New England Prepares for Additional Rainfall Following Severe Flooding and Dam Vulnerability

by Lucas Garcia
New England Flooding

Anticipating more rain this Wednesday, New England communities are in recovery mode after enduring a torrential downpour that left Massachusetts and Rhode Island severely flooded. Nearly 10 inches (about 25 centimeters) of rain fell within a six-hour period, causing authorities to raise alarms over dams in poor conditions.

The recent deluge was characterized as a “200-year event” by Matthew Belk, a meteorologist affiliated with the National Weather Service in Boston. Two towns issued states of emergency, with officials mandating evacuations over concerns regarding the structural integrity of a deteriorating dam.

While rain from Hurricane Lee was not a factor in Monday’s inundation, forecasters caution that it could lead to more flooding in coastal regions of the Northeast over the weekend.

In Leominster, located approximately 40 miles (64 kilometers) to the northwest of Boston, Mayor Dean Mazzarella reported the evacuation of up to 300 people by Tuesday morning. This number included residents from a high-rise apartment complex and a care facility for the elderly. Schools were closed, and emergency shelters were established.

Mazzarella revealed that the city had not witnessed such extensive destruction since the hurricane of 1936. Downtown buildings were largely submerged, some even collapsing. Rail connections to Boston were also disrupted. In an online statement on Monday night, the mayor advised residents to seek higher ground, stating that if any injuries occurred, they were minimal.

Arthur Elbthal, Leominster’s director of emergency management, reported that of the city’s 24 dams, two sustained damage but remained intact. These structures are now being reinforced.

A certified observer located near Leominster recorded 9.5 inches (24 centimeters) of rainfall. The historical record for a single-day downpour in Massachusetts remains unbroken, set by Tropical Storm Diane on August 18, 1955, when 18 inches (approximately 46 centimeters) of rain fell in Westfield, according to Belk.

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey conveyed her concern over the forthcoming weather patterns and the potential impact of Hurricane Lee, as she toured the flood-stricken areas in North Attleborough, situated about 55 miles (89 kilometers) south of Leominster. Healey has initiated communication with the Biden administration, the state’s congressional representatives, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance.

In North Attleborough, Dawn Packer, who operates a home-based preschool, described her harrowing experience of watching a UPS truck float away in her flood-engulfed neighborhood. Her initial relief of finding her basement dry quickly turned into a nightmare as forcefully gushing water shattered her door, causing immense damage and disrupting her livelihood.

Nathan Bonneau, another resident of North Attleborough, stated that his home was condemned after being assessed for flood damage. Water levels rose close to his height of 5 feet 10 inches (178 centimeters) in a span of merely 35 minutes.

Paula Deacon, Leominster Schools Superintendent, described the ordeal as a severe emotional upheaval for residents. A large number of them were forced to abandon their homes, leaving them in a state of uncertainty.

Residents in areas near Leominster’s Barrett Park Pond Dam were advised to evacuate on an immediate basis. The dam, measuring 15 feet (4.5 meters) in height, is listed as a significant hazard in poor condition in the National Inventory of Dams by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Records indicate that it was last inspected in November 2017.

In 2021, Leominster was the recipient of a $163,500 state grant intended for engineering and permitting costs for the dam’s repair.

Flooding was also reported in specific roadways in Rhode Island and Nashua, New Hampshire. In Providence, Rhode Island, a parking lot and portions of a shopping mall were submerged, requiring firefighters to rescue stranded individuals using inflatable boats.

Both Leominster and North Attleborough have declared states of emergency. The summer has been marked by several flooding events in New England, including a storm in Vermont in July that resulted in two fatalities.

Atmospheric scientists are attributing such flooding events worldwide to climate change. Mathew Barlow, a climate scientist at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, emphasized that the warmer air due to climate change can hold increased amounts of water, warning that unless fossil fuel emissions are significantly reduced, the frequency and severity of such disasters will continue to escalate.

Contributors to this report include journalists based in Concord, New Hampshire; New Hampshire; Massachusetts; Maine; Vermont; and Missouri.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about New England Flooding

What areas were most affected by the recent “200-year event” rain in New England?

