September 8, 2011

Flood Warning

When I planned an extended summer stay in mid-state New York, the last thing I expected to have to deal with was extreme tropical weather, but a couple weeks ago the blustery tailings of hurricane Irene moved through and for the past couple days we've been soaked by the inland remains of tropical storm Lee.

Yesterday the local news was all aflutter announcing flood warnings, school closures, and evacuations in the surrounding counties, but (though we'd been dealing with a leaky ceiling at Rob's--I've discovered that a single drip of water can function surprisingly well as a metronome) it seemed at first that Ithaca would be spared the worst of it. When I woke up this morning and heard from Rob that Cornell had cancelled classes due to flood danger and that the Tompkins County Sheriff had closed county roads for all but emergency travel, I could scarcely believe my ears. I've heard of snow days, but rain days?

Normally I would have taken the bus in to Cornell at 8:05 am for my morning warm up, but with all the closures I was faced with an abrupt change of plans and decided it would be interesting to get out and explore. I wondered if I'd run into blockades of cop cars enforcing the street closures, if I'd find roads of running water, or if I'd reach a place along my route where a flooded stream would prevent me from continuing further.

I ate a quick breakfast and set out in the direction of the Cornell campus (about 3 miles from Rob's apt.) armed with my trusty Nikon and a cell phone in case of emergency. This neighborhood is snaked with little streamlets and in a few places those typically friendly backyard meanderings had swelled to engulf yards, gardens, and tool sheds...


...but on the whole, life seemed to be going by fairly business-as-usual. Despite a county-wide travel ban, the normal morning traffic was building up (minus the buses) and I (foolishly perhaps) found myself a bit disappointed that nothing seemed to be too far out of the ordinary.

As I neared Cornell, I took a detour in order to photograph a sculpture I'd always been curious about...

Why does a school whose mascot is "Big Red" have a giant purple sculpture at the entrance to its campus? Shouldn't this thing be at NU--home of "purple pride"?


My planned destination for the morning was the main auto bridge that crosses Fall Creek Gorge just south of Beebe Lake and leads into the heart of Cornell's campus. From there I would be able to get a decent look at the status of Fall Creek (which was supposedly nearing flood stage) and hopefully head for home with a few good photos. As I neared the bridge I noticed the air above the gorge was filled with a misty spray, and an increasingly gravelly roar made me cock my head and wonder if there was some sort of heavy construction taking place down there.

Heavy construction? No. Insane debris-filled torrent of angry flood waters? A DEFINITE YES! To give you a sense of perspective, here is a of borrowed photo that shows what this area usually looks like...

Beebe lake lies just beyond the dam and on most days picturesque trickles of water gently cascade over the steps of the dam on their way back down the gorge. A little foot bridge gives pedestrians this romantic view and--as now seems inevitable--a few have even begun to leave love locks along the railing.

And here's what this same area looked like this morning...



Take a second to examine the bottle neck of falling water at the bottom of the picture below (again not my photo)...


Now imagine all this water trying to fight its through that narrow little chasm...

Frightening!

Here are a couple of videos I took to help you picture the madness of it all...

video


video

Suddenly these love locks look a little less romantic...more like they're just hanging on for dear life!

I exhausted my camera's batteries on a few more pictures and then turned back for home. By the time I arrived at Rob's again the sun was shining and I was sweating through my shirt from the heat and humidity.

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