Rain causes flash flooding, other hazards

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

JANESVILLE—Here's some news you can use: The proper dimensions for an ark are 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high.

We don't know what a cubit is, but you can ask them at Ace Hardware when you go to pick up flood supplies.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, 2.05 inches of rain had fallen in Janesville, according to the National Weather Service. Sure, that's not a downpour of biblical proportions, but when you add it all up, Janesville has seen nearly 2 more inches of rain than it usually does in all of July.

July's average rainfall total is 3.9 inches. As of July 12, Janesville had already absorbed 5.6 inches of rain.

Both May and June also had rainfall totals that were about 2 inches more than average.

Things were even more ark-ready in Walworth County on Wednesday.

By noon, between 3 and 7 inches of rain had fallen in some areas, closing roads and creating widespread flooding, according to the Walworth County Sheriff's Office.

Elkhorn got hit hardest with more than 6 inches of rain. By midday Wednesday, the Elkhorn Police Department was asking people not to leave their homes unless they had to.

Flooding took place—or was expected to take place—in Elkhorn, Delavan, Lake Geneva, East Troy, Williams Bay, Genoa City, Walworth, Fontana and Sharon, according to the National Weather Service.

Rock County and Janesville weren't hit as hard, but Centerway between Academy and High streets in Janesville was closed Wednesday morning.

No sinkholes were reported, but the city's sewer system couldn't keep pace with the downpour. About a dozen manhole covers came loose in the storm, said John Whitcomb, Janesville Public Works Department operations director.

"The system becomes overwhelmed by the pressure," Whitcomb said. "The water picks the path of least resistance."

The ongoing ARISE construction in downtown Janesville could see problems as more water comes downriver.

The contractor has built a cofferdam next to the river wall. A cofferdam is a temporary structure that allows workers to fix the river wall and create stairs going down to the river.

"If the river only slightly over tops few of the lower sections (of the cofferdam), the contractor maybe able to keep up," Janesville Director of Public Works Paul Woodard wrote in an email to the Gazette. "But at some point if the river continues to rise and overtop multiple sections, the pumps won't be able to keep up."

The contractor has made "significant progress," but the steps to the river haven't been installed yet, Woodard said.

"It is our understanding that the river is projected to rise six inches in the next day," Woodard wrote in an email.

The National Weather Service and the Walworth County Sheriff's Office are reminding people not to travel through flood water.

If the water is not moving, cars can get stranded in it. If the water is moving, it takes very little force to push a vehicle downstream, said Ben Miller, meteorologist at the National Weather Service.

Once traveling downstream, cars tend to tip over.

Most people who die in floods do so in their cars after trying to drive through moving water or heavily flooded intersections, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for Turtle Creek near Clinton. At 5 a.m. Wednesday, the creek was at 4.4 feet. Flood stage is 8 feet. Minor flooding in low-lying agricultural areas is forecast.

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