Massachusetts and Rhode Island were the states most impacted by the torrential rainfall. Towns within these states, such as Leominster and North Attleborough, experienced severe flooding, prompting states of emergency.

What are the authorities doing to manage the situation?

Local and state officials have declared states of emergency in two communities and mandated evacuations for areas at risk, particularly those near dams in poor condition. Schools have been closed, and emergency shelters have been set up. Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey is in contact with the federal government for assistance.

What meteorological factors are contributing to the situation?

The region experienced nearly 10 inches of rain within a six-hour period, described as a “200-year event” by meteorologists. Additionally, Hurricane Lee, although not a contributing factor to the initial flooding, poses a risk for further inundation in the coming days.

How have the affected communities responded to the flooding?

Up to 300 people were evacuated in Leominster, including residents from high-rise apartments and nursing homes. Emergency shelters have been opened, and schools were closed as a precautionary measure.

What is the current state of the dams in the affected areas?

Two dams in Leominster sustained damage but remained intact. They are now being reinforced. The Barrett Park Pond Dam, a 15-foot-tall earthen structure, is listed in poor condition and poses a significant hazard according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams.

Was there any prior indication or preparation for such an event?

There was no specific warning for a “200-year event,” but the city of Leominster was awarded a state grant in 2021 for engineering and permitting costs associated with dam repairs.

Are there any long-term implications or connections to climate change?

Atmospheric scientists attribute such extreme weather events to climate change, stating that warmer air holds more water, which can lead to severe flooding. Unless fossil fuel emissions are reduced, the frequency and intensity of such events are expected to escalate.

What is the estimated damage and economic impact?

While exact figures are not provided, residents like Dawn Packer in North Attleborough have estimated personal losses up to $30,000 to $40,000 for repairs and rebuilding. Damaged infrastructure, disrupted businesses, and community recovery will also contribute to the economic impact.

How are rescue and evacuation efforts being coordinated?

Local authorities and emergency management offices have ordered evacuations, particularly in regions at risk due to poor dam conditions. Firefighters have also been deployed for rescue missions, using inflatable boats to save stranded individuals.

What is the historical context of such rainfall in New England?

The event has been described as the most significant since a 1936 hurricane in terms of damage. The historical record for a single-day downpour in Massachusetts remains unbroken, set by Tropical Storm Diane in 1955 with 18 inches of rain.

More about New England Flooding

  • National Weather Service Forecast for New England
  • Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Updates
  • Rhode Island Department of Emergency Management
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance
  • Atmospheric and Climate Science Studies
  • History of Flooding in New England
  • Hurricane Lee Forecast and Updates
  • Economic Impact of Natural Disasters
  • North Attleborough Community Updates

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Nina Scott September 13, 2023 - 10:51 am

Climate change is real folks, and it’s happening now. We need to take action ASAP.

Alex Carter September 13, 2023 - 11:11 am

gotta say, really worried about how Hurricane Lee could make things even worse. Fingers crossed it doesn’t hit hard.

Karen Wilson September 13, 2023 - 3:06 pm

It’s sad to see local businesses also getting affected, especially during these trying times.

Sarah Williams September 13, 2023 - 3:25 pm

Can’t believe the impact of this flooding. Our community is devastated. my thoughts are with everyone affected.

Robert Smith September 13, 2023 - 6:07 pm

who would’ve thought dams would be at risk too? Kinda puts the whole ‘preparedness’ thing into question.

Mike Johnson September 13, 2023 - 9:43 pm

the gov needs to invest more in infrastructure. We can’t keep ignoring the signs of climate change.

James Thompson September 14, 2023 - 12:00 am

Wow, never thought I’d see the day when a “200-year event” happens in my lifetime. This is really serious, and I hope everyone stays safe.

Emily Davis September 14, 2023 - 2:35 am

So scary, I have family in Leominster and they had to evacuate. The weather is just getting crazier and crazier.

Laura Miller September 14, 2023 - 8:02 am

Why haven’t the dams been inspected more frequently? says it should be every 5 years but last was in 2017. What’s going on?

Tim Allen September 14, 2023 - 9:50 am

Hey, where can i find more info on what the state’s doing to help? Great article but could use more details on that.


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