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Flood hits the Kickapoo… but, it’s been worse
July 19 storm radar map
THIS RADAR MAP shows the storms that dumped water on Coon Creek, St. Jospeph’s Ridge, and Wilton, that resulted in the catastrophic flash flooding in Coon Creek and Ontario. That water gradually worked its way down the Kickapoo River causing flooding on its entire length.

DRIFTLESS - Well, it’s flooding again in the Kickapoo River Valley – what else is new, right? Once again, two of the harder-hit communities were Ontario and Coon Valley.

Flash flooding was probably the biggest impact from the storms that hit on Thursday, July 18, acccording to a National Weather Service (NWS) storm summary with four to six inches of rain falling across a relatively narrow axis. This led to mudslides, damaged roads and rapid rises on area rivers and creeks.

A brief EF0 tornado touched down in rural northern Vernon County, along Wang Ridge Road.  Damage was confined to trees, crops and one farm, where  a silo and barn were destroyed.

Ontario experienced major flooding when the river rose 11.53 feet overnight between Thursday, July 18 and the morning of Friday, July 19. 

Coming up from about nine feet to 20.53 feet in just a few hours, meant Ontario took some of the brunt of the rainfall that fell overnight in the Westby and Wilton areas. In Westby, rainfall was measured at 5.74 inches at one gauge and four inches at another, and in Wilton just up the valley from Ontario, at 4.75 inches.

Coon Valley was also the recipient of flash flood waters that rushed down from the headwaters in northeast Vernon and southwest Monroe counties. A rain gauge on St. Joseph’s Ridge measured 4.22 inches, and Stoddard and Shelby gauges registered 4.15 and four inches respectively.

Heavy rain earlier in the week had more severely impacted the south valley, delivering around an inch in some areas in northern Crawford County overnight on Monday, July 15. Some areas in the southern valley and Richland County received significant rains on Tuesday night, while the northern part of Crawford County received just tenths of an inch. A more significant rainfall came overnight on Wednesday, July 17, measured in some areas in northern Crawford County at 3.10 inches.

This seemed to have been the perfect set up, with too much rain on top of saturated soils, that had many residents worried that “another big one was setting up.” Fortunately for the southern Kickapoo Valley, most of the rain hit the north valley later in the week–delivering only modest rainfall to the south valley. 

Of course our neighbors west of the Mississippi River in Minnesota were not so fortunate, and our neighbors in north central Wisconsin were pummeled with rain, heavy wind and tornadoes into the weekend.

The night of Friday, July 19 through the day on the Saturday, July 20 brought three more rounds of strong to severe storms, according to the NWS storm summary. The main impacts were from damaging winds and heavy rain resulting in flooding.  

Late Friday night, a complex of thunderstorms tracked southeast across northwest Wisconsin, bringing damaging winds from 60 to 70 mph and very heavy rainfall. The bulk of the storms stayed north of Interstate 94.

The next cluster of strong to severe storms rolled into southeast Minnesota around 7 a.m. Saturday, bringing strong to damaging winds and heavy rain. The rainfall led to some flash flooding. In addition, two brief tornadoes occurred in Trempealeau and Jackson counties in Wisconsin.

By late morning, another thunderstorm complex was already approaching from the west, tracking along a surface front that played a role in firing the storms from Friday night and early Saturday morning. This complex developed into a northeast-southwest line, bringing damaging winds from 60 to 75 mph through the area. The strongest winds and most of the related damage held south of Interstate 94. Rain was not as heavy with this cluster.

South valley floods

The water from up valley has been steadily working its way downstream in the West Fork and Main Stem of the Kickapoo River. Readstown, where the water from both branches of the river joins, crested late in the day on Friday, July 19 at 14.71 feet, which qualifies as a ‘moderate’ flood. 

Over the weekend, with Driftless Brewing Company’s Grand Opening Celebration planned, the water began to work its way downriver. County C in the old section of Soldiers Grove was covered in water throughout the weekend and closed to traffic. The river crested there at 14.25 feet, and has continued to fall slowly through Monday.

In Gays Mills, the river crested at about 16 feet late Sunday, and will slowly fall through the middle of the week. The bridge across the Kickapoo River was closed to traffic by Sunday morning that would slowly clear on Monday.

From there, the water will work its way south through Barnum and Steuben. The crest of 14 feet in Steuben was expected on Monday, with levels falling there throughout the later part of the week.

Emergency declaration

On Sunday, July 21, Gov. Tony Evers declared a statewide State of Emergency following widespread severe storms, torrential rains, and tornadoes that had impacted Wisconsin in recent days.  Downed trees and power lines have caused major power outages in northern Wisconsin, road closures due to debris and damage to homes and businesses.

“I know many people, especially in northern and central Wisconsin have been impacted by the strong storms and power outages,” said Governor Evers. “The first responders and utilities have been doing a great job, working non-stop since the storms hit.  I want to make sure all state resources are available to help get the power back on and debris removed.”

The governor’s declaration directs all state agencies to provide assistance and authorizes Major General Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s Adjutant General, to activate the National Guard to assist local authorities as needed.