Friday, January 9, 2009

A Frozen Flood!

We had our first "hundred-year flood" in the late summer of 2007, when the Fox River rose about six feet above normal, flooding several houses and yards in my neighborhood. Our second "hundred-year flood" came in June of 2008, and it was a strange one because nearly every day was sunny and dry; all the rain was falling way upstream in Wisconsin. But, again, the mighty Fox was a good five and a half feet above where it should have been. And we had our third "hundred-year flood" in September, when the leftovers of Hurricanes Gustave and Ike combined with a Pacific storm to create three days of heavy rains (and it made for one heck of a radar image).

Now, we're having our fourth "hundred-year flood," and it's the most peculiar of all: a frozen flood in the middle of winter! We had above-normal snow in November and December, so that on Christmas Eve we had something like two feet of snow on the frozen ground. Then, on Boxing Day we began a warm and wet snap that extended through December 30: two days of very warm temperatures (50s and even low 60s, very rare for this time of year) and heavy rain. By Tuesday the 30th, all the snow had melted and run into the river. Then it turned cold again. Under the ice, the river rose and fell and rose again. Right now, it's again something like five feet above normal, nearly at the top of my retaining wall, and has flooded the park, the boat launch, and several yards. Only this time, the flood's in the form of ice. In the picture at right, you can see how the ice is just inches below the top of what is normally a five-and-a-half-foot wall. This is just a few inches shy of the highest level it reached in '07.

Still, I'm in pretty good shape compared to my neighbors. The park and boat launch, for instance, have become a skating rink. And if you look in the background of this photo (click on it to see a larger version), you'll see that the neighbor's boathouse is almost half-submerged--standing in about three feet of water, with a good six inches of ice on top. Things are going to be very interesting when the river goes down and this ice starts to break up and move.

And things are going to be even more interesting for the people living in this house, as it's completely surrounded by a frozen moat!

The river itself is behaving in strange ways. There is pretty solid ice stretching out about fifty feet from the shore (on this side). Beyond that, it goes back and forth between solidly choked with floating ice and wide open flowing water. The ice seems to pile up, moving more and more slowly until it finally stops, and then the huge plug of pack ice moves downstream as a unit. Sometimes big slabs of the stuff stand up on end and roll over with a crunching sound. Ah, life in the Arctic...

The weather forecast calls for a bit more snow, followed by serious temperature drops--by next Thursday we're looking at a high temperature below zero. This combination of high water, swift current and intense cold could lead to some very interesting river behavior. Let's just hope it doesn't end up like the old curse, "May you live in interesting times!"

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