What happens when my city street floods.
Madison, Wisconsin is a swamp. It’s rare there’s a summer with no flooding at all, and the last two years have been pretty intense in terms of rainfall. It’s not a metaphor for the way our city is working, or our country, but it feels that way sometimes.
Of course, global warming means this might be the new picture of the way our planet works.
I want that not to be true — we all do — but it is true anyway. I notice, this rainy fall. We had a flood just a week ago last Tuesday at the bottom of my street.
I grew up in Ohio, where the sky is cloudy something like 260 days a year. I am quite familiar with weather:
In 2012, my wife and I were 32 and 31, and we had a 12-year-old who was only getting bigger. We’d been living in Madison, Wisconsin for about four years.
That summer, it didn’t rain.
It had been a dry spring, and an early one. The summer was shaping up into something even dryer and hotter.
It didn’t rain for over 40 days in Madison; the official drought didn’t end until April of the next year. It was like Noah’s flood, reversed. A biblical drought, stunting the grain and thinning the cattle.
We blistered, that summer. We burned, in our four-room open-plan upstairs apartment; we could barely cook, barely eat, barely breathe. I stopped sleeping.
I took on extra shifts at the insurance call center so we had fewer people breathing in the house at once and I could come home cool — I remember one particularly hot day my wife held me, cold from the car, until we were both sweating through our clothes and sticking to the couch. We used the extra cash to go to a restaurant with air conditioning every week or so.
We had a window AC unit, but it only worked sometimes.
We sent the kid to stay with his dad, who lives in another part of the Midwest in the basement of the house where he grew up; it didn’t get so hot there, that summer. It didn’t get so dry.
But school was starting in September, and there was no guarantee it wouldn’t continue hot forever. We had to buy a house.
We were lucky: we scraped together our pennies, we found an exceedingly good realtor, and we got down payment help from my wife’s parents. We bought a house, with central air, on the uphill end of a street that floods.
After 2012, the rain got heavy. Last year, 2018, there was serious flooding all summer and fall. Our city is beautiful, and surrounded by lakes. You can boat, you can swim (when the beaches are open), you can waterski and fish, and you can watch the water rise when it rains.
When it’s raining heavily for weeks, especially when the leaves have started falling, I can go to the end of my street for a show.
No one seems to understand the concept of Not Driving Into Standing Water, so we often get several kinds of cars going through:
- Giant trucks, SUVs, work trucks, and busses. who are usually fine unless we get a LOT of water, in which case they stall. Full disclosure: I only saw this once.
- Really terrible cars, mostly old, mostly low to the ground, but the occasional small truck or crossover. These can stall anyway, but they tend to do it when driven through high water. If you’re lucky, you can see the driver, often but not always a teenaged boy, wading through the temporary river to get away from the car.
- Low, sporty, new cars, also low to the ground. These will ALWAYS have been driven by men, usually men in their 20s. Women and older men also drive sporty new cars; as far as I can tell, they do not drive them into standing water.
I have never seen a well-kept Subaru or minivan trapped in the floodwater. This could be because they’re well enough built and maintained that they don’t stall, or it could be because their drivers are too smart to drive into the water in the first place.
I have no evidence either way.
There is a grieving process drivers go through when their vehicles stall out in the temporary flood. Here are the 5 stages of floodwater stalling:
- Denial: At this stage, people try to restart the vehicle. Occasionally, this is effective, at which point all other steps are skipped.
- Anger: Hitting the steering wheel, swearing, turning red — all signs that this person knows their car is now dead.
- Getting out of the car: This is really an extension of anger, and is one of the most satisfying parts of the process to watch. This driver is now fully cognizant of the fact that they’re stuck. They also know it’s their own fault. The person getting out of the car is furious at themselves, and they are also standing in knee-deep water. They may take it out on their car by kicking or cussing. They also may ask you for help pushing the car out of the water, so beware.
- Despair and calling a tow truck/friend/Uber to get home: This is the part where the person gives up on getting the car out of the water without outside assistance either through getting it started or pushing (you didn’t agree to help, did you?) and either summons help to get it out of the street or just decides to leave it there and go home.
- An abandoned car sits in the street: Also known as “Acceptance.”