Montpelier, other parts of Vermont confront record flooding
Vermont’s capital city is seeing near-historic levels of flooding and officials are keeping an eye on a nearby dam that may overspill and release more water into Montpelier.
In 2011 Montpelier experienced substantial flooding during Tropical Strom Irene. Mary Hooper was mayor at the time.
“What we’re experiencing now is more devastating than Irene and more devastating than the flood that we had a month before Irene. The difference being that the water came up quickly in those two events and then receded fairly quickly. And now that’s not the case. I mean, everywhere is inundated and it’s pretty rough on the people who live and own businesses in our downtown.”
Early Tuesday morning city Manager William Fraser announced a potentially dangerous situation is brewing at the Wrightsville Dam. At 4 a.m. it had 6 feet of storage capacity left. If breached, a spillway would release water into the North Branch of the Winooski River. That in turn would send more water into Montpelier. At 9 the Montpelier Fire Chief reported there was about 3 feet of storage left and there had been no significant change as of 10:45.
Hooper says the dam is the dominant concern right now.
“While it has stopped raining, I’m 300 feet in elevation above Montpelier and water is rushing down the street. So I assume that’s happening for the dam. So it’s going to continue filling even though it’s stopped raining. And there is a great deal of concern I’m gathering. If water releases from there it comes directly into our downtown.”
Montpelier City Councilor Lauren Hierl says the current flooding is already severe.
“I live up in the Hill region but even our street yesterday was knee deep with water pouring down it. So trying to just stay safe and our rescue crews they basically said please, please just hunker down. Anyone who gets themselves into a mess right now, they’re just stretched so thin. Don’t put any unnecessary risk out there for people. We’re looking at probably, well, we’ve already gone the worst since the 1927 flood.”
Hierl reports an incredible amount of water in the downtown area.
“I’m getting pictures and stories from neighbors and friends with, you know, just an incredible amount of water in the downtown area. I saw a picture recently from Cliff Street which kind of overlooks downtown and all you can see is water covering everything down below. And hearing from fiends that are in the downtown who, you know, their houses are starting to get flooded but all the roads are impassable so there’s really nowhere for people to go right now. So they’re basically just advising go up to higher floors in your house and stay off the roads, stay out of downtown.”
A large swatch of Vermont has been affected by flooding. At-large Democratic Congresswoman Becca Balint says while it’s premature to determine damages, an emergency declaration from by President Biden will be critical to recovery.
“I am getting pictures and videos from all over Vermont and so many of our downtowns flooded, our capital. Somebody just sent me a video with the water coming up onto the Statehouse lawn. Winooski River is at its second highest level behind the historic flood of 1927. My hometown of Brattleboro is seeing flooding in the low-lying areas and we’re expecting more later. It’s just devastating. Most people that I talk to are saying it’s just, it’s reminding them of the trauma that everybody went through with Tropical Storm Irene. And certainly we didn’t think we’d be going through something this bad so soon. We’re a resilient people in Vermont. We know how to deal with emergency but it’s incredibly devastating to see the amount of water that’s inundating our downtowns.”
During a briefing late Tuesday morning Governor Phil Scott warned that while it has stopped raining, the flood danger across the state is not over.
“Earlier today while overseas President Biden approved my request for a disaster declaration for all 14 counties. This will help mobilize federal resources to support our response and recovery efforts for this unfolding and ongoing disaster. Make no mistake the devastation and flooding we’re experiencing across Vermont is historic and catastrophic. Floodwaters continue to rise in some places, like our capital city, and have surpassed levels seen during Tropical Storm Irene. The rain has stopped in some areas. But that does not mean waters will immediately recede. They may in fact continue to rise. And even though the sun may shine later today and tomorrow, we expect more rain later this week which will have nowhere to go in the oversaturated ground. So I want to be clear. We are not out of the woods. This is nowhere near over and at this phase our primary focus continues to be on life and safety.”
The National Weather Service reports that the Winooski River at Montpelier reached 20.58 feet at 5:45 Tuesday morning. Flood stage is 17.5 feet. The river crested at 19.05 feet during Tropical Storm Irene. During the city’s worst flood in November 1927 the river reached 27.1 feet.
Vermont Agency of Agriculture Montpelier flooding video