The Whetstone Brook courses through Brattleboro on Monday after the region was pummeled with rain, some areas in Windham County up to 2 inches.
Jim Powers/Special to The Commons
The Whetstone Brook courses through Brattleboro on Monday after the region was pummeled with rain, some areas in Windham County up to 2 inches.

December rain, flooding hearken back to recent weather catastrophe

Rivers rise and roads close as up to 5 inches of rain falls on Windham County; Londonderry avoids repeat of devastating summer flooding

Rain hit hard and early on Dec. 18 in Windham County for a soggy start to the week before the Christmas holiday, at a time when things had barely been cleaned up from the big July flood in some towns.

The National Weather Service reported county rainfall between 2.44 inches (in Rockingham), and 5 inches (in Guilford). Had the rain come in the form of snow, the accumulation would have totaled between 2 and 4 feet.

"I know this is the last thing Vermonters want to see right now, especially during the holiday season," said Gov. Phil Scott, who spoke briefly post-storm on Dec. 19.

"So let me say, although there will be damage to infrastructure, homes and businesses, we do not expect this to be the same scale as July," he continued. "That being said, some of the same places that were impacted in July are currently experiencing flooding once again so for them, this is July, and it's a real gut punch."

The East Coast from Florida to Maine saw heavy precipitation and gusty winds with what the National Weather Service deemed "excessive rainfall" moving from the mid-Atlantic states into New England, lake-effect snow downwind of the Great Lakes, and upslope snow over parts of the Northern/Central Appalachians.

Here, by 7:10 a.m. on Dec. 18, East Dover reportedly had seen 2.31 inches of rain, according to the NWS office in Albany, New York. West Dover received 2.25 inches. The lowest at that hour of the morning were Bellows Falls and Rockingham, with just over 1 inch of rain.

By 12:45 p.m., East Dover was ringing in with 2.54 inches and West Dover with 2.42 inches, while Bellows Falls had risen to about 1.5 inches of rainfall.

The Guilford/Halifax area, however, took the lead, with a reported 5 inches of rain by 10:30 a.m.

The weather service also reported windS of 41 mph at 8:25 a.m. in West Dover, with East Dummerston and Marlboro not far behind. The slowest wind speed in the morning was 15 mph in Stratton at 9:35 a.m.

The Brattleboro Department of Public Works, Fire Department, Police, and Selectboard all reported that staff members were helping 12 residents in the Mountain Home Park along Village Drive, Valley Road, and Edgewood Road to evacuate to higher ground.

"Some occupants have been advised to evacuate the lower section where problematic flooding does occur," Town Office Manager Kristen Martin said.

Bridges on Dettman Drive, George F. Miller Drive, and Meadowbrook Road were closed as water streamed across them. Other roads saw minor water flows.

Also in Brattleboro, the heaviest rain came early but light rain continued through most of the day, along with high winds. Most of the heavy rain was, in fact, in western Windham County, as was most of the high wind that followed the rain.

At the height of the storm, more than 10,000 homes around Vermont were without power. In Windham County, more power outages were south and west of Brattleboro, according to Green Mountain Power. Those outages were consistent with where heaviest rain was reported throughout the day. Nearly all had power restored by late evening.

More trauma for Londonderry

Creeks and rivers rose quickly and flowed stormily.

At 1 p.m., Route 11 in Londonderry near the intersection of Route 100 was closed at the bridge over the West River due to flooding, and motorists were advised to expect delays and seek alternate routes.

In Londonderry near the West River, Mike and Tammy's Main Street Market and the Maple Leaf Diner closed at 12:30 p.m. "due to rising waters and to protect the safety of our employees and customers," owners Mike and Tammy Clough posted on Facebook as water was reported traveling across the road.

Main Street businesses, barely recovered from summer, saw water lapping at their doors once again.

After the July flood, the Cloughs had to close their two shops for three and a half months.

Estimating about a $100,000 loss - without counting revenue - the Cloughs soon learned that the only relief they were eligible for was a Small Business Administration loan.

Remembering that time, Tammy Clough said Monday, was "like PTSD."

But the storm did not dump as much water as in the summer, and the businesses reopened the next day.

"We had to do a repeat of putting everything up and getting out of town before anything happened, but we were unscathed," said Clough. "A miracle. Maybe it was a small Christmas gift for the town."

On the Londonderry Vermont Community Forum Facebook group, many underscored that folks were still reeling from the summer's catastrophe.

"Some of us have barely recovered or are still recovering from the last flood," wrote another business owner.

At 3 p.m. the Stratton Foundation shared a reminder to remember local families and businesses still recovering from the July flood, noting businesses were moving things to higher ground and roads were closing.

South Londonderry residents Donna and Andy Chambers haven't been able to live in their house since July 10.

The Chamberses left the 200-year-old home they bought eight years ago and have been like vagabonds, staying in several places, including the Londonderry Inn. They're now staying in Manchester.

The couple have said they were attracted to their home in part because it is so close to the West River. But the river rose to a new height during the July storm, and its damage rendered the house uninhabitable.

The Chamberses have said that grappling with FEMA and insurance companies has been extremely difficult and frustrating.

"After yesterday, yeah," said Donna Chambers. "We had two feet of water in our basement, but people moved stuff out for us. Our goal was to get back in there and now it's like, what? This is really crazy. Andy couldn't sleep last night because he was so worried."

But the couple actually got good news after the storm.

"We found out the carpenter is there today," said Donna Chambers, who said a different contractor gave the couple an estimate of $60,000 to fix the kitchen floor before a friend did it "boom, boom, boom."

"We're on a fixed income. We got money from a GoFundMe, but getting someone who is a qualified carpenter who knew what to do it was the hardest part," she said.

"And FEMA wants us to fill out paperwork constantly and then they say they didn't get it. It happens all the time," Chambers continued.

"Here we are in the middle of this, and they're saying they didn't get the paperwork, and so we have to go in the house and dig through piles over and over again. We're just trying to keep afloat. And we've had wonderful support," she said.

"We're very lucky to have had amazing, amazing support," Chambers added. "But it's still really, really hard."

Settling down

By late afternoon, town officials in Marlboro noted the road crew was out and repairing roads to reopen them soonest and then return to address mud caused by both the abundant rain and unseasonably mild temperatures during most of the storm.

The highway department here, as elsewhere, requested folks limit their driving due to the muddy conditions of roads in general.

Several issues from earlier in the day had been addressed, but Shearer Hill Road remained closed due to a culvert washout scheduled to be addressed Tuesday.

Whitaker Farm Road also remained closed, to be addressed "as soon as possible." North Pond Road is passable, but the Selectboard and Highway Department noted low-hanging phone lines there and advised awareness.

Brattleboro Communications Coordinator Seth Thomas said that West Brattleboro was the most heavily impacted area in town. The residents evacuated from Mountain Home Park earlier in the day have been allowed to return home.

The Department of Public Works reported 19 roads sustained damage. Currently, Hescock Road, George F. Miller Drive, and Dettman Drive remain closed, while six other roads have reduced lanes. Crews were working on all affected roads the day after the storm.

"The rain is subsiding, and the brook and stream levels are back within their banks," Thomas wrote on the evening of Dec. 18.

"Despite heavy flow rates caused by the storm, Brattleboro's infrastructure was able to handle the excess water. The wastewater treatment plant was flowing the equivalent of 6.2 million gallons per day, which is significantly higher than the normal flow of 1.5 million gallons per day."

This News item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates