As you know, Greengranny lives in Ames, a small university city in central Iowa. You may have heard about our recent flood in the news--my California relatives reported that they did. I'm writing today to say my home and those of family members here were all ok.
Even our basements stayed dry. Other family members kept watch all night as water rose around their houses and threatened to top the basement window wells, but stopped just short. We do not have finished living space in our basement as do our relatives here, but we did have lots of bags filled with children's clothing and toys for a garage sale, and would have hated to throw it all away. More important, like most midwesterners, our basement contains the wash machine, furnace, and hot water heater. Dry basements are the norm here--or used to be.
Most areas that flooded in Ames have done so previously due to their location relative to the Squaw Creek and South Skunk River flood plains. The first "big one" came in 1993. Then 2008 saw a smaller version of that. This year, the flood was about equal to the one in 1993.
So much for "500 year" floods. People tired of flooded homes, apartments, and businesses are leaving those areas, often with no compensation for property that used to be worth something. However, some businesses have gotten building permits for new construction in that same area. One of these is a Super-Walmart. In 2008, some customers had their vehicles flooded in the WalMart parking lot, which was lower than the store proper. In 2010, there was reported to be two feet of water in the store itself. It remains closed for the time being.
Do a web search on "Ames flooding" and you'll find lots of photos of the flood zone. Remember, most of the city remained dry, and basement seepage from saturated soil was the main concern. Since the electricity remained on in most areas, sump pumps did their job.
The immediate result of the flood for most Ames residents was not being able to get from one part of town to another, as flood waters rose higher than bridges over streams and the river. By the second day, water began to recede from the roads.
What effected everyone in town was the loss of drinkable water. The flooding caused six separate breaks in water mains, including a 24 inch main and a 12 inch main. Two of the town's three water towers emptied out quickly. The third one, near my home, had to be shared by everyone for days and thus, we were all asked not to do laundry, bathe often, or do any outdoor water tasks like car washing. And it wasn't safe to drink because of the several ruptures.
Bottled water was distributed for drinking, and most people with access to home kitchens were able to boil water for drinking, washing dishes, brushing teeth, and washing hands. The fire department had to arrange for use of water tank trucks in case of a fire, due to the lack of water pressure. Some factories had to stop production due to the lack of water.
The weather was quite hot and humid, and we had to boil large pots of water on the stove. We realized how lucky were were to have homes intact and working kitchens at our disposal, along with air conditioning. Green-minded citizens may have kept their home thermostats set fairly high, but I doubt anyone who had air conditioning available was doing completely without it that week.
It was a particularly challenging week to manage our household for my husband and me, but that's a story for another day.
The Ames Flood of 2010 underscored several general points.
First, the most economically marginal people tend to suffer the worst in floods. The older parts of towns with aging housing stock and many elderly residents are nearest to rivers. Trailer parks are built on cheap land vulnerable to floods. Young people and college students rent the most vulnerable apartments (often unknowingly, coming from out of town).
Second, one problem can quickly cause others until the situation becomes ever-more difficult to cope with. Stress builds up in people's lives and some are pushed to the breaking point. We see in the news photos from the Haitian earthquake, Pakistani floods, and Russian wildfires--people by the millions, in despair, who have lost everything. It seems beyond comprehension by those of us who have only been temporarily inconvenienced. And yet for an unlucky few here in Ames, the flood caused a cascade of personal disasters to happen to them. At least they had more fortunate people right here, around them, to render aid.
Third, existing city and social services can quickly be stretched to their limits. The Senior Variety Show to be held last weekend at the Ames City Auditorium was canceled so that everyone serving the elderly could focus on getting meals-on-wheels out to elderly around the county, and to maintain transportation to health services for them. With many flooded roads, routes to get help to people were often convoluted, if there was a way at all. I hope the show will be rescheduled, because the cast of people age 60 and above put on a great show.
The flooding and water situation caused some children's day care centers to close, I'm sure making new complications for the parents affected. And most Ames restaurants had to shut down also, for a few days. Neither Iowa State University nor K-12 schools were in session when the flood occurred, or the disruption would have been more extreme.
The social safety net, normally so effective here in Ames, was initially stretched thin by fairly modest physical events (when compared to major disasters like Hurricane Katrina). But there is good emergency response planning here in Iowa and Story County, and it made a real difference as the flood event played out.
A Permanent Change in Flood Likelihood
While this single flood event cannot be linked directly to global warming (floods happened here long ago), it is certainly the predicted weather pattern that Iowa is expected to experience as warming progresses--storms with much heavier rainfall. As development and farming practices have drained wetlands and built up flood plains, there are many contributing factors for the recent floods our state has experienced. I see no reason to expect fewer floods in the future. All the variables are moving in the same direction--to having more high-rainfall storms and having more extreme floods as the land's response to excessive rainfall amounts.