Updated Jul 11, 2023 - Science

Vermont communities evacuated from historic flooding as storm slams Northeast

Onlookers check out a flooded road in Chester, Vermont, on Monday. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Severe storms sweeping the U.S. Northeast caused catastrophic flooding that officials in Vermont said Monday had surpassed levels experienced by the remnants of the deadly 2011 Hurricane Irene, which washed away homes and roads.

The big picture: Tuesday morning, much of the state capital of Montpelier was inundated after the Winooski River soared above levels seen during the flooding associated with the remnants of Irene.

  • Residents were evacuated across Vermont Monday as the slow-moving storm system continued to bring life-threatening flooding to the region. It's caused multiple road closures, water rescues and killed a woman in New York's Orange County since it hit Sunday.
  • President Biden approved Vermont's emergency declaration Tuesday morning and ordered federal assistance to supplement the state and local response to the flooding, per a White House statement.
  • The National Weather Service's Burlington office warned on Monday night that "catastrophic flooding" was expected" in Vermont's capital, Montpelier, as the city's Winooski River surpassed Irene's crest.
  • It reached 21.35 feet on Tuesday morning — second only to 27.10 ft in 1927.

Threat level: The City of Montpelier issued an emergency health order late Monday that closed downtown until at least noon Tuesday while the river recedes after urging people earlier in the evening to stay away due to contaminated floodwaters — which it said were "much worse" than the 2011 flooding.

  • A flash flood emergency, the most dire flood warning, was issued for parts of central Vermont on Monday, including Ludlow and Woodstock.
  • Vermont State Police noted Monday evening "three dozen state roads are closed due to high water" and waterways hadn't yet crested.
  • "Life-threatening" floodwaters poured over a dam of the Ottauquechee River in Vermont, which runs through Woodstock, per Vermont State Police.
A screenshot of an NWS Burlington tweet showing a map of flooded areas with the comment: "A serious situation is ongoing across central Vermont! Swift water rescues and evacuations are taking place in Berlin, Montpelier, and Chelsea, with rain ongoing. If you do not need to travel, please stay off the roads! Here is a map of the latest storm totals as of 8 PM"
Photo: NWS Burlington/Twitter

By the numbers: Some 6 million people were under flood watches or warnings as of early Tuesday, as the slow-moving storm system brought heavy rain and left hundreds of flights canceled or delayed at key travel hubs.

  • The NWS said 9 inches of rain had fallen in some parts of Vermont as of 9:40pm ET.
  • More than 6 inches of rain had fallen in parts of New York and nearly 7 inches in Connecticut as of Monday lunchtime, per the NWS.

Of note: Some water level stations in Vermont were on Monday reaching their top-five highest water levels ever recorded, according to Kieran Bhatia, a climate and severe weather scientist, who noted floodwaters had "heavily damaged" a farmers' market near Woodstock.

Meanwhile, in New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday expanded the local states of emergency she issued a day earlier for Ontario and Orange counties to include Rockland, Clinton, Essex, and Oswego counties.

  • Dozens of water rescues were reported in the counties over Sunday night into Monday.
  • A U.S. Military Academy West Point spokesperson told CNN people had to swim from their cars due to flooding in Orange County on Sunday — where the Cornwall Office of Emergency Management reported "stranded vehicles, water rescues," and mudslides, downed trees and debris across the region.

Context: Climate change is causing extreme precipitation events to be more intense and frequent.

What to expect: The NWS said late Monday the storm system was forecast to slide northeastward overnight and exit the region Tuesday, but not before additional showers "capable of containing intense rainfall rates" were expected to dump several more inches of rainfall over parts of northern Vermont and far northeast New York.

  • "As a result, dangerous flooding in these areas are forecast to continue or worsen throughout the night, with impacts turning from flash flooding to main-stem river flooding," it added.

Go deeper... In photos: Damage from catastrophic flooding in Vermont and New York

  • Listen to the Axios Today podcast, where host Niala Boodhoo and Andrew Freedman explain why the flooding in Vermont and climate change are connected.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

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