When Ron Teslow’s neighbor in Freeport on the eastern edge of Decorah called him early on the morning of August 24, 2016, he asked if Mr. Teslow was out of bed yet. When Teslow said no, his neighbor warned, “’Well you better get up because the water is up to [my] deck.’” There was already three feet of water in the Teslows’s basement. “Freeport residents had little warning. When emergency officials swept through the neighborhood at about 5 a.m., water was already up to some residents’ doors.”
Rounds of thunderstorms with thunderboomers, lots of lightning, and heavy rain tracked over the same area repeatedly on the night of August 23 and into the morning hours of August 24 in 2016. In 24 hours, in various parts of Winneshiek County, from 4.3 to 8.46 inches of rain fell. River gages along the Upper Iowa River recorded rises of more than 10 feet in a very short time early Wednesday. Rogers Creek in Fort Atkinson went up 9 feet in three hours and crested Wednesday a foot above the 2008 flood mark.
When Spillville mayor Mike Klimesh said, “’I never thought I’d see water like this again in my life,’” he was referring to that massive 2008 flood. The difference in 2016 was the speed with which the flood arose. The high water in 2008 was sustained; in 2016 this was a flash flood. On August 24, 2016, his town was an island, having lost all bridges to high water and a falling tree. Though residents had tried some sandbagging Tuesday night—having learned a lot about sandbagging in 2008—this time they had to abandon their effort. The water came too fast. The Turkey River was too high.
In Fort Atkinson a trailer court was evacuated as it too was becoming an island with all roads overtaken by the swelling Turkey River.
Though there was no loss of human life in Winneshiek County, one man in his car was swept away and found dead in Chickasaw County. In Winneshiek County the reality was collapsed basement walls, washed out roads, mudslides, and homes transformed again by high water. City Manager Chad Bird in Decorah described his city’s post-2008, levee-dike system that protected it and internal floodgates that close automatically under these highwater conditions. In addition, there are pumps where water ponds. Luther College in that city has the same sort of system. Whether such systems of flood management are advisable, affordable, in other communities of Winneshiek County is a conversation for their residents and elected officials. 2016 taught county residents that they can still wake up to some extreme weather surprises.
Sources: on-line: John Molseed and Pat Kinney, “One dead, many evacuated in NE Iowa Flooding,” WCFCourier, August 24, 2016; Mark Steil and Mark Zdechlik, “Northeast Iowa realing from ‘life-threatening’ flooding,” MPRNews, August 24, 2016; “Flooding of August 23-25, 2016,” National Weather Service.