10-year anniversary of the Rushford flood

Saturday, August 18, started as a typical weekend day in Rushford, but it wouldn’t end like a typical day. In fact, it’s a day that lives on in infamy and will for a long time to come. The Rushford, Minnesota, 2007 flood had begun.

Rain began to fall that evening. It started out as a torrential downpour and it just never let up. It wouldn’t let up for approximately 24 hours. By the early hours of Sunday morning, Rushford had filled up with water and authorities were ordering residents to evacuate. 17 inches of rainfall in a short space of time triggered a flood that saw over five feet of water filling up the Rushford area. The road to recovery would be a long and hard one.

Rushford flood 2007

17 inches of rain in a 24-hour period left behind a once-a-generation flood in Rushford, Minnesota. August of this year marked the ten-year anniversary of the Rushford flood of 2007. (Photo courtesy of Fillmore County Emergency Management)

August marked the ten-year anniversary of the flood. While the recovery stories were incredibly challenging, they were also heartwarming as the community rallied together. Ten different people would give ten different answers to the question, “Can you believe it’s been ten years since the flood?” Looking back, all would agree it was a difficult time.

“It almost seems like it’s been longer than that,” said Pam Brand, owner of Pam’s Corner in Rushford. “Sometimes it feels like it hasn’t been that long, but then I look at everything the community’s been through since then and it feels even longer than that.”

Jim Hoiness, co-owner of Rushford Foods, said it feels like ten years have gone by very quickly, calling it ‘amazing.’ It’s especially amazing when he looks back at where the community came from to where it is today. “We’ve been very blessed,” he said.

Saturday, August 18th, was just another weekend day to the Brands, who’d made plans that day for a grill out with friends, but the torrential rains made that impossible. They didn’t hear about the flooding in Rushford until the next morning, partly because they live ten miles outside of town. A phone call from one of their employees was the first clue they had.

“The employee that opened up on Sunday morning called me and said, ‘Rushford is flooding,’” she said. “We thought that meant the streets might be full of water, so we said we’d be there soon. The employee called back and said, ‘you really need to come now,’ telling us that Rushford was flooding and there was water everywhere.”

Coming in from the south side of Rushford, the Brands made it to the bridge before they were stopped by water. A lot of water. They needed to get to the store, so they took off in their car, which almost made it to the store before stalling. They would wade in water the rest of the way to the store.

The Hoiness family was at a family reunion when it started raining. Even when Jim got home, it was still raining, so he decided to head down to Rushford Foods and take a look at the building. When he got to the store, the loading dock was completely full of water. That water was about one foot from getting into the main store. At that point, Jim said there was nothing he could do about it and went home to hunker down. He wouldn’t see the extent of the damage until the next morning.

The Brands were also seeing water getting closer to their business. The family began moving items in their store to the second floor, getting help from customers who happened to be in the store at the time and were virtually trapped there. They also made what would turn out to be a good decision to shut down all the electrical equipment, a decision that would help them get back on their feet a little quicker than they would have. However, they were still left with a mess.

“A muddy, muddy mess,” Brand said. “It took an awful lot of work to clean up a mess like that but we have an awful lot of good people in this community and the surrounding areas. Folks came from all over to help everybody clean up. It was amazing. I never dreamed that anything like that could happen.”

Jim Hoiness faced a similarly monumental task to get the Rushford Foods building cleaned up. He used the word ‘miracle’ to describe the process as 400 volunteers came to his store to help with cleanup.

Rushford MN Flood 2007

When flood waters recede, they don’t leave behind a suddenly washed-clean environment. That’s when the real cleanup work begins and it’s not pretty at all, as Rushford, MN, found out in 2007. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

“I don’t believe we ever asked anyone to come and help,” Hoiness said. “They just showed up. It was the nastiest job you could ever have, to try and clean up through that muck and mud. It’s a tedious job.”

Hoiness said several of the volunteers were community residents, but there were a lot of people that came in from out of town. In fact, a group of confirmation students from an area Catholic church/school called Hoiness to ask if they could come down and help.

“I talked to the teacher when they first came over,” Hoiness remembered, “and she said the students were a little reluctant to come over, at first. The students worked in the Mill Street Mall (which Hoiness also owns) and helped clean it up. After that, the teacher called back and said the students wanted to return over a couple of Saturdays and finish the job.”

Hoiness said that’s what sticks in his mind the most when he remembers the flood. It’s the people that came to help. It’s not fun to clean up something like that. It’s smelly and dirty. Without that volunteer help, it’s hard to even get a start on a job like that.

“It would be virtually impossible to pay someone for a job that big,” he added. “It would be incredibly expensive.”

