Winter’s Last Laugh (We hope!)

We were very lucky on our five-acre patch of piedmont last week. Over the course of about 36 hours, our gauge measured a total of 2.90 inches of rain. And at our house, it was almost all rain, instead of the freezing rain that plagued our neighbors no more than half a mile on either side of us. Although it’d be comforting to believe that Divine Intervention saved us from the ice, I think it was actually a microclimate that protected our trees from bending and breaking, as so many trees did in my area.

We live beside a wetland — at the moment, a very wet wetland — at the base of two ridges and adjacent to a creek. All that surrounding water had been warmed just the day before by balmy sunshine, and I think that warmed water was just enough to prevent the ambient air temperature from dropping low enough to make the rain freeze on the trees. Neighbors not far from me lost power due to fallen trees on power lines, and folks just north of me in the next county were hammered hard. Some still don’t have their power back, and schools remained closed today. They’re continuing to clean up the hundreds of trees pulled down by the ice, so that they can restore electricity to everyone.

As I heard the reports of nearby icy chaos, I began to feel downright grateful as the rain continued to fall, and my floodplain experienced what I would describe as a flood worthy of making our top 5 all-time deluges in the 25 years we’ve lived here. Of course, I attempted to record the event.

By last Friday morning, we’d already received over half an inch of rain. A few hours after sunrise as the rain continued unabated, the creek began sending out watery pseudopods across parts of the floodplain.

Water began to escape the creek boundaries.

Water began to escape the creek boundaries.

By mid-afternoon, as the rain continued — sometimes heavy, sometimes less so — the floodwaters stretched completely across the floodplain and as far as my eyes could see on that side. Lake-front property, if only for a few hours. This shot was taken at about the same angle, so you can appreciate the differences:

Water, water everywhere...

Water, water everywhere…

The birds sat soggy on branches, looking befuddled after they had emptied the feeders.

What's a cardinal to do?

What’s a cardinal to do?

The red-shouldered hawk sat nearby glowering at the water, no doubt frustrated that its hunting grounds had disappeared.

No meals in sight.

No meals in sight.

Before nightfall on Friday, the sun actually peaked out as it began sinking below the western horizon. The water had already begun to recede a bit.

This western sunlight glints on the waters beginning to retreat.

Western sunlight glints on the waters beginning to retreat.

Saturday dawned clear and remarkably warmer. The floodplain was visible again, but covered by newly cut channels, debris piles, and many, many puddles of ugly brown water.

Saturday morning and the creek is back where it belongs -- mostly.

Saturday morning and the creek is back where it belongs — mostly.

Wonder Spouse and I didn’t even try to survey the mess on Saturday. We’ve learned the hard way that it takes another 24 hours or so for the water to drain enough for safe walking. Try it too soon, and you can sink up to your knees in soft, stinky mud.

Sunday afternoon, we took a closer look.

Most of the floodplain looked like this.

Most of the floodplain looked like this.

It was easy to see where the creek had attempted to cut new channels across our floodplain.

Fast-moving water -- even when it's shallow -- has astonishing powers.

Fast-moving water — even when it’s shallow — has astonishing powers.

Wonder Spouse is standing near the creek’s edge in this one:

Note the channel where the water poured out of the creek onto our floodplain.

Note the channel where the water poured out of the creek onto our floodplain.

In past floods, we’ve occasionally found stranded dead fish. But this time, only man-made castaways were found:

It was fully inflated and still bouncy.

It was fully inflated and still bouncy.

We found plenty of evidence that we were not the first creatures to venture back out onto the mucky floodplain.

That's a deer footprint at the top left. We think the lower ones are likely from one of our large raccoons. And the squiggly lines are worm tracks.

That’s a deer footprint at the top left. We think the lower ones are likely from one of our large raccoons. And the squiggly lines are worm tracks.

Despite the mess, Sunday was a day we counted our blessings. The ice somehow detoured around us, our power stayed on, and the spring bulbs seem to have taken the abundant rainfall as a signal to simultaneously explode into bloom. And the vegetable seedlings are progressing well, sheltered safely in the greenhouse. I’ll write more about them soon.

Meanwhile, for my neighbors recovering from what we all hope is Winter’s last little joke, I’ll leave you with some of those enthusiastic spring flowers popping up everywhere out of the mud.

Spring will not be denied!

Spring will not be denied!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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