Another rain, another flood

In the Maple Lake area, five to six inches of rain was reported for the storm that hit overnight on Sept. 6. And that’s just going to pad a rainfall record that may never be broken.

We hope.

The worst of this storm centered itself over the Buffalo area, with rainfall reports from six to 10 inches that served to once again raise record lake levels, inundating streets, closing for a time portions of Highway 55 and 25 and making the morning commute to work on September 6 one to remember.

Maple Lake Public Works Director Jerry Sawatzke said he went on duty at about 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 6, hooking up a portable generator only 10 minutes after the power had gone out in the neighborhood of the 6th Street lift station. Sawatzke and his crew spent the night making the rounds of the lift stations to make sure all were functioning through the storm, staying on the job until about 3 p.m. the next day.

Sawatzke said in his 22 years with the city maintenance department, the only comparable single storm was in 1991 when four or five inches of rain was followed later in the afternoon by two more inches. But never has there been big storm, after big storm, after big storm like this summer. “This has been a terrible year,” Sawatzke said, cautioning homeowners not to drain sump pump water into the sewer system. “Then they wonder why we have sewer problems,” he said.

For Wright-Hennepin Electric, the problem with the Sept. 6 storm was not the rain, but the lightning. W-H crews responded to 61 total outages, of which 56 were caused by lightning. The total of customers affected system-wide were 1,978 with 490 of the customers in the Maple Lake area. The average length of these outages was about 2.6 hours, with the maximum outage time of 7.22 hours.

A lightning strike is thought to be the cause of a fire at the Von Veit residence on Baker Avenue in Maple Lake Township. Lightning struck a barn which burned to the ground, destroying its contents of antiques and collector items valued at $350,000.

City figures show 33.6 inches of rain to date in Maple Lake since the beginning of June. According to the National Weather Service, one inch of rain translates into 10 inches of snow. If this were January, Maple Lake would be buried under 336 inches of snow.  Ouch. Things could be worse.

James McQuirter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Wright County is in a “pretty rare” situation this year. “Usually you get a couple of big storms a year or none at all,” he said.

Pete Boulay, assistant state climatologist, agreed. “Wright County has had the bad luck of happening to be in the spot where these storms are dropping the most rain,” he said. “Up in Cook County, they need the rain.”

The six top local rainfalls this summer were 2.4 inches on June 21; 6.19 to 8 inches on June 24; 3.28 inches on July 9 to 10; 4.27 inches on August 3; 3.18 inches on August 20 and 5 to 6 inches on September 6.

Boulay said the occurrence of a three-inch rainfall could be expected every five years, a four-inch rainfall every 10 years, five inches of rain is a 50-year event and six inches of rain is a 100-year event.

“We’ve had a pattern with a frontal boundary stalled right across Minnesota,” he said. “That’s been a persistent factor throughout this whole summer. And Wright County has the bad luck of happening to be in the spot where these things are dropping the most rain.”

In trying to assess rainfall for Wright County, Boulay said volunteers in various communities call in with rainfall totals. No one fills that position for Maple Lake, but he said in Buffalo, the highest total for a summer period, considered to be June, July and August, was 21.12 inches in 1951.