Flood of 2008: A Look Back

Cedar River Crests in Downtown Cedar Rapids (June 13, 2008)It’s been nearly 10 months since eastern Iowa experienced a flood never seen in recorded history.  Not even three weeks removed from the most powerful and deadly tornado in Iowa in 40 years, the heavy snow melt, followed by a wet spring and capped off by a massive rain storm in northeast Iowa led to the perfect storm of flooding.

It all began two weeks to the day of the Parkersburg tornado on June 7, 2008.  My chase partner for the day was Chris Griswold.  Chris and I trekked throughout northeast Iowa after a strong risk of tornadic activity was issued by the Storm Prediction Center.  But that risk was never fully realized.  The system stalled to the west and we were left high and dry.  Wall Cloud Near Mason City Airport (June 7, 2008)

After more than 5 hours on the road, we finally caught up to a series of rotating wall clouds in the Mason City area.  But no tornadoes.  At that point, a heavy rain event was setting in… the likes of which Iowa has never seen.

The rain fell all night, more than a foot in places.  By Sunday, June 8th, 2008, Cedar Rapids was forecast to see historic flooding, over the record of 20 feet.  But that’s nothing, although never seen before, the city could handle such an event.

In the end it didn’t matter, another heavy round of rain that Sunday, another chase, this time in Vinton, with similar results.  As we moved into the work week, it became clear we were seeing flooding at a level that would dwarf any records.  Originally we believed 24 feet would be the new record.  When it was all said and done, at 11AM on June 13, 2008, the Cedar River crested in Cedar Rapids at a staggering 31.14 feet.  nearly 12 feet over the old record.  There are no flood protections to stop that.

The fate of Cedar Rapids was shared by countless other communities.  Hundreds suffered some type of flooding, many severe.  In the case of the town of Palo in Linn County, just a handful of homes were left untouched by the waters.  The physical, structural, financial and emotional damage done by this flood will never be calculated.  It will take years, perhaps decades to replace all that was lost and some things, will never return.  Cedar Rapids is now a changed city, and although some try to paint a rosy picture in hopes of restoring the city’s image, it is still a community in pain.  A town that needs help, and population searching for the way forward.  All we can do now is hope all those answers come sooner…rather than later.

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