After heavy rains hit CT, residents and officials examine damage and figure out what's next
After torrential downpours soaked Connecticut over the weekend, residents and officials spent Monday examining and cleaning up the damage, while figuring out what to do next.
The weekend rain ended a wet week for Connecticut, as earlier rainfall had already saturated the ground. Rivers across the state were still near or above flood stage, and officials were cautioning residents to exercise caution around waterways.
Transportation crews worked quickly in Bristol and elsewhere to repair roads.
Meanwhile, state officials were trying to figure out how to help farmers who’ve been affected not just by the weekend rain, but also flooding last week along the Connecticut River.
The full scope of the recent flooding statewide is yet to be determined as municipalities survey the damage, but officials report at least 2,000 acres of farmland had been flooded.
State officials say say they want to figure out how to make the state more climate resilient to help cities withstand more intense storms and find ways to bounce back faster.
Recent rains hammered small towns in Litchfield County in the state's northwest corner. The town of Colebrook received between 7 and 8 inches of rain in a day last week.
The basement of local artisan shop and café Spice 320 was flooded with several feet of water. Co-owner Alan Thayer said the town’s volunteer fire department cleared the water out twice over four days.
“They were so heroic," he said. "They pumped it out all night, all afternoon. Then we slept here on the floor that night; we got a generator from a neighbor.”
Since the flooding hadn’t breached the store’s main floor or kitchen, Thayer thanked the first responders with coffee, cornbread and homemade chicken and biscuit pot pie to go.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Monday toured affected towns in Litchfield County. He's encouraging businesses and homeowners to report any flood-related damage.
“One of the reasons I’m going around the state, quite honestly, is to make sure that local officials, local businesses, local farms, submit the information so that we can declare a disaster," Blumenthal said.
Issues on and along CT waterways
In southern Connecticut, along the shoreline, various beaches were closed Monday. That included beaches in Fairfield and West Haven.
Fairfield officials said swimming areas, including Lake Mohegan and Fairfield Beach, were closed until at least Tuesday.
Fairfield largely escaped the flooding, which inundated other parts of the state. But the town closes its swimming areas after any significant rainfall, said Sands Clearly, the health department director.
Fairfield officials were analyzing rain water samples and will re-open the swimming areas once the samples are considered satisfactory.
Fairfield Beach was expected to re-open Tuesday.
State environmental officials say debris from high water across the state has entered Long Island Sound and is washing up along shoreline beaches.
In light of flooding along the shoreline, as well as the Connecticut River and other waterways across Connecticut, state environmental officials were advising residents to exercise caution around flooded waterways, and to avoid swimming, fishing and boating.
Weather posing more challenges for farmers
Elsewhere in Connecticut, state and elected officials acknowledged the hurdles that farmers have been facing in recent months, pointing to ongoing dramatic weather, from sub-freezing temperatures in May to drought conditions in June to July’s heavy rain.
“These challenges are becoming harder and harder for Connecticut's farmers to deal with and to manage through,” said Bryan Hurlburt, state agricultural commissioner.
State agricultural officials have set up a disaster website for farmers who need help. Officials were planning on submitting a request for a federal agriculture disaster declaration and are asking affected farmers to report their losses, whether from the flooding or the weekend rain.
For Connecticut farmers, the timing of the recent bad weather couldn't have been worse. They were just days away from harvest – only to see flood waters rise and slowly wipe out their crops.
Billy Collins, a third-generation farmer from Rocky Hill, said the amount of extreme weather he's seen over the past few years is unprecedented.
“The weather is very much more dramatic, whether it be severe drought, maybe too much water like 2021," he said. "Everything is severe. Much more severe.”
His farm lost about 80% of its crop over the weekend and will have to lay off two-thirds of its workforce to stay afloat.
Preparing for future storms
The kind of extreme rainfall that Connecticut has received used to happen every few decades, said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations at the National Weather Service.
But climate change is altering the temperature. According to federal weather officials, last month was Earth’s warmest June on record. And the first week of July marked some of the hottest days ever recorded.
“The warmer the air is, the more water vapor it can contain under the right conditions,” Carbin said. “With a one- or two-degree increase in global temperature, we are seeing the efficiency of these rainfall events occur more frequently.”
In Connecticut, state officials say they're mindful of the changing climate, so they're looking at ways to better prepare for future storms.
In June, Gov. Ned Lamont announced nearly $9 million in state fundingto help support more than 20 climate resilience plans across the state. Much of the first round of funding is going to vulnerable communities that will feel the effects of climate change "first and worst."
At a press conference Monday, Katie Dykes, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, noted one of the recipients. The town of Bristol, which experienced flood damage over the weekend, will get $250,000 to help develop a flood resilience plan for areas near the Pequabuck River and Coppermine Brook. The city plans on identifying potential opportunities to buy out flood-prone properties.
"That's just an example of how these resilience funding grants are a down payment on helping communities like Bristol that were impacted, to be better protected going forward," Dykes said.
In Bristol, firefighters rescued four people from cars during Sunday's storm.
Deputy Fire Chief Dave Butkus said car rescues are routine, but most people are rescued from their homes.
“We pull a lot of people from their houses, especially down on East Main Street," Butkus said. "We'll get our boat down there and get the people out.”
With more rainstorms in the forecast, Butkus said the fire department is prepared. Personnel and equipment are strategically located to help out in case one side of the town gets flooded.
Connecticut Public's Eddy Martinez, Kay Perkins, Michayla Savitt and Eric Aasen contributed to this report.