Houghton Area Hammered
Posted on: July 3, 2018

Flooding at Dodge Street, Houghton, Michigan, June 17, 2018

Informing All Watershed Residents

Michigan’s Houghton area, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, where the Portage Shipping Canal cuts completely across the peninsula, was heavily damaged by a storm which swept through the region between June 15th and 17th. Wisconsin and Minnesota were also impacted with heavy rain, hail and damaging winds. This is now old, but still vivid news to area residents, but the event echoes an earlier event which struck the Wisconsin/Michigan state line at Lake Superior in 2016. The July 11th, 2016 storm centered on Wisconsin’s Bad River and Saxon Harbor. Extensive damage, sunken vessels and even large boats dragged out and lost on Superior resulted from this storm.

Related July 14, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “SPECIAL REPORT: Severe Weather Hits Minnesota, Wisconsin

In addition to the extensive storm damage in both storms, there is one other strong similarity. Then, as now, even people very closely tuned to the lake, from other areas around Superior, didn’t know the storm had happened.  Days, even weeks after the event, if at all, people from “away,” learned the storm had taken place. Perhaps Infosuperior can play a small role by bringing news associated with the lake to all watershed residents.

Houghton Flood Damage
Flood damage in Houghton, Michigan. (Photo: abcnews.go.com)

Weather Warning

If you were at home, the weather warnings came through Minnesota Public Radio and other media on Saturday morning, June 16th. For those on the water, alerts also came through U.S. and Canadian Great Lakes marine weather forecasts. Those weren’t the only warnings though. For anyone really tuned in on or around the big water, even at extensive distance from the Houghton storm epicentre,  the lake had its own message to tell.

The lake was uneasy about the weather, and that wasn’t just some vague perception. You could see it. Kayaking the open waters of Superior, in flat calm, towards a narrow channel some 30 km./18 mi. east of Thunder Bay, Ontario at about 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 16th, there was no sense that the water was moving…or was there? Coming around a headland…wasn’t that a tiny swirl, like a miniature whirlpool?

A few minutes later, moving into a narrow channel where vast quantities of water are forced between an island and the mainland, a strong current was pouring over shallow rocks and obstacles as if it were part of a swift moving river…but this was a lake, not a fast moving river. A deep, low pressure system was in the Lake Superior region. The associated seiche, caused by air pressure imbalance, was telling anyone who could read the signs to be on the watch. Extreme weather was on the way.

Related July 27th, 2017 Infosuperior Article: “Silver Lining in a Seiche”

Houghton Flood Damage.
Houghton flood damage. (Photo: wzzm13.com)

Michigan Declares State of Disaster

While the above situation took place on the Canadian side of the lake, an area some 160 km./99 mi. to the south, was about to get hammered.  Up to 18 cm./7 in. of rain fell in a fairly localized area, causing Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to declare a state of disaster for Houghton and Menominee Counties on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Wisconsin and Minnesota were also impacted with heavy rain, hail and damaging winds lasting from June 15th through 17th.

The disaster declaration allows the affected area to get help from the National Guard, also triggering state resources. Homes and buildings across the region were flooded and dozens of roads washed out. At least three deaths were attributed to the storm. On June 18th, a 12 year old Houghton boy died as a result of a basement collapse resulting from flooding.

Damage in Houghton County alone was initially tallied at around $50 million, not including Michigan Department of Transport roads or Michigan Department of Natural Resources trails, which were also extensively damaged. In Houghton County, preliminary data indicates that four buildings were destroyed by the flood, 70 had major damage and 151 sustained minor damage. There were also 15 large road washouts, 28 medium washouts and almost a hundred minor washouts.

In Menominee, emergancy officials said that dozens of roads were under water during and after the storm, many farms damaged and trees downed. It took time to assess the extent of damage because many areas became inaccessible. All area swimming beaches were closed due to heavy bacterial contamination from stormwater runoff.

Muddy Stormwater Runoff
Muddy stormwater runoff to Lake Superior where the Portage Shipping Canal enters Lake Superior. (Photo: Neil Harri)

Great Lakes Conservation Corps Pitches In

In addition to all of the other state and municipal resources brought to bear, the non-profit Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) deployed crews from the Great Lakes Conservation Corps (GLCC) to assist the flood-ravaged communities of the Keweenaw.  Sixteen GLCC crew members (4 crews) are assisting the communities of Houghton, Hancock and Ripley. The SWP deployed the first GLCC crews within 24-hours of the original storm event to help with disaster relief.

June 30th Daily Mining Gazette Article: Conservation Corps Workers Aid in Flood Relief

Other Storm Articles:

June 16th Fox UP Article/Video: Floods Devestate Houghton Business District

June 18th USA Today Article: Flash Flooding Wipes out Roads, Damages Buildings in Houghton, Michigan

June 18th Fox UP Article: Precautionary Beach Closures in Western UP

June 19th Stars and Stripes Article: Death, Washed-Out Roads Amid Flooding in Upper Mid-West.

June 20th MLive Article: Pilot Captures Dramatic Footage of U.P. Flooding






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