Commuters, parents and students are being urged to plan their trips ahead of Tuesday’s start of the school year as the ongoing threat of flooding in Madison’s Isthmus and other low-lying areas around Lake Monona enters its third week.
“Our biggest challenge is the Isthmus and the incoming traffic (Tuesday) morning for the rush hour and the return of school,” Mayor Paul Soglin said at a news conference Monday. “With water already high on the Isthmus, we are unfortunately predicting the potential for urban flash flooding.”
Soglin said the stretch of East Johnson Street between North Baldwin Street and Fordem Avenue will likely remain closed Tuesday, which could be complicated by possible lane closures on East Washington Avenue. He encouraged drivers to check the city’s web page set up to provide updates on the flooding and road closures before heading out: cityofmadison.com/flooding.
No schools are anticipated to be closed for the start of the academic year, Soglin said, although he added that could change with the weather.
O’Keeffe Middle School, 510 S. Thornton Ave., is the one school that has the highest potential for flooding given its proximity to the Yahara River on the Near East Side, Soglin said.
All four Yahara River lakes experienced an increase in water levels Monday. Lake Monona continued its push to a new historic high of 848.34 feet above median sea level, or 7.5 inches above the 100-year flood elevation, city staff said.
Lakes Mendota and Kegonsa rose 1 inch by Monday morning, and lakes Monona and Waubesa rose 1.5 inches.
Soglin said the major challenge to reducing the levels is the flow at which water leaves Lake Monona.
“This is a very unusual event ... of continual flooding for this length of time is very exceptional,” Soglin said. “We all wish it would end, but obviously we have no control over it.”
The National Weather Service has Madison under a flood warning until 4:30 p.m. Thursday and predicts a chance of showers again Tuesday night into Wednesday.
As the prolonged flooding event enters September, Soglin said the situation becomes “more complicated now and less predictable” due to the tropical storm season in the Atlantic Ocean and the potential for remnants of those storms to reach the Midwest.
“We’re obviously hoping they don’t make it to our area or they move and shift to the West, but we have to be concerned about that, and that can change everything,” he said. “Nothing’s changed in terms of how it ends. We need a week of sunshine.”
While it’s concerning that several storms over the past week have dropped about 1 inch or so of rain each on Madison, Soglin said it is the storms with the potential to bring 3 inches or more that could cause “major change” in terms of property damage, flooded streets and downed trees.
He said there are hundreds of trees along the lake and creek shorelines that have been submerged and are more vulnerable to dying or being blown over by wind.
Between Aug. 16 through Sunday, Madison officially recorded 9.79 inches of rain, the Weather Service said.
Other areas in southern and central Wisconsin measured higher volumes during that period from a series of storms that brought downpours, flooding and tornadoes.
Mauston recorded 13.84 inches, Rio received 10.49 inches, and Montello was hit with 16.02 inches of rain, according to the Weather Service.