FLOODS, 1982 AND 2008
6.65 inches in a 24 hour period
Local and area residents got a precursor of things to come on July 6-7 when 1.63 inches of rain fell. Combined with that rain were some extremely powerful winds which tipped over a mobile home east of the city. So strong were the winds that some people said it was a hurricane or tornado that hit.
A number of trees were down and there was some minor flooding in many of the normal lowland areas. A few people were injured as a direct result of the storms, but that was nothing compared to what lay in store just a few days later.
It was Saturday, July 10, 1982, when the skies opened and deluge of water hit the city. Anyone who was here back on that day and the days that followed will have vivid memories of the day and the havoc it caused virtually everywhere.
The rain came down literally by the bucket. Between 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 10, 1982, and 7 a.m. on Sunday, July 11, the city's official weather station at the wastewater treatment plant recorded a record 6.65 inches of rain fell. Watertown's official weather observer, Dick Hoge, reported that same day that his rain gauge showed 6.03 inches in that 24-hour period. Making this more dramatic, most of that 6 plus inches fell in a short period of time during the day.
That freak storm left nearly double the former record for rainfall in a 24 hour period Dick Hoge said at the time that the former record was 3.54 inches on June 30, 1938.
Four homes had extensive damages to the foundations when water flooded into them and then pressure was so great cement, stone or block walls simply crumbled. Many streets in the city had three, four or more feet of water in them. A couple of the homes with foundation problems were in the area of Jones Street and Dewey Avenue. Residents in the area said it was like a rushing river through their back yards, from Maple Street west to Dewey Avenue.
The Beaver Dam and Juneau fire departments were called in under mutual aid agreements to help pump water from basements and businesses. The task was complicated by the saturated ground. The water pumped out had to be pushed away from the buildings so it didn't seep right back in.
Many cars were filled with water, causing not only thousands of dollars of damage but also stranding a number of people.
So powerful was the flooding that South Concord Avenue was closed because of a mud slide and the same situation happened on Highway 109, now County Trunk R, at County Trunk EM. Electricity was shut off in the South Ninth and Neenah streets areas until water could be pumped out. Watertown High School was without electricity for a period of time.
Watertown Metal Products had some minor flooding over the years but it was nothing like this deluge. The plant, located at 1141 S. Tenth St., had 13 inches of water throughout the building and damages were estimated at $100,000, maybe more.
Schuett's Feed Service had a double problem. The business was flooded with about four feet of water and then complicating things, vandals broke in to the place and turned on a molasses pump, causing several tons of the sticky goo to be discharged and mixed with the floodwaters.
U.S. Chemical Company on Hart Street had up to 4-5 feet of water in some areas, causing extensive damage. A number oil storage tanks at Union Oil at the south end of Fifth Street were tipped over from the flooding, pushed around like they were a little kid's toys.
This deluge also dramatically raised the level of the Rock River. In the first nine days of July, the flow of water in the river just a 1,000 feet or so south of the lower dam ranged from 218 to 274 cubic feet per second. Then, on July 10 that number jumped to 643 cubic feet per second and by the 11th it rose to 1,183 cubic feet per second. After that it gradually tapered off and was 854 on the 12th, 777 on the 13th, 666 on the 14th and 610 on the 15th. Imagine having the flow of the Rock River going from 262 cubic feet a second to 1,183 cubic feet in just 48 hours! That gives a clear indication of the level of flooding in the city back in the summer of 1982.
June 5-13, 17 inches of rain
Click on images to enlarge
Fanny Lewis Park Area [ North Water St]
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Lower Dam / Milwaukee St bridge construction project
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Pictures by Ken Riedl
Watertown Daily Times articles: 2008
History of Watertown, Wisconsin