Officials: Jasper fortunate rivers and streams were low during Wednesday’s deluge

While the National Weather Service uses the Jasper Wastewater Plant rainfall gauge to record rain levels in the city, in some areas of Jasper, the rain event that occurred last Wednesday was significantly higher than it recorded.

“It always seems low,” Jasper Stormwater Chad Mundy told the Stormwater Board at Monday’s meeting.

He heard reports of up to seven inches, but the wastewater gauge had about 3.7 inches of rainfall from the beginning to its drizzling end in the early morning hours.

City Engineer Chad Hurm said he recorded at least five inches of rainfall in his rain gauge at home. He heard other reports of up to eight inches in the short timeframe the cell seemingly stalled over the city.

“Rain is not distributed equally,” Mundy admitted.

Regardless, 3.7 inches would have been too much for the city infrastructure to handle in the short time it fell. This quick downpour led to headwater flooding on major streets and intersections, as well as basements and low-lying structures in the city’s western and northern portions.

With all the available outlets, natural or manmade, filled with water, there was nowhere for it to go. Fortunately, the Patoka River and its feeder streams were not flooded at the time of the rain event, and after the deluge subsided, the city’s drains, culverts and ditches could catch up, and water levels dropped quickly.

“This was all flash flood, not backwater flooding,” Mundy told the Storm Water Board. “This is simply because of the amount of water and the intensity and the short duration of the rain.”

Hurm explained the city builds inlets and stormwater infrastructure with the capacity to handle 25-year or 50-year events. This measurement indicates the likelihood of a rain event as defined by the National Weather Service. For example, a system designed to handle a 50-year rain event can handle an event that is likely to occur once every 50 years.

Hurm surmised this could be classified as over a 500-year rain event based on the wastewater gauge and the short period of time that much rain fell.

Hurm and Mundy are working to determine a better average on the amount of rainfall that hit the city. Mundy mentioned he would like to put a new rain gauge on the City Hall as a comparison to the wastewater gauge.

Mayor Dean Vonderheide stated he is waiting for the city departments to report damage estimates from the storm and expected them by the end of the day on Monday.

During the event, Jasper’s emergency services, Indiana State Police, Dubois County Sheriff’s Office, and Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers responded to multiple calls.

Jasper Volunteer Firefighters rescued a couple from high waters at Northwood Avenue. They were also called to Knollridge Apartments on West 43rd Street, where several ground-level units were filled with eight to 12 inches of water while the water outside got up to two feet deep.

Several residents with medical conditions were assisted by firefighters and police officers from the floodwaters. The damaged apartments were uninhabitable.

“The City of Jasper worked with the county EMA (Emergency Management Administration) to find a location for them to stay,” Mayor Vonderheide said. “We reserved enough rooms to put them up at least through Sunday.”

The management team of the apartments has since arranged lodging for the residents until the repairs are completed. Mayor Vonderheide said the residents needed clothing and items due to the water damage, and they had been given some assistance to help with those needs.

As of Monday, “Four of the families remain in the hotel; the others have found accommodations with family and friends,” he said.

The city received calls from other communities to come and assist in the event, but once the rain slowed, the waters quickly subsided.

“We had an older couple stranded on Northwood, and they were in their vehicle,” Vonderheide told the board. “They weren’t going anywhere, and they said, ‘Take care of other people first; they were fine.’ It wasn’t too much longer it (water) receded and they were able get towed.”

Acknowledging the damages to homes and businesses throughout the community, he indicated it would have been difficult to prevent. He explained he even had water in his basement despite recently updating the drainage around his home.

“It was just such a surge,” he said, adding he appreciated the community’s perseverance.”

As a matter of prevention, Mayor Vonderheide explained that the public should be aware of the impact of debris and grass clippings on the city’s stormwater system. Along with cleaning up grass clipping before they entered the stormwater system, he advocated for citizens to prevent debris buildup around drains and remove it if they see it before adverse weather hits.

St. Charles Multiuse Trail damage. Photo courtesy Jasper Fire Department.

Other city damages included collapsed storm drains, some erosion from sports fields and, among other things, about 60 feet of the black-topped St. Charles Multiuse Trail floated into the street.

The area has had several significant rain events over the past decade, including a 1000-plus-year rain event in 2022. Then, Dubois received over seven inches of water in just over an hour, causing a flash flood and severely damaging the Northeast Intermediate School.