Brand said it took a few months before she felt Pam’s Corner was fully back on its feet again. Hoiness said Rushford Foods took a lot of work to get going again as well. Hoiness said they had to remove several feet of interior and exterior walls from the ground up because of water damage. As they got back on their feet, Pam said it was heartwarming to see everyone working together to get Rushford moving again.

“You could see everyone helping each other,” she remembered. “We saw a lot of former community members that had moved away and were coming back to help with cleanup, including former residents that we hadn’t seen in years. Everyone really stuck together to help each other get back on their feet again. It was really quite amazing.”

Hoiness said it was ‘miraculous’ that Rushford Foods could be back in business in only 71 days. They couldn’t have done it without all the help that showed up. He feels Rushford has come a long way since the epic flood in 2007.

“I think so,” he said. “I think things look very good. A lot of homes and businesses were redone. We’re very fortunate.”

Brand said the year after the flood saw Rushford beginning to take shape again, saying everything looked stronger and new. She said it looked like Rushford had done the right things to get going in the right direction again. Does she still believe that ten years later?

“I believe it is, yes,” she said firmly.

Here’s a YouTube video of the flood and some of the damage that it left behind:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texas floods making life hard for agriculture

It’s been unbelievable to watch the Texas floods play out, hasn’t it? Watching the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey play out on TV screens, laptops, and smartphones all make it seem like you’re watching a disaster movie play out, but this is as real as it gets.

Here’s a portion of a recent press release from the Texas Department of Agriculture. It’s not pretty:

“Cotton farmers in the Upper Coastal Bend were some of the hardest-hit ag producers, with hundreds of cotton modules blown apart by gale-force winds and many more lying wet in fields and at gin yards. 13 of the 50 counties declared disaster areas by Governor Abbott are cotton-producing areas. Texas rice producers had already harvested around 75 percent of this year’s crops, but storage bins may have undergone extensive wind and water damage, leading to more crop losses. Wheat, soybean, and corn exports all ground to a halt late last week as Texas ports prepared for the oncoming hurricane. Texas is responsible for exporting almost one-fourth of the nation’s wheat and a significant portion of U.S. corn and soybeans.”

Texas floods

Here’s a picture of Houston as the Texas floods make life difficult in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and the rains aren’t done yet. (photo from foxnews.com)

They don’t have much in the way of livestock estimates just yet but that’ll change when all that flood water finally recedes. Texas is in line for more rain yet this week so that’ll only make getting rid of the water that much more difficult.

Maybe you’ve already guessed but, as you know, Texas is home to one-third of the refineries in the U.S., and that means higher fuel prices. Most of the refineries had to shut down in anticipation of Hurricane Harvey.

Finally, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has also activated the State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund (STAR Fund) to assist farmers and ranchers affected by Hurricane Harvey. As the area moves into the recovery phase, Texas ag producers in the area will need a little help getting back on their feet, and that’s where the STAR Fund comes in. Ag producers in all 54 counties declared disaster areas by Governor Abbott are eligible to apply for cost-matching funds to help get operations back up and running in the wake of this catastrophic natural disaster. You can donate from anywhere. Check out the website at texasagriculture.gov and follow the link to the STAR Fund.

Here’s a podcast with Texas Farm Bureau Director of Communications Gene Hall.

 

Here’s a birds-eye view of the flooding in Houston, courtesy of Bryan Rumbaugh.

 

 

Zero-interest loans for farmers with flooding damage

The Minnesota Rural Finance Authority (RFA) has lowered its interest rate on the Disaster Loan program to zero percent to help farmers cover the costs to replace and repair items lost or damaged due to flooding and not covered by insurance.

flooding, floods, disaster

Farmers with flooding in their fields may be eligible for help with zero interest loans available from the Minnesota Rural Finance Authority. (photo from farmindustrynews.com)

As with other RFA loans, the Disaster Loan program will be available for farmers through their existing agricultural lenders for financing for these repairs. The loans can be used to help clean up, repair, or replace farm structures and to replace seed, other crop inputs, feed, and livestock. The loan may also be used to repair and restore farm real estate that was damaged by flooding. The RFA participation is limited to 45 percent of the principal amount up to a maximum of $200,000.

The loans will be offered in the following 23 counties that have been declared a disaster by the Governor due to flooding conditions that started September 21, 2016 in Anoka, Blue Earth, Cottonwood, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Goodhue, Hennepin, Houston, Le Sueur, Mower, Nicollet, Olmstead, Ramsey, Rice, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, Washington, and Winona counties.

