Irene Brings Catastrophic Flooding to Vermont

Wilmington, VT, located in southern VT, suffers incredible flooding from Hurricane Irene.

Disclaimer: I lived in Vermont for a little less than a year during my freshman year of college. I have not been back since I transferred over 10 years ago.  The events of yesterday have caused me to reflect on those times and reminisce about The Green Mountain State.  I personally believe VT is not receiving the national attention it deserves, so there may be some emotion in this post.

Disclaimer #2: I have not written to this blog in a long time. A lot has gone on to prevent/discourage me from writing. I hope this post inspires me to return to blogging/writing about the weather on a more regular basis.

As Hurricane Irene churned across the Atlantic toward the eastern seaboard of the U.S., media warned she would become the first Hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since September 13, 2008 when Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island in Texas.  At first, it appeared hurricane-prone Florida was in for another hit, but as Irene neared, the track forecasts shifted North and predicted Irene to ride up the East Coast.  The forecast track shifted back-and-forth West to East. One day, it seemed Irene might move out to sea and avoid the U.S. altogether. Then, the forecast shifted West and it appeared the center may come inland near Washington, DC.  Eventually, it settled in the middle and ran right up the coastline from Cape Lookout, NC to New York City and up through New England and eastern Canada.

Of course, this caused many a television programmer to start seeing higher ratings and dollar signs.  New York City getting a direct hit from a hurricane?  Well, in the words of Randy Moss, that’s “straight cash, homie.”  So the hype begin.  Governer Chris Christie of New Jersey told people to “Get the hell off the beach.”  New York City shut down the subway system and all three airports while issuing the first ever mandatory evacuation in the city.  Reporters were dispatched to the coast in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  They stood there, secretly urging on Irene and hoping for those iconic shots of waves, surge, and wind.

Unfortunately, they weren’t paying much attention to those who were inland.  From Philadelphia to the Canadian border, the big story wasn’t (or shouldn’t have been) about wind and surge.  The story was about rain – a lot of rain.  Streets, along with the homes and businesses that lined them, were flooded, ruining anything that was contained within them.  If you’ve never experienced a house flood, count your blessings.  It’s a miserable event to go through.  Granted, you’re usually alive and well, which is a great thing.  Still, you’ll spend hours, if not days, sifting through dirty water in a place it shouldn’t be.  It ruins anything it soaks.  And many insurance companies require a client to purchase an additional flood insurance policy on top of the homeowner policy, so most people don’t have coverage when it hits.  You throw out a lot of items, clean the place as best you can and get back to living your life in your home.

An art studio and house in Brattleboro, VT is partially washed away by flood waters.

In other cases, the flooding is so severe that creeks and brooks rise and form angry rivers of mud and debris.  It becomes a force similar to that of storm surge on the coast during a land-falling hurricane.  It doesn’t just flood your basement or ground floor, it compromises the foundation of the home or completely destroys it.  This is what happened in Vermont as well as parts of upstate New York and New Hampshire.  Heavy rain fell for hours (as in 18-24 hours) throughout the region.  As it fell on mountaintops and hillsides, it had nowhere to go but down into the valley where creeks, brooks, streams, rivers and lakes began overflowing into cities and towns.  Streets became raging rivers (photo at top) and carried away buildings, trees, animals, and people.  In some cases, entire towns were cutoff from the rest of the world.  There was no way in and no way out.  I have seen pictures of damage to at least three covered bridges in Vermont, with one of them begin utterly destroyed in a matter of seconds:

This was in Lower Bartonsville, VT just North of Brattleboro.  The bridge was built in 1870 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  A woman who lives near the bridge was interviewed by Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel (a Vermonter himself) Monday evening.  She predicted that fall foliage tourism will be negligible this year in Bartonsville without the historic bridge there to help frame pictures of the beautiful colors.

And with those comments, we see the far-reaching effects of a tragedy like this.  When it’s all totaled up, Hurricane Irene will have done over $1 billion in damage, but that won’t take into account the hit that places like Vermont will take this Fall and Winter.  Roads may still be closed as people flock to see the foliage or ski the slopes.  And even if all roads are reopened, historic bridges and base lodges will be gone.  Did I say base lodges?  I did.

The base lodge at Killington ski area.

For more pictures of the damage in Vermont, I recommend the WCAX Facebook page.  For photos from many of those affected by Hurricane Irene, The Big Picture at Boston.com always does an excellent job of photojournalism following an event like this.

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One Response to Irene Brings Catastrophic Flooding to Vermont

  1. It’s just awful and it will take years to recover. Who would have thought Vermont would be at risk for hurricane damage? Thank you for your thoughts!

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