The sun broke out around 4 p.m. Wednesday, but it was a brief respite in a day full of rain.

Area residents kept their eyes on rising waters as rainfall started before daylight and continued, pushing the Kokomo and Wildcat creeks near flood stage.

Before the first rain-bearing weather mass moved off in the late afternoon, Kokomo’s main stream gauge showed a 5-foot jump in the water level.

Meanwhile, another weather system worked its way eastward, pushed by strong winds and bearing the possibility of thunderstorms and more heavy rain.

Ed Terrell, observing program leader at the National Weather Service, Indianapolis, said it was a record day of rainfall in central Indiana, with one Indianapolis rain gauge showing 1.8 inches.

It was even worse in Kokomo; city wastewater plant superintendent Chris Cooper said local measurements were as high as 2.8 inches of rain, with more expected.

Streams in Howard and surrounding counties were under a flood warning expected to last well into Wednesday evening, as weather watchers eyed a second mass of rain clouds moving toward the area.

High winds were expected for today, and cold weather Friday, but the creeks were expected to crest sometime in the early morning hours today.

Indiana State Climatologist Dev Niyogi said the combination of snow melt and unusually warm winter temperatures are a classic precursor to severe weather.

The system that pelted Kokomo Wednesday wrought destruction on the central Plains and dropped more than 3 inches of rain in Illinois Tuesday, Niyogi said.

“Every time we have this double-whammy, where you have snow and then you have heavy rain, it’s always a situation where, in Indiana particularly, we have to watch for floods,” he said.

Flood stage in Kokomo is about 121/2 feet, city engineer Carey Stranahan said.

Just after noon Wednesday, Stranahan was still holding out hope Kokomo might not hit that mark.

But after the gauge recorded a half-foot jump in a 45-minute period after 3 p.m., Stranahan said flooding was going to occur. At the time, the gauge stood at 9.72 feet.

“Oh, we’re going to hit 121/2 feet,” Stranahan said. “If the creek is rising a half-foot every hour, and it hasn’t slowed down yet, we’re going to hit that mark in three or four hours.”

Water levels in the Wildcat and Kokomo creeks hit 9.84 feet around 9 p.m.

February is traditionally a bad month for flooding locally, with three of the six highest creek levels recorded in Kokomo coming in either February or late January.

By mid-afternoon, flooding had already begun in Highland Park and UCT Park, the city’s lowest points.

Rick Gunning, the city’s sewer systems manager, said historically, UCT begins flooding when the steam gauge hits 9.63 feet.

By the time the gauge hits 13 feet, the city must begin clearing the remaining residents out of the Carter/Murden street area at the southern edge of downtown Kokomo.

The highest-ever recorded stream height in Kokomo was 17.75 feet on July 5, 2003.

Cooper said 12 of the city’s 18 sewer overflow points were discharging combined sanitary and storm sewage directly into creeks, and the city’s wastewater plant was operating at capacity.

On Wednesday, city officials were particularly watching the Indian Heights area, where the first phase of a planned two-phase sewer project tied off a combined sewer overflow.

Stranahan said the sewer system in the Heights was nearly full, because the second phase of the improvement — work to keep groundwater from infiltrating the collection system — hasn’t yet been completed.

Even before the stream gauge edged into double figures, Howard County Emergency Management Agency director Larry Smith said Markland Avenue barricaded off west of Berkley Road.

And as the Kokomo Creek rose, city crews barricaded Defenbaugh Street through Highland Park.

Smith said that as of 4 p.m., he’d only had three residents come by to pick up sandbags, but had EMA volunteers on call, just in case.

Scott Smith may be reached at (765) 454-8569 or via e-mail at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com



Watching the water level:

7 a.m.: 4.91 feet

12:30 p.m.: 8.37 feet

2:49 p.m.: 9.17 feet

3:39 p.m.: 9.72 feet

6:14 p.m.: 9.55 feet

9:08 p.m.: 9.84 feet

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