Wednesday, November 14, 2018
A picnic table sits atop a highway sign in Ontario, indicating how high flood waters reached during this weeks historic storms that devastated the Vernon County village. Herald photo by Greg Evans.From left, brothers John, Vaughn and Frank Rice get a little assistance from Ava Marx as they help neighbor Tom Habhegger clean up his yard on North Street in Sparta after 40-50 mph straight-line winds hit the city Monday night downing trees and power lines. Herald photo by Pat Mulvaney.The Little La Crosse River running through Leon swelled over its banks Tuesday after over 11 inches of rain inundated the area, several leaving houses like the one pictured on the north side of the village underwater. Herald photo by Nicole Vik.

Devastating flooding inundates region, again

Residents in Southern Monroe County are likely getting a feeling of déjà vu after the area suffered through it's second severe flooding event in as many years.

But last year's flooding from half a foot of rain, which happened over a two-day period on July 18-19, pales in comparison to this year's deluge.

This week's storms began Monday evening, dumping one to three inches of rain per hour, swelling creeks and rivers over their banks and wreaking general havoc over the region.

Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency Tuesday in Monroe, Vernon, La Crosse and Juneau counties, paving the way for those areas to potentially receive federal aid. Walker landed in a helicopter on the Brookwood High School football field Wednesday afternoon to tour the flood-damaged area.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Monroe County Sheriff's Department reported a number of bridges and culverts being washed out along with several incidents of water rushing over roads.

Over the two-day event, Cashton recorded 12.66 inches of rain, the highest total in the area, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) in La Crosse. Areas just north of Cashton received just over 11 inches of rain in the same period, with Wilton reporting just under 8.6 inches. Rain totals in Sparta and Tomah were in the 5 to 5.5-inch range.

The heaviest rains fell in a line straddling the Vernon and Monroe County border and included the Monroe County towns of Portland, Jefferson, Leon, Sheldon, Wells, Sparta, Wellington and Glendale.

Amy Meimann, public affairs officer for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, said an emergency operations center was set up in the county board meeting room at the Justice Center Monday night and was operating around the clock throughout the storms.

She said emergency personnel were fielding reports of storm damage, and at one point, over 50 roads had been closed in the county due to bridge and culvert washouts or high water. Rising flood waters washed out a  bridge on Lamb Avenue in the Town of Wells for the second time in two years.

There also were 75 evacuations of people and 28 of pets from flood waters, including the evacuation of several residents from an apartment building in Melvina.

Meimann said the sheriff's department has had several calls offering assistance, which they are referring to the Red Cross or Samaritan's Purse.

Fortunately, no deaths or major injures were reported due to the storms even though there was an SUV that drove into a washout on a road in the Town of Sheldon.

Meimann said officials will be assessing flood damage over the next few days.

The arrival of Monday's storms in Sparta was accompanied by a downburst that produced 40-50 mph straight-line winds, which downed trees and branches throughout the city. The NWS is still investigating a reported tornado touchdown near Wyeville.

Flood waters inundated Sparta's Evans-Bosshard Park, forcing officials to cancel the Concert in the Park's finale, featuring the Pat Watters Band scheduled for Wednesday evening. The concert is rescheduled for next Tuesday, Sept. 4.

The Village of Ontario was hit particularly hard. The Kickapoo River surged over its banks, flooding much of the village's downtown area and inundating many of the businesses. Flood waters damaged the historic community hall, Fastrip gas station, Milk Jug Restaurant, Wildcat Bar and the Kickapoo Paddle Inn. All three canoe liveries were underwater.

Flood waters from Morris Creek reached Norwalk's Main Street with many homes and businesses reporting damage and flooded basements. Niagara Avenue in rural Norwalk was washed out.

Kendall's Glenwood Park, site of its Labor Day celebration, also was underwater, forcing organizers to cancel most of the weekend's activities. However, they still are hoping to salvage Sunday's parade.

NWS meteorologist Jeff Boyne said this week's storms were definitely an anomaly with the frequency of something of their magnitude expected once every 200 to 500 years. In contrast, last year's July floods were more of a once-in-25-years event.

According to Boyne, a very moist air mass moved over the region and formed a boundary extending from Minnesota and along a line that included the southern Monroe County border. A succession of heavy rainstorms moved along that boundary in a meteorological phenomenon known as "training".

The region experienced fair weather Wednesday but Boyne said more rain is in the forecast for this week, beginning Thursday night and extending through Labor Day. Some storms could potentially produce heavy rain.

"It's not going to rain all the time but you're going to have to contend with storms from time to time," he said.

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