Much Needed Rain Locally, Record Duluth Flooding


Welcome to summer!  It seems Mother Nature brought in the new season across North Central Wisconsin & Northern Minnesota with a bang, but not necessarily in a good way for everyone.  Kicking off the month of June, Wausau's precipitation was just about at the average levels for the year.  However as the days went by, without much rain and warm conditions, the deficit grew to nearly a 2" by June 13th.  However in a little less than a week's time from June 14th-20th, the showers and storms became plentiful.  A total of 3.70" of rain fell, pushing us back to the slightly above normal side of the ledger.  Some of the storms that rolled our way from late Sunday night (June 17-18th) did pack a punch with heavy downpours and gusty winds.  Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning were even more intense, as there were a number of severe thunderstorm warnings, even a couple of tornado warnings in Central Wisconsin.  We are glad to report there were not any tornadoes this time around, but certainly a number of wind damage reports on Tuesday morning with the line of storms that rumbled through. 

The main cause for this unsettled weather were warm & cold fronts which passed by our area, then would stall out, becoming stationary boundaries.  Although the name implies these type of fronts don't move, they do actually waver some.  In this case, every time an impulse that sparked storms pushed along the front, it acted as a bit of an atmospheric lever to shift the stationary front north or south.  Well, by the time we made it to Tuesday evening (June 19th), that stationary boundary was located across the U.P. of Michigan, west through Lake Superior and then back into parts of NE Minnesota.  Storms were ongoing during the evening hours and as a wave of low pressure shifted slowly NE along the boundary, produced a training of storms with heavy rain in Duluth and nearby surrounding areas.  Anywhere from 6-10" of rain fell through Tuesday night into Wednesday, not only setting back to back daily rainfall records in Duluth, but also causing major flooding.

If you aren't familiar with the topography near Lake Superior and the locations on it's western tip into Duluth, the best way to describe it is very hill. I'm not quite talking like that of San Francisco or Seattle, but you certainly drop in elevation quickly from the highest points in parts of Duluth, right down to the lake shore.  Add in a heavy rain over a relatively short period of time and what you've got is runoff from rain streaming or roaring downhill, while in the process causing those serene streams and river to becoming raging rapids.  Thus the widespread flooding, the unfortunate results of animals perishing at the zoo, roads washing out and many people being flooded out of their homes.  We have had our share of these type of instances in Milwaukee and Wisconsin Dells over the past few years due to similar circumstances. Flash flooding can and does happen just about anywhere.

The best we can do as meteorologists is to recognize the heavy rainfall pattern setting up in advance of the chaotic flooding that can ensue. Whether it is the placement of the stationary front locally, the developing of training of storms with heavy rain rolling over the same locations, or in some cases the very humid atmosphere, where if you were theoretically able to squeeze all of the moisture out of it, would lead to hefty rainfall totals.

While the Northern half of Wisconsin did receive some appreciable rain, folks farther south are still wishing for the rain to come their way. Madison was 3.63" below average in rainfall for the year as of June 21st, while Milwaukee was 1.82" in the negative.  The outlook for the near term isn't promising for a lot of rain here or for those down south.  No less, it will only take a good soaking storm or two in to fill up the rain bucket if those storms head our direction in the next couple of weeks.

For more on the historic flooding in Duluth, check out the NWS Duluth website.

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