“According to records, it would be a 100-year storm event that we dealt with yesterday, and it felt like a 100-year storm event,” Moab City Manager Joel Linares told Fox13 News on Thursday. “You’re either having a drought or having a flood—you kind of have to pick your poison, I guess.”
Intense rainfall and winds on Wednesday evening flooded streets, dropped tree limbs, caused power outages, and spread debris across roads in Moab. City and county crews and Rocky Mountain Power worked to restore facilities even as the forecast called for more heavy rain.
Linares said last week that the city was advising residents to prepare as much as they could for more storms and flooding. Cities from other parts of the state donated sandbags to Moab in anticipation of more flooding, and volunteers from the Grand County High School football team joined other community members in filling them with sand provided by the city.
Moab did see more flooding over the weekend, causing more damage and closures. The city announced that the Millcreek Parkway is closed from 400 East to 500 West due to flood damage, as are the foot bridges behind the St. Francis Episcopal Church and the Utah State University Moab Extension campus.
Sunny Acres Lane and Stocks Drive in Spanish Valley were heavily impacted by the flooding: A six-foot diameter culvert under Stocks Drive was damaged and had to be removed. Grand County Road Department Assistant Supervisor Glen Arthur said the road is now closed, and he expects it will be until early winter.
“We’ve got to get some engineering work done that’s going to take some time,” he said.
Kane Creek Boulevard was also substantially damaged by recent flooding. Arthur said that near the Birthing Rock, the road was covered by a rock slide and about six inches of mud; near the Amasaback parking lot, a chunk of road next to a culvert was washed away, leaving only the road surface on top. Arthur said one of the department’s backhoe operators caved in the remaining road so crews could refill and compact it from the top to restore the road. Other crews are removing debris from below bridges in town to facilitate clear flow for water in the creeks. Hunter Canyon, which is the site of a campground accessed from Kane Creek Boulevard, also flooded; Arthur said crews removed four or five feet of debris there as well.
“That was quite the storm,” said Arthur, but added, “We’re getting things cleaned up and we have them in safe traveling conditions.”
Crews from the Utah Department of Transportation worked to clear debris from Main Street from about 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night until 4:30 a.m. on Sunday.
“This was a very significant event,” said Kevin Kitchen, spokesperson for UDOT. He said the weekend storms equated to somewhere between a 200-year storm event and a 500-year storm event.
Crew supervisors told Kitchen that the street was “basically a river” when they arrived to clear mud, rock, and some brush and wood debris. They said they also saw a few culverts floating in the floodwater, and weren’t sure where they came from.
UDOT has been working on new storm drainage infrastructure alongside the Highway 191 widening project north of Moab. Kitchen said the project wasn’t quite completed, but even if it were, it was designed to handle waters from 50-year flood events, not storms of the magnitude seen this weekend. Kitchen said crews will need to conduct some clean-up before resuming work to finish the drainage project.
Kitchen added that UDOT has been busy cleaning up after floods throughout the state, typically removing mud and rocks, and sometimes timber from roadways. He said roadways near burn scars are particularly susceptible to flash flooding and debris flows.
Earlier this summer, the Bear Fire burned through an area above the town of Helper. On Aug, 1, rainfall in the area of the Bear Fire burn scar caused severe flooding that resulted in one death. KUTV reported Aug. 2 that flash flooding the previous day had killed a mine worker on his way to work at the Gentry Mountain Mine in Emery County, Utah. The man has been identified as 48-year-old Gary Nelson of Fairview, husband and father of three daughters.
“My brother in law was the rock of their family and the main supporter,” wrote Nelson’s sister-in-law on a GoFundMe page she set up for the family.
Several other mine workers were also swept up in what was described as “a wall of water and debris.” They are expected to make full recoveries.
Kitchen also noted a recent flood north of Cedar City, which caused vehicles to float.
“These guys are fairly used to fast response on all this,” Kitchen said of UDOT crews, though he acknowledged, “They’ve been very busy these past several days.”
Erin Walter, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said that although the weather seems extreme, it’s within the normal range of monsoon patterns for the region. The Pack Creek burn scar, she said, is one factor amplifying flooding in response to all the rainfall.
“The soils that are burnt, that top layer, can’t absorb the water as quickly,” she explained, and that creates a huge sheet that sheds rainwater into drainages. That phenomenon contributed to the swelling of Pack Creek in previous flood events.
Walter also noted that much of Moab’s downtown has impermeable surfaces, so when water falls right over the city, it pools readily. When showers follow one another in quick succession, there’s no time for things to dry out in between soakings.
“We have had repetitive heavy rainstorms, so anything that could hold water was probably fully saturated and became more vulnerable to runoff,” Walter said.
Walter said the forecast for the coming weeks looks drier than last week, but noted that the monsoonal pattern could redevelop in the following week.