The Rain We Couldn't Buy Last Year

My Generation

Eight inches of rain in a single night, and suddenly the drops we couldn't buy last summer are flooding fields, farms, towns and homes.

Published on: April 23, 2013

Last Wednesday, I spent the better part of the day driving home from Kansas City, where I'd gone for a board meeting of the American Ag Editors Association. I sat with friends over breakfast chai that morning and we discussed the weather that was moving through, and I casually joked that I was probably going to wind up driving along with the front all the way home.

As it turns out, that wasn't so funny when it actually happened. I drove with my wipers on high for a solid two hours, and had flashbacks of a tale from my colleague, Dan Crummett, of the time his car was struck by lightning. True story. I think.

By the time I arrived home, it had already hailed and rained. And then about 9 p.m., it set in lightning, thundering and raining hard, and it seemed to go on until 6 a.m.  We woke up somewhere after midnight and both commented that we couldn't remember the last time it had rained so hard for so long.

The view of the Spoon River bottoms, flooded on Friday, April 19.
The view of the Spoon River bottoms, flooded on Friday, April 19.

By morning, the rain gauge overfloweth. Estimates are anywhere from 6-8 inches, just through the night. By 6:35, the school called and cancelled classes, due to flooding on a lot of back roads. Schools all around us – Avon, Valley, Farmington, Elmwood and more also cancelled school. The kids were giddy. More rain fell through the day.

Parents were less so, as reports of flooded basements began to pour in, particularly in town, where the sewer systems backed up into houses. The Presbyterian Church took in nearly three feet of water, which means Caroline won't be having preschool any time soon. Carpets, water heaters and furnaces everywhere were ruined. For our part, flood gaps were missing, fences were flattened and mineral feeders were missing.

Water rushes across Route 9, as the Spoon River swells and destroys levees.
Water rushes across Route 9, as the Spoon River swells and destroys levees.

Then of course, the water did as it tends to do and ran toward the major creeks and rivers. So by Friday, rivers were out. The Spoon River, an offshoot of the Illinois River, broke through levees near Route 9 and flooded the entire bottom. It also covered the road and bridge to the north, at Ellisville. By Saturday, they closed the bridge to the south, at Highway 95, for inspection. Then the river topped Route 24 at Duncan Mills, further to the south. A minor inconvenience, but for a while there, the only way to get to the kinfolk 10 miles away, on yonder other side of the river, was to drive 45 miles to Galesburg.

But the real burden is on the folks who live and farm in the bottoms. The entire town of London Mills has been evacuated and is now flooded. Our neighbors, Curt and Wes Strode, had corn in bins down there, and no way to get to them. They and other bottom ground farmers say the river's higher than they've ever seen it.

And the aftermath: Waters have begun to recede, but leave the damaged Route 9 highway in their wake, as of Monday, April 22.
And the aftermath: Waters have begun to recede, but leave the damaged Route 9 highway in their wake, as of Monday, April 22.

By now, many of the roads have re-opened, as waters move south. But if you're traveling this way, be advised that Route 9 may be closed for a while; flood waters washed away part of the road. From what I understand, the bottom flooded in 2009 and in 1993, and the road hasn't been damaged like this since '93. Good times.

But further south, friend and Peoria farm broadcaster DeAnna Thomas and her husband are in a little more dire straits. They live in the farmhouse he grew up in, in the Spring Lake bottoms, and they spent all last weekend clearing out the house and machine sheds. Liverpool farmers Rick and Darci Bull have done the same thing, shipping cattle out west, to get them out of the flood zone.

Water, water. Couldn't buy it last summer. Can't get rid of it now. Proving once again, we are not in control here.