Overnight storm dumps 8 inches of rain in some areas; southern Douglas County under flood warning

Roads and land surrounding the construction site of the new Douglas County Wastewater Treatment plant are flooded just east of the intersection of North 1175 and East 1550 roads, south of Lawrence on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017.

Overnight storms dumped as much as 8 inches of rain in Douglas County late Monday and early Tuesday, flooding roads, prompting multiple water rescues and causing the Wakarusa River to rise well after the rain stopped.

The hardest-hit southern half of Douglas County remained under a flood warning until 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, and the Wakarusa River near Lawrence was under a flood warning until Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Topeka.

The Wakarusa was above the flood stage — which is 23 feet — Tuesday morning, according to the weather service. It was expected to continue rising to near 24.8 feet before falling back below the flood stage Tuesday evening.

Country Route 458 north of Vinland was closed Tuesday because of flooding.

County officials signed a disaster declaration Tuesday afternoon. Teri Smith, the county’s director of emergency management, described the declaration as a first step in a process to possibly get federal money to reimburse the county for expenses from flood damages.

County officials began assessing those damages Tuesday.

The heaviest rainfall hit southern Douglas County, with 6 to 8 inches reported Monday night and Tuesday morning, according to preliminary rainfall totals from the weather service. The northern half of the county saw 4 to 6 inches.

The storms dumped “well above average,” but not historic or rare, rainfall for this time of year in the area, meteorologist Emily Heller said.

Instead of a single big storm passing over the county and moving on, a series of small storms kept moving over the same area, Heller said. She said those conditions, on top of saturated ground from rainfall earlier in the day, led to flooding.

Division Chief Eve Tolefree of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical said the agency conducted two rescues as water levels rose overnight.

Shortly before 4 a.m., crews were dispatched to a house in the 2100 block of North 100 Road, northwest of Wellsville, Tolefree said. They removed two residents from the house, though two other residents refused to leave.

About 4:30 a.m., rescuers were dispatched to the 500 block of East 2200 Road, northeast of Baldwin City. There, Tolefree said they helped one person out of a car and helped two people from a car to dry ground at the same spot.

The weather service warns motorists not to drive into flooded areas, as even shallow flowing water can wash a car from the roadway or hide a roadbed that’s washed out beneath the water.

Keith Browning, Douglas County Public Works director, said the county was aware of damage near the Lone Star Lake spillway and would assess damage to roads and bridges in the southern and western parts of the county.

The concrete spillway worked as designed and appeared to suffer no damage, Browning said. However, water got high enough to spread to either side of the spillway, causing yet-to-be-assessed damage to those areas.

The county also will document damage to roads and bridges, which involves inspecting for scour damage and erosion, Browning said. Crews also must clear timber and other debris that collects under bridges once the water recedes, he said. 

County Route 458 remained closed east of East 1600 Road because of flooding of a bridge over Coal Creek, Browning said. Although other bridges had been underwater earlier, Browning said he was unaware of any other bridges still overtopped as of early Tuesday afternoon.

Justin Hamilton, public lands manager for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said Tuesday afternoon that he had not visited the Douglas State Fishing Lake near Baldwin City. From reports, he estimated it was four to five feet above flood level. It would continue to discharge water over the dam’s spillway and through a discharge tube until the lake fell below flood level, he said. He could not estimate how long that would take.

“I’d hate to guess,” he said. “I have never seen anything like this before at the lake.”

R.J. Harms, Army Corps of Engineers project manager at Clinton Lake, said that with five inches of rain measured at the dam overnight, the Clinton Lake watershed escaped Monday night’s heaviest rains. The lake was about two feet above its normal level of 875.5 feet above sea level Tuesday morning. He predicted it would rise another two feet during the next few days. 

With so much water flooding into the Wakarusa River from the south, Clinton Lake would not release water to lower its level until the weekend, Harms said. 

Fortunately for those affected by flooding, there’s no more rain in the immediate forecast.

The National Weather Service predicts sunny to partly cloudy skies the rest of the week, with only a slight chance of thunderstorms Friday night and Saturday.