Epic Rebirth

Why the epic flood of 2008 surprised Cedar Rapids

Dan Ceynar, project engineer for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa, installs a flood sensor in October 2014 in Prairie Creek in Fairfax. The Flood Center has installed more than 200 sensors in Iowa rivers and streams since the 2008 floods. The gauges are used in predicting flooding. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Dan Ceynar, project engineer for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa, installs a flood sensor in October 2014 in Prairie Creek in Fairfax. The Flood Center has installed more than 200 sensors in Iowa rivers and streams since the 2008 floods. The gauges are used in predicting flooding. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The epic flood of 2008 caught Cedar Rapids by surprise.

Why?

Because of a perfect storm of circumstances.

First and foremost, it rained too much. Second, a river gauge broke. Third, history.

Historically, Cedar Rapids has looked to Waterloo, 55 miles to the north, to predict the level of Cedar River flooding. Typically, a Cedar Rapids flood crest is 1 to 2 feet below the Waterloo crest.

So when the Cedar River crested in Waterloo at 25.39 feet on Wednesday, June 11, it signaled a crest of around 23 feet was headed toward Cedar Rapids — serious but not the epic 31.12 feet the city would see.

Boatride Downtown

Old: Guy Ayers-Berry and his crew pilots his boat down 2nd Ave E en route to search for residents waiting to be evacuated in Cedar Rapids on Thursday evening, June 12, 2008. (Jonathan D. Woods/The Gazette)

New: The view looking north on 2nd Ave SE from the 2nd Street intersection in downtown Cedar Rapids on Friday, June 1, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Then the U.S. Geological Survey’s flood gauge in Cedar Rapids broke on Wednesday, meaning crucial information about the river’s rapid rise was not coming in.

But mainly the flood resulted from “too much rain in the wrong spot again and again,” as National Weather Service meteorologist Donna Dubberke explained at the time.

On June 8, 6 inches of rain fell between Waterloo and Mason City, filling the Upper Cedar watershed.

On June 9, 3 to 5 inches of rain fell between Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.

On Thursday, June 12, another 5 inches of rain fell, as the river was raging through Cedar Rapids. By then, it had rained every day in June, and there was no place for the water to go except over river and stream banks.

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