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Middlebury area receives month's worth of rain in three hours

A person in rain boots walks on a road the is split horizontally due to flood waters.
Stacey Peters
Flood waters damaged Fassett Hill Road in Hancock on Aug. 3 and 4.

A line of storms brought an excess of 6 inches of rain to parts of the Middlebury area Thursday afternoon and evening, in a span of just a few hours.

"We had a line of storms moving towards the Middlebury area, and it kind of just parked itself right over the central-south Addison County," said Marvin Boyd, chief meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington.

"That's about a month of rainfall in three hours, so of course that led to flash flooding," Boyd said.

Orange construction cones sit on a road; in the background, several people work on removing part of the road.
Stacey Peters
Road crew work to remove a section of VT 125 in Hancock after flooding on August 3.

According to Vermont Emergency Management, Routes 125 and 116 sustained major damage during the storm.

Roads were impacted in Hancock, Granville and Ripton, among other places.

Some areas of Middlebury have limited boil water notices following the storms. A culvert washout on Route 116 caused a water main to break, impacting the town from the Jehovah Witness Church on Route 116 up north to Butternut Ridge, Mead Lane and the Lindale Trailer Park.

It may take a couple weeks before the water main is permanently fixed. Residents are advised to boil their water for one minute before consuming, or using it to brush teeth or wash dishes.

Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Christopher Herrick was serving as the Emergency Operations Center manager on Friday.

He said as of 11:45 a.m. Friday, urban search and rescue teams performed three swift water rescues in Addison County related to the storms.

Herrick said teams would be staged in the Middlebury area Friday afternoon and evening.

With heavily saturated soils in that part of the state, emergency managers were also keeping an eye out for mudslides or the risk of mudslides.

"There's a task force going and looking at high-risk areas, where we have reports of potential landslides, to evaluate the risk or any damage that may have occurred," Herrick said.

As of noon Friday, every Vermont county except for Grand Isle was under a flash flood watch.

Boyd said another series of storms will be moving through eastern New York and Vermont Friday afternoon and evening.

These will likely appear as multiple rounds of thunderstorms.

"We kind of have the gamut of concerns from severe gusty winds — winds in excess of 50 miles per hour out of thunderstorms that can down trees, power lines. We also have concerns of hail at around an inch in diameter," Boyd said.

The National Weather Service is forecasting rainfall totals of about a half an inch to an inch as storms move through.

But Boyd said if multiple storms move through an area rapidly, some communities could see as much as two inches of rain.

He said what happened in Middlebury was a special case he hopes won't repeat itself soon.

"This is not like the July 10 timeframe where we had 28 hours of rainfall. It's not the same setup," he said of Friday's forecast. "However, it is a wet pattern and it's been one that's repeating."

Commissioner Herrick urged Vermonters to be prepared in the event of more flash flooding Friday — particularly in flood prone areas in Addison and Rutland counties.

He said people should keep an eye on the weather today.

"People need to be aware of ... the potential for rising waters and be ready to evacuate quickly, meaning have clothes, have medications, food for their pets and be ready to go if they have to evacuate the area," he said.

The National Weather Service and Vermont Emergency Management are urging people never to drive through floodwaters.

Herrick said it's too soon to know exactly the extent of the damage in Addison County, but that the state is working with town emergency management directors to begin damage assessments.

Ripton Road Commissioner Tim Hanson said Thursday's round of storms did more damage in Ripton than the July floods.

"I mean I've seen worse in my years here, but it's pretty bad," he said. "It's... we have serious, expensive damage."

Hanson says damage there is mostly to roads, though at least one house was flooded. He said most of the damage in Ripton was to roads in the northwestern part of town.

Road crews in Ripton were working hard Friday to fix washouts that Hanson said left 15-20 families partly stranded, with access by four-wheeler only.

For tonight, he said, "If you don't have to go anywhere, don't."

Hancock resident Stacey Peters said the town was also spared from flood damage until recently.

Flood water flows downhill through rocks.
Stacey Peters
The remains of a residential driveway in Hancock after flooding on August 3.

"I believe that had a lot to do with the rebuilding efforts that happened after Irene," Peters said. "Our town, as I mentioned, was one that was completely isolated with all of our bridges and culverts destroyed in that event. And so, you know, while we have had lots of heavy rainfall over the past three weeks, most of our roads have survived until fairly recently."

Peters did document road damages in the area Friday from the floods, and is dealing with flooding on her personal property.

"I live under a road where my driveway includes a 200-foot drop leading to my property and my house. And last night, the town road above that driveway got badly flooded," Peters said. "And the quickest and most natural way for that water to be diverted was apparently right down my driveway. So that 200-foot driveway is now a beautiful scenic waterfall."

But since the rain has been building up for so many weeks, she said this came as less of a surprise than Irene did.

New England now sees about 55% more extreme rain than it did in 1958, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

More from Vermont Public: The connection between extreme rain and climate change in Vermont

And Vermont sees on average about 6 more inches of precipitation each year than it did at the start of the last century, due to human caused climate change.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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