Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings

Early this morning the creek released. I don’t recall how many weeks it has been frozen, but it has been a while. Across the road in front of our house is a waterfall on a feeder stream. When I took good old Emmett out last night the little waterfall was a raging torrent and I could hear it all the way back to the barn. The big creek hadn’t opened up yet. Melt water was flowing overtop of the thick ice and I knew it would only be a matter of hours maybe minutes before the creek would be a rushing river. It has been a real privileged to live hear and experience this occurrence. Some years the release has been extremely fast and violent, others it has been like a lava flow. Last night when it let go, there was a great deal of noise as the ices was broken apart and heaved up on the shore of the creek. We probably had 15-16 inches of compressed snow on the ground Friday when the temperatures began climbing above freezing and yesterday it got up to 55 degrees. And it felt great but that is a lot of runoff and it has to go somewhere. The concern we have with winter melt is ice dams. It is conceivable that a big ice dam could form and it would be 2006 all over again. I have seen some remarkable ice dams over the years. The first one was on the Little Miami River right above Factory Road. I came across this while doing my ranger thing with the Greene County Park System. The entire stream was diverted into an old millrace due to a large ice dam on the mainstream channel. My old friend Bill Baker and I once walked across an ice dam at the mouth of Paine Creek on the Grand River. If this seems like an idiotic thing to do….. well it was. But we were well away from the main channel of the river so we thought. At one point we could hear the sounds of water rushing under the ice we were standing on. The river was carving a new channel beneath us. When we realized what was going on we dashed off of and away from the ice. We were standing on a section of the dam that was releasing. We would have probably drowned if we hadn’t got out of there when we did. An ice dam is formed like this. Thick sheets of ice that form on the deep slower pools of a river are broken apart by rising floodwaters. They get washed down stream and get caught up or trapped at sand bars or shallower areas on the stream. More ice jams up behind them and on occasion a huge dam can be created in relatively short amount of time. Of course the floodwaters have to go somewhere and ultimately they do. I have seen occasions where the water undercuts the dam and digs a deep hole in the bed of the stream, or re routes the stream entirely. And it is pretty amazing to see one let go. I have only seen this once but I will never forget it. A friend of mine and I were standing on top of a hill overlooking a stream. The entire stream was blocked and water was spilling out over the banks and spreading out across the floodplain. A small column of water came shooting out of the ice dam and was going probably thirty feet into the air. The water column kept getting bigger and bigger until it collapsed into a large gushing boil. That side of the dam blew out first and in a matter of seconds it was all gone. When the water level returned to normal I went to investigate the bed of the stream. I found that the hydraulic pressure had created a deep pool where the water had forced its way under the ice. It is not too often we get to see geologic forces at work and when ever I do it always reminds me how inconsequential my little worries are in the grand scheme of things. It was nice to hear the sounds of the stream again last night.