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      Spring Flooding: A Look Back at One of the Worst

      The last big spring flood occurred in mid-April 2002. Here is a view of Sunday Lake encroaching on a neighborhood in Wakefield.

      This spring, so far, has been more like winter. A big warm up is on the way and that will mean snowmelt. There is from five to as much as 12 inches of water in the snow pack of the western and northern U.P. We will cross our fingers that it will be a steady, but controlled melt. Ironically, one of the worst spring floods on record in Upper Michigan occurred after most of the snow was gone:

      Back in late April 1960, heavy rains poured down on a large section of Upper Michigan, leading to serious flooding in many areas. Roads were washed out, bridges swept away and a number of residents were forced to flee their homes. The rainstorm, which began early on April 23, was the opening salvo in one of the wettest onslaughts to ever visit the central Upper Peninsula.

      The deluge was spawned by a rather innocuous looking frontal system that set up from the Plains to the Upper Great Lakes. Waves of low pressure moving along the front just south of Upper Michigan generated the rain. Around Ironwood, more than five inches of rain poured down over three days, while Gurney, a town across the border in Wisconsin, was inundated with over eight inches, seven of which came down in just a 24-hour period.

      The excessive rain brought the Montreal River bordering Ironwood and Hurley, Wisconsin into high flood. Two Ironwood police officers noticed the flood danger increasing in the wee hours of the morning while on patrol. They notified headquarters and immediately started arousing occupants of homes along the river. At least 15 families were evacuated from their homes, while scores of others were temporarily stranded as rivers and streams throughout the Gogebic Range went on a rampage.

      Silver Street at the bridge linking Ironwood and Hurley was flooded over a block wide. Many homes along Hemlock Street became flooded, as the street became a catch basin for the surging water. Spectators flocked to the flooded area. Children frolicked in the water, while their parents stared at the devastation.

      Three rural North Bessemer residents had a scare early Sunday morning, when the car they were in was swept 150 feet into a field by overflow from the Black River. Passersby helped the three to safety with no injuries. Residents in that vicinity were stranded for a time by high water from the raging river.

      In Marenisco, about 25 families were forced to leave their homes when the Big Presque Isle River overflowed its banks. The main street running through town still looked like a lake April 25. Road graders were employed to pull cars through the flooded area.

      Farther east in the central U.P., record smashing rainfall resulted in a â??desperate situationâ?? on Marquette County roads. A combination of a high water table from excessive rain the preceding fall, heavy winter snow and a rapid spring break-up already created â??the worst roads in memory.â?? The weekend rains were the â??nail in the coffinâ?? that pushed the roads and road workers over the edge.

      Skandia was especially hard hit. Most roads in the area were already closed before the rain due to a combination of frost and water; after the rains, the â??roads would not hold traffic at all.â?? In Ely and Humboldt Townships, school buses were asked not to operate because of poor road conditions. The Milwaukee Road train was unable to leave Champion because of flooding off Lake Michigamme from Van Riper State Park west to near the town of Michigamme.

      Near Republic, parts of M-95 were under water. Leif Erickson Park along the highway, normally well above the river, was inundated and water from the park ran across the highway. Farther northeast, most secondary roads in the Ishpeming area were closed, while an estimated third of the basements in the city were flooded.

      The rainstorm of April 22-24, 1960 was the beginning of an 18 day siege in which almost 11 inches of precipitation was recorded in Marquette. The period culminated in a tremendous rain and snow storm during the first week of May.

      Right now, it appears that our warm up will be relatively dry initially. There will be a few disturbances passing through from tomorrow through early next week. However, rainfall at this point does not look excessive. Problems could occur later next week as the main frontal boundary moves into the western Great Lakes. That front could stall and lead to prolonged wet weather. It is something worth monitoring over the next several days.