After Irene, White River Dwellers View Recent Rain Differently
White River Dwellers Wary of Recent Weather
Laura Lenart walks across Locust Creek to the patio behind her home in Bethel Sunday. Tropical Storm Irene caused erosion that felled many trees on the bank, which has continued with this summer’s heavy rainstorms. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Ruby Ballou, or “Nana,” sorts jewelry inside Nana’s Thrift Store as her husband, Harvey Ballou, relaxes outside in South Royalton Sunday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Bethel — During Tropical Storm Irene, water from Locust Creek spilled over the bank and into Laura and Dave Lenart’s yard. It destroyed about half of their stone patio, located feet from the creek and stopped just before reaching their house.
Dave Lenart finished restoring the patio about two weeks ago, and Sunday stood near the creek, which feeds into the White River. He remembers well what happened during Irene.
“We never really thought it could ever get that high,” he said yesterday. “And then it did.”
In fact, he said, Irene “changed everything.” Though much of the damage has been repaired, the storm has seared a new worry into the minds of those living along the White River, especially as recent rains have caused flooding in Upper Valley municipalities such as Lebanon and Windsor, which is projected to cost millions of dollars to fix.
Although people who make their homes and run their businesses along the water are generally not worried outright, many are casting wary eyes to the river in their backyards.
“We just go with the flow,” said Harvey Ballou, sitting in a chair outside Nana’s Thrift Store in South Royalton. “There’s no way you can prepare for anything like that.”
The store, an open one-room building and adjacent tent, offers various items of clothing, old video games and tableware. At a counter, Ballou’s wife, Ruby, makes jewelry re-appropriated from other items.
The store also sits directly off Route 14, parts of which were walloped by Irene. During the storm nearly two years ago, 4 feet of water piled up around and inside of the store, Harvey Ballou said.
Ruby considered Irene a high-water mark for flood damage, and as such said she was just “vaguely concerned” about the possibility of another overflowing river.
“We’ve been through Irene, so what really more can surprise us?” she said.
Still, monthly and yearly totals for rainfall far eclipse the averages. As of yesterday, there has been about 7.1 inches of rainfall this month to date in Lebanon, compared with a normal amount of about 1.4 inches, which is a more than a 400 percent increase, according to AccuWeather.com. The total yearly rainfall is up as well, with 25.3 inches so far this year versus 19 inches normally.
However, the actual height of the river isn’t cause for too much concern. According to the National Weather Service, flood stage for the White River in West Hartford, a village particularly hurt by the floods in 2011, is 18 feet. The observed height Sunday afternoon was just over 6 feet.
The organization also forecasts a 0 percent chance of the White River flooding through October, though there is a small chance it will reach as high as 17 feet.
But in the village, the memories of the storm linger, especially as Lebanon begins its own rebuilding projects. The West Hartford Village Store, which spent about $300,000 to repair damage after Irene, still has a T-shirt hanging near its front counter, one side featuring the I Am Vermont Strong logo and the other reading, “Good Night Irene, 8/28/11.”
“It’s definitely in the back of peoples’ minds,” said Dan Barmore, who was working at the store yesterday.
Back in Bethel, the Lenarts stood near their patio, looking out at Locust Creek. Beyond the water was a bank full of trees that had been uprooted and knocked over during Irene. The looseness of the ground has caused more trees to fall and occasionally plug up the creek, so Dave Lenart has taken to cutting them enough to let the creek flow.
Though they’re not making any big preparations for further rainstorms, the couple are making sure to keep abreast of the water so close to their home.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on it,” Laura Lenart said.
Jon Wolper can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3242.