In Cedar Rapids Wednesday June, 13th was the 10th anniversary of the great flood of 2008. The record crest of of 31 feet was 11 feet higher than the river had ever been measured in 150 years. To give you some perspective, two months after the flood the river stage was 4.47 feet. With such a massive wall of water, the results of the unprecedented surge were devastating. More than 5,000 homes and 950 businesses and much of the cities infrastructure were submerged. 10 square miles of Cedar Rapids went under water.The speed and severity of the flooding was stunning.
Today, Cedar Rapids is my home and 10 years later the memories are still fresh in the minds of my neighbors. Some lost everything, others not so much. What I've come to see is that there's the Cedar Rapids before the flood , and the one after. Everything here is defined by the event, pre and post. Having seen it with my own eyes, I still have a have a hard time comprehending it ever happened. Crossing the river, I religiously see hundreds of homes in an ocean that no longer exists.. It's a staggering vision that never goes away.
The other unique thing about the flood is the fact that it and the EF5 Parkersburg tornado that killed 9, occurred within 3 weeks of each other. In fact, it was the Parkersburg storm that unleashed rounds off severe weather and torrential rains that resulted in the demise of Cedar Rapids. What are the chances of rare EF5 tornado and a 1,000 year flood occurring within 19 days.
In and of themselves, these are two of the greatest natural disasters to ever strike Iowa. Coming in the same year within 21 days, it's my opinion that this is the worst 3 week period in Iowa weather history. So immense and encompassing were the floods that all-time crests were established on every major river between Des Moines and the Quad Cities, eclipsing the records of the legendary 1993 floods.
In terms of economic and human impacts, the flood is defined as the most devastating in Iowa state history.. Beyond that, the unheard of effects of the back-to-back EF5 tornado and ensuing floods elevated the storm ravaged period to elite national status. Following the tempest, 83 of Iowa's 99 counties were declared disaster areas.
The damage to public infrastructure was estimated to be over 1 billion dollars. At the time the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked Iowa's un-natural disaster as the 10th worst in U.S. history.
The setup for flooding began almost a year prior as a long term wet pattern primed the area for floods. Well above normal rain fell in the fall of 2007, heavy snow fell during the winter months, and then rains of 3 to 7 inches above normal for April kept soils saturated throughout the area. Portions of northeast Iowa observed soil moisture greater than 125 percent of normal. With soil conditions conducive to extreme runoff and rivers already running high going into June, the wet pattern continued with record rainfall through the first half of June. This water swelled the rivers with record levels observed throughout much of eastern Iowa causing extreme impacts to many cities and rural communities, county and state infrastructure, agricultural land, etc.
Here's some pre-existing conditions prior to the flood around the Midwest.
The heavy rains just before the crests raised the Cedar and Iowa rivers to historic proportions. The flood was on.
Having spent 3 months writing a book on this remarkable period in Iowa weather history (Un-Natural Disasters), the event has become a personal one for me. I looked into the eyes of so many who lost all they had worked for, and some even loved ones. The pain cuts you. And then their's the sights and sounds. In Parkersburg it was the buzzing of chain saws and the scent of splintered trees and houses. In Cedar Rapids it was the droan of pumps and boats, and the disgusting smell of mold covered homes, debris, and garbage that lined the streets 4 feet high.
What I learned is that disasters bring out the best in Iowan's. Help came from every corner of the state and no one waited for the government to issue hand-outs. The spirit and resolve to overcome was a flood of its own and it gave me some much needed comfort and a new perspective on appreciation. Good things can come from tragedy and time heals, but in the end the scars are always there. Roll weather...TS