Someone wiser than me once observed that a drought ends with a
flood. And that’s what occurred on the North Shore this fall. After
a year of severe drought, when streams dried up, forests burned,
and even Lake Superior dropped to a record low level, the heavens
have opened up. The rains arrived in September and continued on an
almost daily basis.
While I haven’t heard any statistics from the weatherman
regarding total rainfall or any measure of drought recovery, it is
fair to say the northwoods are saturated and filled to overflow.
Duck hunting shortly after the opener, I trudged across a soggy mat
of Labrador tea, where the bog was covered with an inch or two of
water. A week and a half later, I canoed through the same stuff,
now flooded with 18 inches of water.
And that was before we got the big rain.
Last week, forecasters predicted a “noreaster” for the
North Shore, when a massive low-pressure system met Lake Superior.
A storm that gathers momentum from the big lake is almost certain
to deliver lots of precipitation. This one was no exception. Lots
of rain came down last Thursday.
Windy Lake Superior had a huge, surly surf. The rain fell in
breezy fits and starts, pouring more often than not. Around noon I
heard that someone became stranded in a Grand Marais parking lot
when a vehicle stalled in deep water. In the afternoon, the county
highway department started closing roads due to flooding. Someone
stopped by the office to say it was really wet out east of town,
where I live. Shortly afterward, Vikki called to say the
intersection near our house was flooded. It was time to head for
Heading east on Highway 61, I saw someone parked along the
shoulder by the Devil Track River. He wasn’t going fishing. I
pulled over, too. The river was higher than I’d ever seen it.
Upstream of the highway, you couldn’t discern the normal channel,
because the entire area was underwater. As I stood on the bridge
taking pictures, a woman who lived nearby walked up.
“I think the last time I saw the river this high was in
1968,” she said.
Continuing up the road, I was amazed to see water pouring off
the rocks in tumbling cascades. Tiny, intermittent creeks were
raging rivers. Trout streams were torrents. I stopped at Kadunce
Creek, a popular place with anglers and hikers. Here, too, the
water was higher than I’d ever seen it, rocketing down the narrow
channel. You can nearly always wade across the Kadunce without
getting wet to your knees. Now the current was so strong that if
you were foolhardy enough to step into it, you’d be swept away.
My next stop was at Judge C.R. Magney State Park and the mighty
Brule River. In August, the river, which has one of the largest
watersheds on the North Shore, was just a trickle. Now it was a
churning, dirty rage of runoff. I walked upstream to the Park Hole,
which is a popular place to fish. Water was brimming along the edge
of the rocky ledge on the east bank where anglers usually fish. The
rocky outcroppings in and along the river that are familiar to
springtime anglers, even in high flows, were submerged beneath the
angry currents. Witnessing the river’s raw, natural power was
Feeling like a tourist, I stopped one more time at the Flute
Reed River near my home. Other folks were stopping, too. I talked
to some neighbors there who are expert river paddlers. Even they
were impressed with the flow.
At home, water was flooding across the county road on either
side of our property, leaving our yard a soggy island. The rain had
nearly stopped, so Vikki and I put on rubber boots and went for a
walk. Our neighbor wasn’t so lucky. An overflowing ditch sent two
streams of water through his yard – on either side of his house –
and washed away his driveway. In the other direction, flood water
lapped around another neighbor’s garage.
As is usually the case after a storm, lots of folks were out and
about, curious to see what happened. We talked to a fellow on the
county road crew, who was driving around checking road conditions.
He said the road crew would have lots of culverts and washouts to
repair once things dried out.
It started raining again after sunset and poured throughout the
night. Amazingly, the water didn’t rise any higher. Most of the
roads closed the previous afternoon were open in the morning.
However, everyone went to work with tales of flooded basements and
washed out culverts. Fortunately, that was about the extent of the
I don’t know how much all of the rain will affect the level of
Lake Superior. It still appears to be very low, but hopefully the
precipitation will prevent the level from dropping even more. And
although everyone is a little tired of the dreary, soggy weather,
you won’t hear many complaints. We are happy the drought is