By Jamie Taylor
The Merrill area received over four inches of rain between 8 p.m. Wednesday and 7 a.m. Friday, forcing area rivers and streams to rise significantly in Lincoln County and other parts of Wisconsin and causing minor flooding as a result.
As the water flowed into the Wisconsin River and downstream, it was joined by water rushing from record rainfalls south of Merrill, resulting in more serious flooding in towns to the south of Merrill.
According to the National Weather Service in Green Bay, Merrill received 4.13 inches of rain during the storm, but that was a drop in the bucket compared to areas to the south that were hit even harder. Although receiving only 3.28 inches at the Wausau Downtown Airport, this broke a record of 1.14 inches set in 1985. Mosinee was hit with 4.4 inches of rain and Spencer received 5.17 inches.
Wisconsin Public Service started lowering the reservoir levels on all the dams it controls on the Wisconsin River on Wednesday in anticipation of the heavy rain, but that didn’t stop the river from overflowing the hydro dam in downtown Merrill. Parts of Rothschild, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids and towns further south were hit even harder as tributaries added more runoff to the river.
“By releasing a larger amount water now, we hope to minimize the release of significantly greater amounts later,” explained Bruce Crocker, Superintendent of Generation – Wisconsin for WPS in a press release.
The Wisconsin River at Merrill crested just over 11 feet, several inches above flood stage. WPS will inspect all dams in the system once river levels return to their normal levels, although company officials say the dams should be safe. WPS urged everyone to avoid areas around the dams as the river currents are significantly stronger at this time than normal.
In Lincoln County numerous roads were closed as streams and low lying areas flooded. The hardest hit areas were the towns of Scott, Corning, Harding and Pine River.
Starting around 1 p.m. on Thursday, reports started coming in about roads that were washing out in the rural areas. Dispatchers fielded numerous calls from citizens as Sheriff’s deputies spent hours checking roadways looking for washed out roads. In many cases they had to stand by until the townships were able to arrive on the scene and close off the roadways.
Dispatchers also kept a running list of the roadways closed in order to provide directions to emergency services in case of fire or other such emergency. In total 30 roads were closed or deemed hazardous during the storm. Several other roads were closed for short periods of times as trees had fallen down across them.
All area roads were reopened by Friday afternoon.
Area law enforcement agencies reported numerous accidents during the storm, many caused by vehicles hydroplaning due to wet road surfaces.
Merrill Area Public Schools reported that a couple buses had difficulty on Thursday getting students home from school, although all eventually were delivered home safely. School and homecoming activities were canceled on Friday due to the flooding.
Last week’s heavy rains and flooding have put a hold on harvesting the crops in the area, although University of Wisconsin extension officials don’t expect the water to significantly affect most crops.
“It was a real pain for a few farmers, but overall we’re ahead of the game for harvesting,” said Tom Cadwallader, agricultural development educator for the University of Wisconsin extension in Lincoln and Marathon counties.
He said all that is needed is for a few days of sun and wind to dry the fields before farmers can get back into them without damaging the topsoil.