From drought to flooding: County’s Emergency Management Coordinator shares the dangers of heavy rains

By Denise Lana,

From 2020 to early April 2024, midwestern states including Iowa and Minnesota fell into a severe drought due to low rainfall. An April 25 report on drought.gov says 23 percent of the Midwest was still in drought, with Iowa having the most drought-affected areas at 58 percent of the state. Soon after this report was released, the overdue rains fell and fell — and then fell some more. 

From April 27 to June 23, nearly 17 inches of rain fell in Decorah, according to National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration records — twice the average amount. This past weekend, a constant barrage of storms ravaged Iowa, delivering an additional  two inches of rain to Decorah June 22 through 23. 

According to Winneshiek County Emergency Management Coordinator Sean Snyder, Decorah was lucky this weekend, because the same catastrophic storm that drowned the town of Spencer also traveled through Winneshiek County.

“The storm system kept swirling and building on itself, and it easily spanned the width of Iowa,” Snyder said. “When I look at pictures of Spencer’s neighborhoods underwater, that could just as easily have been houses from the flats (in Decorah).” 

The Upper Iowa River crested at 13 feet in Bluffton Monday, June 24, but as it flowed down to Decorah and lost water along the way, the river crested in Decorah at 9.71 feet, Snyder said. The last time the area had a severe flood was June of 2008, when a warm front ran across the Upper Iowa River and developed into a cluster of thunderstorms that yielded hail, tornadoes and supercells. A separate cold front formed and intersected, bringing more rain and storms. Roads were washed out due to mudslides and destroyed bridges, and rivers rose one foot per hour; with the Upper Iowa River cresting in Decorah at 17.9 feet. 

The effects of flooding

Snyder said standing flood water surrounds the roots of crops, significantly decreasing the necessary oxygen for healthy crop growth. Diseases can grow in the standing water and infect the plants, and if the water is too deep and covers crops’ leaves, photosynthesis — when the plant absorbs necessary nutrients from the sun — can’t occur, and the plant dies. Information found online said that with cattle, waterlogged soil can suffer hoof and foot problems from prolonged standing in water. Flood waters can also carry toxic substances that can cause infections or diseases, and standing water contaminated with feces is a perfect storm for the growth of poisonous algae that can maim and kill cattle.

Along with long-term flood issues, flash floods can be just as hazardous. 

A plethora of information can be found by googling Winneshiek County Emergency Management. Snyder said anyone with questions or concerns can call him at 563-387-4095. 

Full article and many photos from the recent flooding can be found in the June 27 Public Opinion newspaper.

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