On flood anniversary, Vermont again faces heavy — and potentially dangerous — rains

By JUAN VEGA DE SOTO

VTDigger

Published: 07-10-2024 9:06 AM

On July 10 last year, heavy rains that had begun the night before unleashed catastrophic floods across Vermont. 

This Wednesday, exactly a year later, torrential downpours may once again threaten the state with flooding, according to a forecast issued Monday by the National Weather Service. 

The culprit? The collision of Tropical Storm Beryl with the hot, humid air already hanging over the state, according to Seth Kutikoff, a meteorologist for the Burlington branch of the National Weather Service.

“This fuels heavy rain and thunderstorms,” said Kutikoff.

And although the current expectation is a widespread 1 to 2 inches of rain — with some areas getting 2 to 4 inches — there “are increasing indications” the state could see up to 4 to 6 inches between Wednesday and Friday mornings, according to the weather service, “with isolated 6 to 8 inches” in some towns. 

If that materializes, the rainfall “would be comparable” to the 3 to 9 inches that fell during a 48-hour-period last July, causing widespread flooding throughout the state, according to the weather service forecast.

A big concern, according to Kutikoff, is that much of northern Vermont has seen twice the amount of rainfall it typically gets around this time of year. Similar conditions were present ahead of last summer’s flooding.

“The soil in some localized areas can’t absorb any more water,” said Kutikoff. 

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Still, Kutikoff emphasized that, as of Monday, it remained a worst-case scenario that this week’s flooding could rival last summer’s. 

“We are not expecting anywhere near the coverage and total amounts of rain we saw last year,” he said. 

The most likely outcome is isolated flash floods in areas that sustain the most rain, according to Kutikoff. He is keeping his eye on an east-west line running from Essex County through southern Orleans, Caledonia, Lamoille and Chittenden counties.

“That doesn’t mean there will be flash floods there, just that that’s where the highest risk of them is,” said Kutikoff. 

Mark Bosma, a spokesperson for Vermont Emergency Management, said Monday afternoon that the state was monitoring the storm and that the weather service’s forecasts over the following 24 hours would go a long way toward clarifying the severity of the situation. 

Bosma said that officials would likely determine Tuesday the extent to which VEM would activate the State Emergency Operations Center, which acts as a hub to coordinate the government’s response to emergencies. 

If a town manager needs to close a road, for example, the center connects them with the Agency of Transportation, according to Bosma. If a town needs an emergency shelter, the center connects it with the Agency of Human Services. 

“Last summer we had representatives from state agencies on call 24/7,” Bosma said. “It’s scalable.”

For the public, the most important thing is being prepared before any possible emergency happens, according to Bosma. 

“If you live in low-lying areas, get a go-bag. Have extra canned goods and water on hand. Map out a route to higher ground,” he said.  

And according to Kutikoff, though people should not be too concerned about living through a repeat of last summer, taking precautions is always a good idea.

He recommended avoiding roads at risk of flash flooding on Wednesday and Thursday and checking weather service forecasts frequently, since conditions could change for better or for worse. 

“There’s still a chance that the heavier rains go up to southern Canada, and there’s still a possibility that rainfall could increase over Vermont,” said Kutikoff.