A historic downpour on Monday, July 10, 2023, unleashed a torrent of over 228.6 mm (9 inches) of rain across Vermont, leading to devastating floods, the worst the region has experienced in almost a century. The capital city, Montpelier, found itself in a precarious position as the Wrightsville Dam teetered on the brink of its capacity, a scenario unseen since its construction.
Vermont was caught in the grip of an extraordinary weather event this week, with a slow-moving storm system pouring more than 228.6 mm (9 inches) of rainfall on Monday, July 10, 2023. This deluge led to the most severe floods seen in the state in nearly 100 years. Roads and towns were submerged, prompting official warnings that the crisis could escalate before any sign of relief.
Montpelier, Vermont’s state capital, was faced with an unprecedented situation as the Wrightsville Dam, a vital flood-protection infrastructure situated on the Winooski River, reached its maximum capacity by late Tuesday afternoon, as per city officials. William Fraser, City Manager, updated the city’s residents via a Facebook post, expressing concern about the potential damage if water exceeded the dam’s capacity and released into the North Branch River, a situation without a previous occurrence since the dam’s construction.
By Wednesday, July 12, the city breathed a sigh of relief as officials confirmed that water levels in the Wrightsville Dam were beginning to recede. However, Montpelier Mayor Jack McCullough acknowledged the severity of the situation in an AccuWeather interview, comparing it to the historic flood of 1927.
The city hall, police department, and fire department had all been evacuated, and the city’s administration was functioning out of an emergency operation center located at the city’s water plant, which was on higher ground. Moreover, by Tuesday morning, three vital radio towers used for dispatching fire and ambulance services were non-operational.
President Joe Biden, during his visit to Vilnius, Lithuania, approved an emergency declaration for Vermont on Tuesday morning and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to manage disaster relief efforts. External help was also mobilized from states like New Hampshire, North Carolina, California, and Connecticut.
The flooding was not confined to Montpelier alone. Vermont State Police reported the closure of at least two dozen roads across the state. The southern town of Weston, located approximately 111 km (69 miles) from Montpelier, found the floodwaters receding on Tuesday morning, revealing the aftermath of the storm.
The deluge was reminiscent of Hurricane “Irene” in 2011, which brought more than 203.2 mm (8 inches) of rain over an 18-hour period, resulted in three fatalities, and inflicted over $700 million in damages, as reported by the National Weather Service (NWS).
Rainfall records were shattered in the town of Calais, just 16 km (10 miles) north of Montpelier, with a total of 244.1 mm (9.61 inches) over a 48-hour period ending on Tuesday morning. Plymouth, Vermont, approximately 83 km (52 miles) south of Montpelier, measured 229.9 mm (9.05 inches) of rainfall.
The same storm system also affected New York, where Putnam Valley in the Hudson Valley recorded the highest rainfall total of 266.4 mm (10.49 inches) during a 48-hour period ending on Tuesday morning. This excessive rainfall resulted in deadly flooding that destroyed several towns and claimed lives. Among the fatalities was Pamela Nugent, 43, who lost her life while trying to escape her flooded home in Fort Montgomery, New York.
The preliminary estimate of the total damage and economic loss from this extreme weather event ranges between $3-5 billion, according to AccuWeather.
1 A ‘potentially dangerous situation’ looms as Vermont grapples with worst flood in nearly 100 years – AccuWeather – July 11/12, 2023
Featured image credit: State of Vermont – Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets (stillshot)
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