Concern Eases Over Flooding Threat in Upper Valley

  • Ice heaves up the banks of the Connecticut River in Cornish, N.H., Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Monday, January 15, 2018

Windsor  — The Connecticut River was safely within its banks on Monday but sections remained choked with ice, and low-lying areas resembled frozen ponds following weekend flooding.

The good news is that no heavy rain is forecast for the next 10 days and below-freezing temperatures should prevent the ice from breaking up further, Burlington’s National Weather Service meteorologist Marlon Verasamy said on Monday.

Snow this evening, warmer weather over the weekend and rain on Monday could raise water levels, but those events likely won’t cause the extensive flooding seen over the weekend when ice dams formed on several New Hampshire and Vermont rivers, Verasamy said.

“It shouldn’t be the magnitude of last weekend,” he said.

Vermont Emergency Management spokesman Mark Bosma said on Monday that the only current warning was in the town of Swanton, along the northeastern short of Lake Champlain, where the Missisquoi River runs through the center of town.

“Not everything is completely clear so we’re still keeping our eyes and ears open,” Bosma said in an email.

A combination of temperatures in the 50s last Friday and heavy rain led to a rapid thaw and break up of ice that had formed during a frigid spell to start the year. When the ice broke up and began flowing downstream on the Connecticut River, it jammed up in some sections, including slow-moving stretches of the river in Windsor and Cornish. With no place to go, the rapidly rising water spilled onto fields and roads.

On Monday, the river north of the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge was still full of ice, but under the bridge and for several hundred yards south there was open water before more ice was visible.

Windsor Fire Department spokeswoman Malisa Williams said on Monday that water rose to within a few feet of the bottom of the covered bridge, which is why officials decided to close it as well as Bridge Street in Windsor. The last time the water was that high occurred during a similar thaw and ice jam scenario in March 1992.

“They said ice was scraping the bottom of the bridge (then),” Williams said.

Closing the bridge also aimed to prevent cars from driving on Route 12A in Cornish, which was blocked by floodwaters to the south and north of the bridge. The water had receded on Sunday, and the road and bridge were reopened. Nevertheless, ice, carried out of the river by the water, remained pushed up against the road’s guardrail on Monday.

At the 12% Percent Solution store at the intersection of Route 12A and Townhouse Road, Janis Hamel said the water got within two feet of the store’s parking lot.

“We were concerned,” said Hamel, who owns the store with her husband, Mike.

Water from the Mill Brook and the Connecticut River flooded the field across the road from the store. By Monday, the field was solid ice.

The Windsor Fire Department was still monitoring ice conditions but fire officials were optimistic about improvement.

“We hope that as water runs off and the levels return to normal, the ice won’t cause significant issues,” Williams said.

On Saturday, Williams said, the water flowed freely on the fields south of town.

“There were vehicle-sized ice chunks literally flowing through the fields,” she said.

In Claremont, Plains Road at the Coy Paper dam remained closed on Monday with a small section of the road covered with a thick layer of ice near the bridge over the Sugar River.

Assistant Public Works Director Vic St. Pierre said ice clogged the top of the tall dam on Saturday, forcing water off to the side and down onto the bridge at the south end. 

“The water stopped flowing over the dam and the next lowest spot was to the side,” St. Pierre said. “The water then ran across the bridge.”

St. Pierre said chunks of ice took out a fence at the top of the dam. Because of concern that the road could flood again because of the amount of ice still above the dam, St. Pierre said they decided to wait until today to clear the road and reopen it.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt @gmail.com.