West Branch

I rode the bike out to West Branch today. A stiff wind out of the west got me there in thirty minutes, just about a land speed record for me. The catch: the wind was even stronger on the way back. It was punishing.

Community sandbagging

Volunteers young and old turn a giant pile of sand into a giant pile of sandbags.I helped fill sandbags again this morning, this time at a city staging area near home. We filled and loaded the sandbags onto trucks and then the city took them to wherever they were needed. It’s funny what a social event it is, even though there’s a historic disaster unfolding on the other side of town. People chat on their cell phones while they’re bagging; others bring their small children and mentally retarded family members to help out. It’s not all that organized either, but for all that everyone worked hard (Iowans are an orderly, industrious, and self-starting bunch) and a lot of sand was bagged.

Volunteers use a funneling station made from a ladder and traffic cones to fill sandbags.An innovation I’ve observed over the last two days are homemade sandbagging contraptions. They are made from a ladder (or something ladder-like) laid horizontally across sawhorses, stacks of crates or the like. Traffic cones, trimmed down, inverted, and placed between the rungs of the ladder, are used as funnels for the shovelers. The baggers hold bags below the funnels and pass them on to tiers, who bind the tops of the bags. Someone else hauls the bags to a pile where they are loaded on to a truck later.

More severe weather

Adam sitting in the hallway watching the television.More storms are passing through the area this afternoon. We had a few minutes of heavy rain accompanied by pebble-sized hail. The hail hitting the roof and the metal fixtures on the roof makes these plunking noises that are at once comical and terrifying. The tornado siren went off, though the National Weather Service never issued a tornado warning. Here’s a picture of me taking shelter in my hallway as I watch the television news; if I looked spooked it’s because I was. The tornado sirens and the sounds of the hail really creep me out.

Dark clouds circle around a bit of blue sky.No tornadoes developed, but the storm clouds overhead rotated in a wide circle. Looking up, they moved clockwise. According to the news meteorologist, that’s where tornadoes can develop when the cloud base is closer to the ground. I took a picture that shows the rotating clouds.

The weather here is just awful. Like something out of the Bible. If the frogs come, I’m out of here.

Weekend sandbagger

The food co-op where I buy many of my groceries is right next to a creek that drains in to the Iowa River. I went down to help them sandbag this morning. I shoveled sand, twist-tied the bags, loaded the bags onto pallets, and stacked them along the building. A little self-interest goes a long way.

It’s a nice day today– a bit hot and humid for working outdoors– but nice June weather nonetheless. The store manager was saying (I’m paraphrasing and punning at the same time) that he wanted to keep the store open come hell or high water, or at least as long as there wasn’t a mandatory evacuation ordered for that block. They were even setting up a big generator. The city, because of its priorities, has denied them any more sand deliveries.

Anyway, sandbagging is hard work. Those bags can be heavy: each maybe 50 to 75 pounds or more. We weren’t filling them all the way or even close to all the way. I raise my glass and salute to those who have been at it for a couple of weeks, because I am pooped.

I brought my camera but didn’t take any pictures. If I do more tomorrow I will.

Evening at the river

It’s pretty quiet in town this evening. The bars are open and some of the “stoonts” are having parties in their yards. It looks almost normal except for the caches of sandbags around buildings near the creeks. Even at the University down by the river, where the water is much, much higher than it was when I visited on Wednesday, I found it pretty quiet. The water in the parking lots was still as glass and there was not much going on there except people like me looking around.

Volunteers fill sandbags along railroad tracks, with a power plant in the background.About a block away, though, I found heroic sandbagging efforts in progress. A number of volunteers were filling the bags from a small mountain of sand and then piling them up. They worked quickly but cheerfully, like it was a quilting bee. They weren’t laying a dike with the bags but stacking them on pallets where little Bobcat forklifts will take them later. The pallets were lined up along the railroad tracks. They looked for all the world like an amiable railroad crew, just without the singing.


I didn’t have internet access yesterday and so I couldn’t update. But here it is. These spectacular catastrophes follow me around the country like faithful hounds. And as usual, I’m fine but worried that I’m using up all my luck.

Yesterday had some of the worst weather I’ve ever seen, and I didn’t see the worst of it. It was just storm after storm after storm. Where I live and work is on the ridge between the two main rivers that are flooding now: the Cedar and the Iowa. From here you wouldn’t know anything bad was happening. unless you turned on the television or tried to go somewhere. Many, many bridges are closed down, causing long detours around this half of the state.

We haven’t had a repeat of the flash-flooding at work. Our creek rose a little and for a while yesterday it was running muddy and brown, like Willy Wonka’s chocolate river, but then it settled down. Other than that, work’s been painfully quiet the last two days. Quiet but not especially pleasant; we’re having all of the tension and anxiety of being in a disaster area without any of the excitement.

Today’s weather is as excellent as yesterday’s was awful, but the waters will keep rising until next week. We’re down to one major road (Interstate 80) open from one direction into the area. If the Iowa River covers I-80 like the Cedar did, we’ll be effectively blockaded for a couple of days.

The flooding news

Today’s weather was rather pleasant so I rode the bike down to the Iowa River to see how things are going there.

Men building a wall of sandbags in front of a university building.

There is a wall of sandbags all along the river. The water is many, many feet too high and has inundated some of the shoreline. The Coralville Dam, which is a few miles upstream, is already discharging from the reservoir at it’s maximum rate, and the water is still only a few inches from the top of the emergency spillway. The reservoir is expected to crest the spillway on Thursday, just from the remaining upstream runoff from Sunday’s rain.

High water threatens a university laboratory designed by Frank Gehry.

Go away

A stream of storms has been traversing a streak of the Midwest all day. We’re about to get stormed on here in Iowa City. In addition to the ubiquitous threat of tornadoes, there are already serious flooding problems all over the state. There’s talk of “1993”– the last major catastrophic flood across the Midwest. I think that was a 50- to 100-year flood.

O disasters, leave me alone.

Huge yellow cat

There’s a farmers market across from the food co-op on Wednesday’s so I rode my bike down there today. On the way, I saw a hand-written sign on a lamp post: “Missing! Huge yellow cat.” I imagined being ambushed by a mountain lion named Mr. Fluffers.

Iowans like to garden. There are lots of flowers in bloom now and I caught strong whiffs of pleasant fragrances during my ride.

High water

We had some excitement at work today. This morning’s heavy downpours (on top of all of the rain we’ve had this year) rose the creek several feet until it topped the banks. We had to cancel tours and close parts of the park. Our maintenance staff sandbagged the door to their facility; otherwise none of the buildings were harmed. After taking some pictures to document the flooding (including the heroic sandbagging efforts, which should prove popular with the media should they take an interest), I spent the rest of the morning on traffic duty. The water receded almost as fast as it advanced, and everything was more or less back to normal by noon.

One of the photos I took today is on the park’s website. It’s the larger picture near the bottom. Our creek also has a USGS stream gage with real-time online data.