Continuous rain brings flooding; schools closed

Becky Campbell • Jan 15, 2013 at 9:36 PM

Schools across the region closed early Tuesday and residents kept close watch on creeks and streams as a steady rain continued to raise water levels and flood some areas — including Dry Creek, hit hard in the August flooding.

“It’s holding the banks,” in most areas, said Chad Bruckman, operations and training officer at the Washington County/Johnson City Emergency Management Agency. “We’re just watching it,” he said.

That’s about all anyone could do Tuesday as rain pelted the area all day. One part of Dry Creek that did overflow was behind WW Miniature Horse Farm. It’s the last property on the lower portion of Dry Creek Road and was hit hard in August.

All kinds of items from homes upstream lodged across Bill and Wanalynn Chapman’s property then. The big stuff has been cleared away, but small pieces of debris and trash still dot the land behind the farm.

This storm system threatens to bring more their way.

The Chapmans were taking no chances with their horses this time. They were busy getting their two dozen horses, two donkeys and several goats moved to a safer location.

In August, the water rose so quickly they could not get the horses out in time. Many were swept away and drowned.

“It started coming up this morning,” Bill Chapman said as he stood on his porch watching a swift current flowing through the front yard.

Dry Creek broke over its banks in two areas between Rock House Road and Arnold Road. One location was up creek from the Chapmans, and that caused the flow of calf-deep water across the front of their property.

The second bank breach was directly behind the Chapman’s house where a swath of water came out and curved back toward Dry Creek.

Randall Baldwin, another Dry Creek resident, had a trailer loaded up with his hunting dogs and an assortment of items.

“We’re ready,” he said.

Baldwin is one of a dozen or so residents along Dry Creek who received a new home after the August flood destroyed his mobile home.

He’s not too worried about that happening again because the new structure is three feet off the ground. Washington County implemented new building guidelines after the flood and required all new structures to be at least three feet off the ground.

Bruckman said emergency agencies were prepared Tuesday to assist people who would be affected by the nearby rising Dry Creek.

All that rain led local school officials to let students go home early so bus drivers could safely maneuver their routes. Washington County schools and Carter County schools dismissed at 10:30 a.m. Schools in Johnson County were delayed by two hours due to the potential for flooding. Greene County schools were closed today.

Bruckman said Washington County schools will also be closed today.

Washington County Emergency Medical Services, the swift water rescue unit and the local American Red Cross chapter were on standby status. Cherry Grove Baptist Church also was on standby to set up an emergency shelter if needed.

Other creeks throughout Washington County also were rising, flooding numerous roads. Locations affected included Cherokee Road, Rockhouse Road, Freehill Road at Woodby Drive in Gray, Dunbar Road at West Broyles Road in Chuckey, Corby Bridge Road, Old Stage Road at Frog Level Road in Gray and Double Springs Road at Fordtown Road. Railroad tunnels in the Knob Creek and Carroll Creek areas of north Johnson City were closed because of high water.

In Johnson City, notorious for downtown flooding, Public Works Department Stormwater Manager Andy Best said Tuesday that since Sunday, the amount rain recorded at the city garage downtown was roughly 4.5 inches.

“That’s probably 48 hours, which is equal to a two- to five-year storm,” he said. “In a five-year storm, you usually get about 4 inches of rain in 24 hours. That’s what we use here in the city.”

Best said most problems with water flow downtown came in the form of stopped-up drains, though overflowing creeks did cause concern for a time. Sinking Creek caused the biggest concern Tuesday, and Public Works Director Phild Pindzola said late Tuesday that the creek had breached King Springs Road and that “we’re losing that road.” Brush Creek was “up,” but King Creek never came out of its banks,” he added.

“Most of our issues are from stuff getting into the drainage system,” Best continued. “We also did have some problems with Cobb Creek, and we had to close the road at Austin Springs for a time. Water flowing down Buffalo Mountain in roadside ditches also caused some problems, but we really didn’t have any major problems.

Anyone passing by the area of Brush Creek that is set to become Founder’s Park Tuesday morning could see Brush Creek whipping tons of water along a now-open channel. By the afternoon, the level of water in that channel was down by half, and Sevier Street, which almost always used to flood during heavy rains, was in good shape.

Thomas Construction Co. has peeled away the concrete covering that once helped form pressure in Brush Creek at that spot. The city’s intention is for the Founder’s Park design to serve just such a purpose.

“To say it may have dropped the level (of flooding) some, yes, that’s not a far stretch,” Best said. But it’s not what helped downtown from severely flooding.”

National Weather Service Meteorologist Jerry Hevrdeys said the stationary front responsible for the non-stop rainfall across the region is a pretty rare system for our area.

“Luckily, we don’t get this very often with all the flooding reports we’re getting. It’s a pretty rare event, actually,” he said.

The main difference between this system and the one in August that brought flash floods to much of Washington County is this stationary front doesn’t have the support it needs to move on, Hevrdeys said. The August floods were caused by a storm system that moved quickly, dumping rain for a few short hours.

“It’s just a slow-moving front that kind of stuck across the area and try to push out by tonight or tomorrow morning,” he said.

Rain was expected to continue into today with another possible inch of precipitation before it tapers off around noon.

Staff writers Gary B. Gray and Madison Mathews contributed to this article.

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