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Serious flash flood threat in parts of Vermont from remnants of Beryl

One person pushes a pile of sandbags on a hand truck while another helps load them onto a pile on a sidewalk.
Peter Hirschfield
Vermont Public
Montpelier provided sandbags Wednesday for use by businesses or residents who want to gird against possible flood damage.

Get the latest updates on our liveblog.

As the remnants of Hurricane Beryl move across the country, much of northern and central Vermont is expected to get 2 to 3 inches of rain Wednesday, with localized areas getting 4 inches or more.

There’s a high risk of flash flooding from Wednesday afternoon until Thursday morning, which could cause road washouts, field and basement flooding.

A tornado watch is also in effect until 9 p.m. Wednesday in Addison, Caledonia, Chittenden, Essex, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille, Orange, Orleans, Rutland, Washington and Windsor counties. A tornado watch covers large areas when conditions are right for tornadoes to form.

The storm comes at ominous timing, on the anniversary of last July’s flooding. But meteorologists are not expecting damage to be anywhere as widespread as this time last year.

Meteorologists say to prepare for flash floods, "where we see water where it's not supposed to be coming down hillsides, road washouts, things like that," Peter Banacos, at the National Weather Service office in Burlington, said Wednesday morning.

By Wednesday evening, flooding and downed trees had been reported in Panton, Monkton, and Starksboro.

And the National Weather Service was predicted some rivers could reach minor to moderate flood stages by early Thursday morning:

  • The Mad River near Moretown is expected to leave its banks and flood local roads and Route 100.
  • The Winooski River is expected to flood fields in Waterbury downstream through Richmond.
  • The Winooski River in Essex could cause local road closures, and farmland in the Burlington Intervale could flood.
  • The Ausable River in the Adirondacks is expected to flood roads and fields in Jay and Keene, New York.

The storm comes as patches in the northern half of the state have high soil moisture levels following a wet spring and early summer, which makes runoff, and flash flooding, more likely.

Areas in southern Vermont have a risk of isolated tornadoes. Banacos says this is something to be aware of, but not as much of a threat. “They generally affect small areas in Vermont — if we get tornadoes, they maybe only cover a couple of hundred yards,” he said.

This storm is unusual for its intensity this early in the hurricane season. It briefly reached Category 5 status, fueled by warm ocean surface temperatures, largely due to human-caused climate change.

“We've never had a Category 5 storm, in the Atlantic basin at least, this early in the hurricane season,” Banacos said.

Beryl has killed several people and left millions without power, and has caused inland flooding and isolated tornadoes in recent days.

That's the concern in Vermont, and Banacos advises drivers to be cautious on roads later today and to avoid driving or walking through floodwaters.

At a press conference Tuesday, state Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison also urged residents to take the following precautions:

  • Charge devices.
  • Put batteries in flashlights.
  • Check on vulnerable neighbors.
  • Have an evacuation plan.
  • Sign up for the emergency warning service VT-ALERT.

Precautions across the state

State officials at Vermont Emergency Management say they've been monitoring the storm for days and are now coordinating between the Agency of Transportation, the state’s urban search and rescue teams, and the Agency of Human Services and the Red Cross about potential emergency shelters if people are displaced from their homes.

The focus of their efforts has been in the northern half of the state, but emergency responders are still watching the forecast to determine where they should be stationed, Mark Bosma, the public information officer with Vermont Emergency Management, said early Wednesday afternoon.

“Generally the search and rescue teams find either a fire station or some other municipal building on high ground where they will wait, and if it looks like the storm is shifting to another area of the state, they’ll move to another station,” he said.

A sign says "when flooded, turn around don't drown"
Nina Keck
Vermont Public
Vermont officials have urged people not to attempt crossing flooded roadways.

In Montpelier, city officials say projected river heights from today’s rain event won’t be nearly high enough to imperil the homes and businesses that were inundated last July.

Montpelier City Manager Bill Fraser said that as of about noon, forecasts from the National Weather Service indicated a peak height of 8 feet in the Winooski River, which flows through the city’s downtown.

That’s 7 feet below the level at which the city would experience minor flooding, and 13 feet below the river’s peak height last summer.

“We’re choosing to err on the side of caution and be fully prepared and let people know,” Fraser said Wednesday. "But we’re not seeing anything right now that says we are going to be in for a major catastrophe.”

Those preparations include establishing an emergency shelter for unhoused people, as well as a shelter for residents who may become displaced if the river does jump its banks.

The city trucked in sandbags to the fire department early Wednesday for use by businesses or residents who want to gird against possible flood damage. Sandbags are also available at the Department of Public Works garage on Dog River Road.

For some, preparing for another storm has been a painful reminder of the flooding last year.

“It being the exact anniversary, even just as a responder, I have an uneasy feeling. Even though I know it’s not going to be on the scale of last year, it does kind of bring it all back,” Bosma said.

“Despite our hopes, we still have to prepare for the worst."

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

This is a developing story and will be updated. Get the latest updates on our liveblog.

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Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.
The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.