“Minnesotans have a proud tradition of coming together to support one another after a disaster,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “Providing zero interest loans to our ag producers will help them recover from severe weather and flooding. I encourage all eligible Minnesota farmers to apply for assistance.”

The RFA partners with local lenders to provide affordable credit to eligible farmers. Loan participations are purchased by the RFA under several programs that assist beginning farmers purchase agricultural land; finance improvements to the farm such as grain handling facilities, machine storage, and manure systems; help farmers reorganize their farm debt to improve cash flow; and, finance new livestock production facilities. Over $227 million has been invested in over 2,900 participations by the RFA in these programs.

Interested borrowers should contact their lender or call RFA at 651-201-6004. More information is also available on the RFA website at http://www.mda.state.mn.us/agfinance.

Keeping a weather eye on Minnesota

“Persistent.”  Not exactly the word many Minnesotans may choose to describe this winter, but it’s appropriate, according to Mark Seely, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist.

U of Mn Extension climatologist Mark Seely (photo from minnesotaalumni.org)

U of Mn Extension climatologist Mark Seely (photo from minnesotaalumni.org)

 

According to a recent Google search, the word ‘persistent’ has many interesting synonyms:  tenacious, determined, single-minded, relentless, interminable, and uninterrupted.  Seely said the reason all these words fit is it hasn’t been this consistently cold in Minnesota and the Midwest in a long time. In fact, the Minnesota Public Radio website calls this “the coldest winter in 30 years.”

 

Looking back

 

Seely said the interesting thing about this bitterly cold winter is, “it didn’t necessarily start early.  The winter that we know it as, frankly, didn’t start until the first week of December.”  Since then, Seely said the state has been in a deep freeze, the likes of which it hasn’t seen in some time.

 

“Since December, it’s been the coldest weather, by any measure, since the winter of 81-82.”  Winter this consistently cold is a new experience for many young Midwesterners:

 

Seely said the Midwest has had colder winters, but few that have been this persistent.  “It has been so consistently cold, we’ve had many of our observers report large numbers of nights with below zero readings.”

How this winter stacks up against past winters (graph courtesy of the Twin Cities NWS)  (photo from blogs.mprnews.org)

How this winter stacks up against past winters (graph courtesy of the Twin Cities NWS) (photo from blogs.mprnews.org)

 

What is driving the cold?

 

According to the Weather Underground website, a weather phenomenon known as the polar vortex may be driving this relentlessly cold weather in the Midwest.  The polar vortex is an area of very cold air that typically centers over Siberia and Canada’s Baffin Island.  A piece of the vortex broke off, and was forced south in part by the Jet Stream, into the Great Lakes Area of the US.

 

DTN Senior Meteorologist Mike Palmerino said “An unusual area of warm air over Alaska and northwest Canada pushed the cold air south.  They’ve had a lot of warm weather in Alaska this year.”  The polar air has pushed south in the past, so it’s not an unusual occurrence.

DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino  (Photo from www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com)

DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino (Photo from www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com)

 

Uneven snow cover

 

“I would say the eastern half of the state ended up with fairly decent snow cover that’s pretty consistent,” said Seely.  “However, the western half of the state, because of the high winds, ended up with variable snow cover.  In areas unprotected from the wind, our weather observers have reported seeing areas of bare soil in their farm fields.”

 

Seely said in unprotected areas, the lack of snow cover has allowed the permafrost has driven 4 to 6 feet deep, and that’s something, “We haven’t seen that in a long, long time.”  That means the ground is going to take time to thaw for spring planting in Minnesota.

One of the few areas where wild grass pokes through snow cover in SE Mn (photo by Chad Smith)

One of the few areas where wild grass pokes through snow cover in SE Mn (photo by Chad Smith)

 

What is ahead?

 

“The weather models are coming together and showing some moderation for the rest of the winter,” said Seely.  “That’s not to say we won’t have colder than normal days, but the sheer number of below zero days are going to go away.”

 

Palmerino said soils “east of the Mississippi River are in pretty good shape moisture-wise.  If anything, I think the main concern going into spring is that it’s too wet.”  He said “a stormy weather pattern and cooler than normal temperatures would definitely interrupt spring planting.”

 

Seely said the good news is the future models are showing moderating temperatures into March.  However, not all the predictions are positive:

 

Palmerino said it’s a fine line when farmers look to spring.  You want the weather to warm up and melt the snow, but not too fast either:

SE Mn has a lot of snow to get rid of before spring planting (photo by Chad Smith)

SE Mn has a lot of snow to get rid of before spring planting (photo by Chad Smith)

 

Here’s what it’s been like to drive in the Midwest this winter: