We woke up yesterday and it was just another day for us.  For many around the Detroit area, that was unfortunately not the case.

It never really made national news as it would have had it taken place in a bigger city along the East or West coast, but on Monday evening, the Detroit area was hit by the worst flooding the area has ever experienced in history. As water levels rose throughout the night, the damage across the area was mind boggling once the sun rose Tuesday morning.

What Happened

Rain is what happened.  Lots of rain in a short period of time.  The area got 4.57 inches of rain, most of which fell between the hours of 5pm – 9pm.  To put it in perspective, August usually sees a total of 3 inches of rain.  We got that plus 50% more in just four hours.

A slow moving system of rain provided light rain throughout the day, which was no big deal, but a stronger part of the storm came over the area around 5pm, and the entire system ran into another system further north…and basically just stopped.

When I pulled up the radar on my weather app, you can hit a ‘Play’button which animates the radar for the last hour.  It barely nudged.  The blob on the radar would normally pass through in 15-30 minutes on a normal storm, but it stuck around for a few hours, with devastating results.  The thing about this type of ‘weather stall’ is that it is basically impossible to forecast until it’s actually taking place.

For a few hours, it poured.  It poured more and then when it seemed like it was done, it started pouring again.  Many storms have a period of heavy rain that might last a few minutes to a half an hour.  It was steady for hours.  More than once I would hear the rain let up (but not stop) and figure it had to be done, only to have it start up even stronger.  It was past dark before it finally calmed.

Nearly A Record

Only one day in recorded history has ever seen more rain.  In July 1925, one day saw 4.74″ inches of rain, a scant 0.17″ more than we had on Monday.  However, everybody agrees that because of the changed landscape, the flooding from Monday’s event was way, way worse.

In 1925, you didn’t have as many roadways, buildings, parking lots, and other hard surface areas, all of which create runoff and reduce the ability for the ground to soak up the water.

In 1925, you didn’t have the complex sewer system that exists today, that under normal circumstances diverts water from where you don’t want it to someplace harmless, but when it starts backing up, can put lots of water in the worst possible places.

In 1925, you didn’t have sunken freeways that filled up with up to 14 feet of water once the water started cascading down, the sewer lines filling to capacity, and the pumps shutting down…or in some cases literally washing away.

The Next Day

As I mentioned above, the coverage didn’t get much national attention.  Detroit doesn’t seem to get a lot of love, and honestly, the media was focused on the sudden death of Robin Williams, so that it barely got a blip for most of the day.

However, locally it was all that anybody was talking about as people woke up and saw the real extent of the damage.

I have a feeling that it will become a part of local lore and people will pass along stories of their memories from the 2014 Flood.

Some of the reports from the news or personally that I saw:

  • I-75 and I-696, one of the biggest interchanges of two of the biggest freeways in the area, was under 14 feet of water (see the picture…the yellow sign showing the height is now up to the top)
    This is the area of I-75 and I-696, which as of Tuesday morning was under 14' of water. Courtesy: MDOT.

    This is the area of I-75 and I-696, which as of Tuesday morning was under 14′ of water. Courtesy: MDOT.

  • Around the same area, the service drive buckled, at one point, taking out the entire pumping station in the area.
  • An embankment around the interchange collapsed and will have to be rebuilt.   Engineers will have to study others that could possibly be damaged.
  • Every other major freeway in the area had at least one shutdown due to flooding. And, we love our freeways here in Detroit, so that is no small number!
  • At least two people died, after having heart attacks during the flooding
    2014flood2

    After the water subsided around this part of the interchange, the amount of mud left behind was incredible. Courtesy: MDOT.

    2014flood3

    Plows aren’t going to be just for winter around here as roads will need to be scraped clean before they can be reopened. Courtesy: MDOT.

    2014flood4

    There was a pumping station located here to pump water from the roadway below. It was completely washed away and will have to be rebuilt (along with the adjacent roadway). Courtesy: MDOT.

  • A pizzeria that I frequented many times served as a place for people desperate to get off the road to gather within, until water started rushing in and people were literally standing on tables.
  • My Facebook feed was filled with people who had flooded basements
  • One of those people not only had a flooded basement, but was asking for help if anybody had cat litter and a box available.  Her box had gotten submerged, as had her spare supply of litter.  Poor kitty!
  • Several co-workers reported partially flooded basements
  • There were so many pictures of cars submerged in water that you forgot what a big deal this is to have happen.  Insurance adjusters will be crazy busy.
  • General Motors closed their entire Tech Center because of flooding around the area
  • Other manufacturing plants were shut down or at reduced capacity because of flooding and because suppliers could not get their trucks through.

The list can go on and on.

Personally, we were lucky.  We had no flooding.  Our sump pump kept up no problem.  We were at home shortly after 5pm (from getting haircuts for my son and I) so everybody and our cars were safe and sound.  I went the next day to check on our camper, and she stayed snug and dry as well.

We are lucky.  And we are thankful.

Readers, what type of natural disaster have you witnessed or been close to?