it’s foolish to rebuild (the hatchery),” he said. “People know it; we just can’t figure out who’s going to take responsibility.”
Twombly said the brook was diverted by the railroads when they were doing a lot of re-channeling of local streams and rivers to build tracks, and the tracks now act as a dam. Because the structures are not owned by the state or the town, a potential permanent fix would not qualify for federal emergency funding, and there is uncertainty over how to proceed.
“In this case it doesn’t quite fit the standard configuration” of ownership, Twombly said, meaning there is not one group that has the power or resources to get the problem corrected.
The rain broke several records across the state for the most rain that ever fell on the date of Oct. 19, and was the second-highest rainfall total in Burlington so far in 2012, with 1.72 inches falling in 24 hours. That is second only to Sept. 5 of this year, when 1.92 inches fell, and broke the old Oct. 19 record of 1.13 inches.
Montpelier recorded 1.64 inches, breaking the old record of .63 inches, set in 2007, according to National Weather Service Observing Program leader Nathan Foster.
“That was an easy one to get,” he said of the rainfall total. “It was only a matter of time.”
Foster said several other records were broken across the state, although many of them were at stations that have been set up relatively recently — in the last 15 or 20 years — and are run by volunteers.
The total of 2.02 inches of rainfall recorded Friday in Northfield was reported by a trained observer with equipment that is quality-control tested by the National Weather Service. The 2.56 inches that fell in Waterbury were recorded by a volunteer station that does not have the same quality control, while a record 1.13 inches logged at Springfield Airport was recorded by a more controlled automated system, which was set up in 1997.
So, the records in many areas should be taken with a grain of salt, as they may not reflect recordings from a long stretch of time, and may not reflect major weather events like the ’27 or ’73 floods.
“Some of (the records) are a little underwhelming,” he said.
Either way, Foster said, the National Weather Service looks at the numbers and eliminates any that appear to be unbelievable.