A record-setting volume of rain caused catastrophic flooding and millions of dollars in damage along Lake Superior’s North Shore


Stormwater utility managers plan their systems around the size of the biggest storm they would typically expect in a given time period, but sometimes, Mother Nature can destroy the best of plans, along with the infrastructure that supports them.

That was the case in Duluth, Minn., this month, when a series of powerful storms swept over the area. Over 10 inches of rain fell on parts of the area in just 36 hours. The City of Duluth, which had already experienced a wet start to the month, received over 7 inches of rain in just 24 hours, setting an all-time record. It’s unlikely that any stormwater management plan would have accounted for such a record event.

Photographs revealed a city that looked like it had just suffered a massive earthquake. Streets were ripped open, bedrock hillsides became waterfalls, cars fell into deep chasms, and debris was everywhere. Large areas were underwater. You really have to see the photos to believe the level of destruction. 

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At one point, an escaped seal was swimming on Grand Avenue near the Lake Superior Zoo. A child was injured after being swept into a culvert, but thankfully survived. A portion of Interstate 35, the main link between Duluth and the Twin Cities, was shut down. A section of another highway leading north out of the city was completely gone, washed down the hill toward Gitche Gumee. Homes were flooded, bridges were damaged, and massive white pines were plucked from the ground with roots intact, like fresh carrots from the garden.

Local and state officials immediately sprung into action, and cleanup efforts got under way as soon as the floodwaters began to subside, but for the city of Duluth and surrounding areas, the rebuilding process will be long. The cost of repairs to public property in the city alone was initially estimated at between $50 million and $80 million.

The Duluth News Tribune has done an excellent job of covering this disaster and the stories surrounding it since the heavy rains began to fall on June 19. View their timeline of events, as well as photo and video galleries at http://www.duluthnewstribune.com.

Related: EPA Grant Program Provides Boost to Cities’ Stormwater Management

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