WESTERLY — Southern Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut are recovering from a weekend storm that dumped a significant amount of rain in the region. As swollen rivers subsided Monday and some homeowners pumped out their flooded basements, David R. Vallee, the hydrologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass., admitted that the storm threw forecasters a curve that took everyone by surprise.
“The surprise was the intensity of the rainfall pre-dawn Sunday,” Vallee said. “That wasn’t something even our numerical models had a really good handle on until it was basically on our doorstep. It’s one of those things where you see it forming over the ocean and it’s moving so quickly upon you.”
The hydrologist added: “This one got stuck. It rained a good chunk of the day Saturday, Saturday night, and then we had one burst of really convective, intense rainfall. That came right over the same places it had been raining during the day, in the evening, and that’s what really set things off…That occurred between 3 and 4 a.m. and about 8 a.m. on Sunday…We are calculating, basinwide, in other words — accumulate that rainfall for watershed basin — averages in the Pawcatuck are over 5½ inches, and that’s impressive.”
Amy Gryzybowski, Westerly emergency management coordinator, said the town had received some reports of flooded properties.
“We have had some private property owners that are dealing with flooding,” she said. “Basements, yards. None of the fire departments called in and expressed any uptick. I had an email this morning looking for damage estimates in case we were asked by the state and at this point, because we’re still kind of in it, we haven’t gotten any feedback.”
Joe Arsenault, Richmond emergency management director, said there had been some significant road damage on Kenyon Hill Trail and Punch Bowl Trail. Both were undermined by the rushing water. The town distributed about 200 sandbags to residents, and there are more available.
“Sandbags are available at Public Works. I ordered more today. We don’t fill them. You fill your own. Obviously, if someone is elderly, we’re going to help,” he said.
In Hopkinton, the easternmost field section of Dow Field was underwater, but Town Manager William McGarry said overall, the damage in the town was not severe.
“I called Tim Tefft, and they called back some DPW employees on Sunday to stabilize the roads,” he said, referring to the public works director. “For the amount of rain we got, I thought conditions were going to be a lot worse.”
Vallee said a major factor in mitigating what might have been a catastrophic flood was the fact that the ground was relatively dry before the rain began, so it was able to absorb much of the water.
“We’re extremely fortunate,” he said. “As hard as that may be to believe at the moment, we’re very lucky that we came into this event without much in the way of heavy precipitation. In fact, our rainfall total for the year to date through Saturday, before the rains began, we were actually an inch or two below normal for a good chunk of Rhode Island. So we were coming into this with relatively low stream flows and having less than stellar precipitation. But it just shows you what can happen with one storm.”
Vallee noted that early spring can be a dangerous time for flooding. “This is typically when we’re most vulnerable, is in this time of year from late February to probably mid-to late April, before the grasses and the trees bloom,” he said. “The root systems take a lot of that water out, and unfortunately, we are not at that point yet.”
Forecasters are now looking ahead to another rainstorm that could come at the end of the week. Now that the ground is saturated, more heavy rain could cause some major damage, and Arsenault urged residents to be prepared for more possible flooding.
“Be aware of what’s going on in your basement, especially if we get heavy rain in the next two weeks. If we get heavy rain again, there’s a good chance we’re going to have some people with flooded basements again,” he said.