WEAU | Eau Claire, Wisconsin | Weather

A look at the 2012 historic Duluth area flood

You couldn't have really planned a better way to have a historic flood in Duluth. The set up of the weather this past week along with the topography of the area has forced people out of their homes and at least five people needing to be rescued from their homes by helicopter. So how did the scenes below come about in likely one of Duluth's worst natural disasters? Well it all started on Sunday, June 17th.

A storm system brought through an area of thunderstorms that would help to lay the groundwork for the extreme flooding along the North Shore. The storms dumped nearly an inch of rain across the area. This helped to saturate the soil. That meant the next heavy rainfall would likely have a hard time soaking in the ground, and most of the water would become runoff. Unfortunately, that next heavy rainfall would be more than ground and rivers could handle by a mile.

Showers and thunderstorms started early on Tuesday the 19th. A warm front had lifted north and stalled out across the area. South of the warm front was a very warm and humid airmass. All that moisture was lifted north up over the front across Northern Minnesota and far Northern Wisconsin and rung out over the course of about 48 hours. The storms along the front moved over the same areas for hours and hours. This is known as “training”. Training thunderstorms almost always seem to set the stage for flash flooding, and that was the case for Duluth. Below is a map of rainfall totals between the 19th and 20th. Duluth totaled 7.24” with the most falling in Two Harbors at 9.93...nearly 10 inches! A large area surrounding Duluth saw rainfall totals of between 5-7”.

As seen below numerous roads were washed out in the area. The water caused sink holes that took several cars with it. Also below, you can see the road closure map at 8:30pm on June 21st. People were asked to just stay home. A state of emergency was called in Duluth, Hermantown, and Superior. Duluth officials say infrastructure damage alone could top out in the tens of millions of dollars.

The terrain is very hilly in this area meaning A LOT of water would be rushing down hill. The Fond Du Lac neighborhood in Duluth and the Thomson Township were evacuated due to raging waters of local streams and rivers. Five people in Thomson had to be rescued by helicopter from the powerful river of water streaming by their homes. Throughout Duluth there are many areas were several feet of standing water had collected.

A raging creek flooded the Lake Superior Zoo killing several barnyard animals. Two seals and a polar bear got swept from their enclosures. All were found safely. The two seals were found on a Duluth street. Below are some more incredible pictures of the flooding.

I've been to Duluth many times. It's a great city, and I know they will bounce back. I remember going to the Areal Lift Bridge in Canal Park as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing as a kid to go there and watch the big ships come in. Heck, I still do, but this image for me is just surreal. This is all the runoff making it's way down to Lake Superior. Just some stunning stuff. For a time no water contact was recommended at any of the Lake Superior beaches in town. Still on Friday, a couple beaches are advising no water contact.

The good news for this hard hit area is a dry spell is in the forecast for next week. However, in the meantime more rainfall is expected this weekend.


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